Creating Financial Victories on the Homefront
Marcus Mason was just 17 when he went off to war as a Marine — first to Afghanistan and then to Iraq before a combat injury ended his tour.
Today, a program by Military Warriors Support Foundation and Wells Fargo has made the former Georgia native a victor on the financial homefront in Jacksonville, Florida.
Mason is among more than 400 veterans who have received donated homes since 2010 from Wells argo and financial counseling from Military Warriors Support Foundation and other nonprofits serving veterans, collectively paying off more than $6.3 million of debt.
“The house was great and the biggest one my family had ever lived in, but the part of the program that literally changed everything was the financial mentoring,” Mason said.
“It took me from a spender to a saver, from someone who didn’t budget and lived from paycheck to paycheck to someone who uses a projected budget to guide every choice, and who now knows not only how to buy and shop, but how to monitor and strengthen credit.”
According to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s 2020 annual survey, money management remains a common battle for Americans. Of those surveyed, 1 in 4 said they couldn’t pay their bills on time, and nearly 6 in 10 said they struggled to reduce debt because of unexpected financial emergencies or reduced income.
However, 3 in 4 surveyed in a recent Harris Poll survey for Wells Fargo also said the pandemic has helped them realize the importance of a monthly budget — a practice previous studies indicated only about 40% of U.S. households regularly practice.
That’s why Sean Passmore, head of Veteran and Military Initiatives at Wells Fargo, said programs like the one benefiting Mason through housing and advice are needed.
“Wells Fargo has now donated mortgage-free homes to veterans and their families in all 50 states,” Passmore said. “It’s about so much more than a place to live. It’s about removing financial burdens and improving the financial readiness and financial health of our veterans and their families and communities.”
Mason first heard about Military Warriors Support Foundation and its program with Wells Fargo in 2016 from one of the homeless veterans he served as an Ability Housing volunteer in Jacksonville.
Selected by Military Warriors Support Foundation to receive a home and financial mentoring in 2017, Mason received the house keys that March. But his journey to homeownership was only beginning.
Like other home recipients, he next had to complete three years of required financial mentoring to receive the mortgage-free deed to his home. Until that day came in May 2020, Mason and his wife, Jalexza, talked monthly with Karyn Phillips, their Military Warriors Support Foundation family and financial mentor.
From budgeting to credit management and more, Phillips put the Masons through a financial boot camp of lessons and support with skills Marcus missed in the quick transition from high school to the Marines. Those skills included learning how to create and stick to a projected monthly budget and make course corrections.
“I graduated in May 1998 from high school in Carrollton, Georgia, at 17 and went to boot camp in June so never knew what it was like to be a civilian,” Mason said. “After high school, all I knew was being a Marine. So after I got hurt and got out, the transition back home was very difficult.
“Unlike the Marines, there was no manual or orders to follow when it came to money,” he said. “I’d buy things on impulse, charge things on a credit card, not comparison shop, take out loans and not check the rates or terms as closely as I should have, or regularly monitor my credit score. I now look at the price and impact of everything, and budget, and have good financial habits that I know I’m going to carry through and that will help me for the rest of my life.”
Mason joined the Marines in 1998 and rose through the ranks after a tour in Afghanistan to become a platoon sergeant and an assault team leader in Iraq. He was awarded a Purple Heart medal for his injuries in an improvised explosive device explosion that prompted his return to civilian life in 2007. “The thing I’m most proud of in Iraq,” he said, “is how my guys never gave up and served me and each other, the Marines, and our country.”
Phillips has the same kind of pride in the Masons, who paid off more than $30,000 in debt, replaced cars with savings and earnings from a new investment account they added to their portfolio, and who use their budget to stay on track financially.
Jalexza Mason has begun a new career in health care as a medical assistant and Marcus Mason plans to start studies soon at Florida State College in Jacksonville toward a possible teaching career.
Phillips said none of those moves would have been possible for the Masons, or the more than 100 other veterans and spouses that she’s financially mentored over the last nine years, without the teamwork by Military Warriors Support Foundation and Wells Fargo.
“Together, we’re committed to sustainable homeownership — Wells Fargo providing the home and resources to renovate it, and Military Warriors Support Foundation providing the financial program to ensure the family can keep and cherish their home,” she said. “I love being a part of their successes and seeing where they start and where they end.”