If you're a veteran — or the spouse of a vet — you may qualify for a scholarship at the American College Penn Mutual Center for Veterans Affairs, established to help vets and their spouses can transition into the world of finance.

The Center in Bryn Mawr, just surpassed $2 million in scholarships awarded to more than 360 military veterans, active duty, and their spouses since its founding in 2012.

Jonathan Childs, a West Point graduate, is taking coursework to receive his CFP designation, or Certified Financial Planner.

"Especially since the Great Recession in 2008, people are understandably nervous. They respect the CFP designation, and it gives me a broader base of knowledge so I can help my clients — and not just push a life insurance policy or an annuity," he said.

Childs, 37, and his business partners last year founded New Perspective Financial Group in Warrington, after working several years for Prudential. With a full scholarship to the veterans program, he's taking his third course in estate planning, after completing the investments and retirement planning courses over the past nine months.

"They let you do it on your own time, which is great," he added.

Tamra Ivanoff, wife of an active duty Army officer, lives on base with her family in Carlisle. She was a stay-at-home mom until 2010, when she applied for the Military Spouse Financial fellowship through FINRA (www.militaryspouseafcpe.org).

"FINRA pays for military spouses to become an AFC, or accredited financial counselor. As part of that, I worked in Army community service for 1,000 hours of internship time," paid for by FINRA, a Wall Street regulator.

Through that, she heard about the American College veterans scholarship. The 49-year-old currently works educating active-duty officers and enlisted servicemen and women from all military branches at Naval Operational Support Center in Mechanicsburg, and won a full scholarship to study at the American College  for her CFP designation.

Would she recommend it?

"Yes, particularly for veterans who wonder what they're going to do next. They may qualify for the scholarship or they may have education benefits through the military that pay for it. The program is an easy transition."

Ivanoff also just got linked up with a mentor in financial services who's based in Lancaster, through the American College veterans center.

Bryan Eberly, 30 and a Naval Academy graduate, said the scholarship covered what would have cost between $6,000 and $8,000 in tuition.

"The CFP program is awesome for guys like me without a finance background who get out of the military. It's like a mini-MBA," said Eberly, who works now as a financial adviser associate with Janney Montgomery Scott in Bryn Mawr. The American College also offers a Retirement Income Certified Professional designation (RICP), which focuses on optimizing Social Security benefits. For more information visit the website: https://veterans.theamericancollege.edu.

Due diligence on your adviser

Does a certification mean your adviser is pure as snow? Of course not.

Here are some resources to do a background check:

  • Before you invest, go to Investor.gov. The consumer-friendly site will lead you to two important public-disclosure databases: AdviserInfo.sec.gov and BrokerCheck.org. (You can also call the toll-free BrokerCheck hotline at 1-800-289-9999). Because of politics, Wall Street is still divided into two camps: investment advisers and brokers. The SEC maintains its database of investment advisers; the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) maintains the database of brokers. Check yours in either (or both) to see whether they register, have a disciplinary history, and update their licenses regularly.

  • When you meet in person, ask the financial professional whether he or she has had any customer complaints. Those should show up on AdviserInfo.sec.gov or BrokerCheck.org. At both websites, you can search by name or by firm. Questions to ask: How does your adviser or broker get paid? Does your broker or investment adviser offer only "in-house" products? If so, what are those? Does the broker or adviser receive any incentives for selling the products or for maintaining them in a customer's account? What are the fees that you will pay for products and services? How and when will you see the fees you pay? Which of those fees will you pay directly (such as a commission on a stock trade), and which are taken directly from the products you own (such as some mutual-fund expenses)? Does someone else (such as a fund company) pay the adviser or broker for offering or selling these products or services?

  • Finally, never give money directly to a financial adviser or broker. There should always be an independent custodian or entity between your financial professional and your money. If you are asked to write a check and deposit it into a personal bank account, run in the other direction.