updated 2/16/2006 12:08:23 AM ET 2006-02-16T05:08:23

Abusive marketing to military recruits of overpriced, unsuitable mutual funds and life insurance has led to a campaign to educate service members and their spouses on financial matters.

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The campaign is being announced Thursday by the National Association of Securities Dealers — the brokerage industry’s self-policing organization — as well as several members of Congress and government officials.

The NASD’s $6.8 million program will provide financial training programs for military spouses and financial counselors located on bases. A new Web site, www.SaveAndInvest.org, will provide information for military personnel and their families, and there will be a global advertising campaign.

Many service members report having difficulty covering their expenses and saving for the future. More than 2,000 military spouses already have applied to become financial counselors, according to the NASD.

“We know that military personnel want and need objective, unbiased information to help them make sound financial decisions,” said NASD Chairman and CEO Robert Glauber.

At a time when soldiers are fighting and dying in Iraq, lawmakers have denounced widespread instances of financial companies targeting military personnel with high-pressure sales tactics and charging them exorbitant fees. Legislation that would curb sales to military personnel of exploitive mutual fund plans, insurance policies and other investment products passed the House in 2004 and 2005 but the Senate has not yet voted on it.

David S.C. Chu, the undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, said in a statement that “financial preparedness is a key component of military readiness.”

“Equipping service members with the tools and resources they need to make sound financial decisions is integral to both military readiness and the strength and stability of our service members and their families,” he said.

The $6.8 million for the education program is coming from fines imposed by NASD and the Securities and Exchange Commission in December 2004 against First Command Financial Planning Inc., a company that sold high-fee mutual funds to military officers. First Command, based in Fort Worth, Texas, agreed to pay a total of $12 million, with the remainder going to compensate certain customers.

The company neither admitted nor denied the regulators’ charges that it used misleading sales material to promote the so-called “contractual plan” mutual funds, but it did agree to be censured and to refrain from future violations of securities laws.

The NASD has issued a warning to investors regarding contractual plan mutual funds, which charge commissions that can take 50 percent of the investor’s contributions in the first year. Also called systematic investment plans or periodic payment plans, they allow investors to accumulate shares of a mutual fund by making monthly payments, usually as little as $50, over a long investment period of 10, 15 or 25 years.

The fund plans all but disappeared from civilian markets in the 1970s and thereafter were sold almost exclusively to military personnel, with retired officers frequently making the sales pitches.

In addition, some young soldiers without dependents have been paying more than $100 a month for life insurance atop relatively inexpensive policies they already have as members of the military.

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