Members of the military have plenty to worry about when they are serving our country and the last thing they need is a little voice inside their heads whispering: “Did you pay the mortgage and credit cards off this month?”

The good news is laws protect them from many civilian credit worries. The bad news is a lot of military personnel still suffer severe financial difficulties and have a hard time finding debt-relief options.

If you are an infantryman in Afghanistan or a civilian in Topeka, debt consolidation – whether it’s a personal loan, a debt management program or in the most severe instances, bankruptcy – can ease the strain. There is no financial strain quite like military financial strain, but there is help.

Debt and Your Military Security Clearance

Service members are held to a higher standard. They can’t abuse alcohol, drugs or even credit. Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice spells it out – Service members who don’t pay their bills “bring discredit upon the armed forces.”

They can lose their security clearances, promotions and even face court martial if they fail to live up to their financial obligations. Despite such consequences, 36% of military service members have trouble paying monthly bills, according to a study by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

That’s why you see so many payday lender storefronts with flashing signs outside the gates of military bases. They won’t tell you that making only one monthly payment on a debt consolidation loan or personal loan with lower interest rates might be the best route to solvency.

It’s far more advisable than going into a strip-mall office and taking out a payday or auto-title loan where the average interest rate is 400% and could be as high as 1,000%. If you’re even slightly tempted by the flashing signs, please take a deep breath and start exploring other debt-relief options. The Service Members Civil Relief Act is your friend.

Military & Veteran Debt Consolidation Loan Options

If you are looking for a debt reduction plan, a good place to start would be examining the interest rates you pay on your current bills, especially credit card debt and compare those against the interest rate charges for a personal loan.

The personal loan is almost always going to have lower interest rates and thus, save you money right away, especially if you have collateral to back up the loan.

Banks, credit unions and online lending services are all in the business of making personal loans that allow you to consolidate several bills and pay them off, all at once. You’re left with one monthly payment that should be less than what you were paying for all the bills you consolidated. It certainly will produce less chaos in keeping up with just one payment a month.

The problem many veterans and active military members must overcome is the fear they won’t qualify for a personal loan because of a bad credit score. Not true!

Most banks and credit unions recognize the financial difficulties service members face and welcome them as customers. The rates advertised in early 2017 were as low at 5.99%, based on your credit score. The Military Lending Act of 2007 caps interest on personal loans at 36%.

Active or retired service members also could explore numerous personal loan options available online. Online lenders have become very aggressive in offering interest rates at reasonable prices to help them lure customers away from traditional lenders like banks and credit unions.

If you’re not happy with the interest rate offered or just don’t want to take out a personal loan, you could seek help from a nonprofit credit counseling agency. Counselors walk you through the steps of setting up a monthly budget and then recommend debt-relief options.

One of those is a debt management program, which is a good way to eliminate debt, increase your credit score and relieve stress from financial problems. Counselors work with lenders to reduce the interest rate you’re paying and the amount of your monthly payment so that all debt is eliminated in a 3-5 year time frame.