Military service members and veterans face special financial challenges related to deployment, relocation, VA Loans and GI bill benefits. Military Money is a service of the InCharge Education Foundation, a financial literacy nonprofit organization.
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Members of the military spend distinguished careers serving our country, but that dedication sometimes comes with a heavy financial price.
According to a 2015 survey conducted by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), military personnel have significantly more debt and fewer assets than civilians.
Think about the discipline learned during basic training. Couldn’t that be applied to other areas of life, specifically debt management? Shouldn’t a military career lead to lifetime financial security? Unfortunately, when it comes to money matters, things don’t always turn out that way.
“This is a serious problem,’’ NFCC president and CEO Susan Keating told NBC News. “The issue of financial stability for those who serve our country is a real concern.’’
According to the NFCC survey, the average military family had 7 percent higher unsecured debt balances (nearly $500 more than the average), 16 percent fewer tangible assets ($11,000 less than the average) and 15 percent higher monthly debt-related expenses ($200 more than the average).
Additionally, a 2016 report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau determined that military members and their families are much more at-risk in debt collections than the general population. According to the CFPB report, debt collection represents almost half (46 percent) of all military complaints filed.
By comparison, debt collection represented only 26 percent of the total complaints received by the CFPB.
Members of the military get themselves in financial troubles for a lot of reasons, but the most common one is overspending, especially if they’re supporting a family.
And if there’s a family emergency, the money will have to be stretched even further, perhaps creating a crisis that can’t be reversed. Military members can be young with little financial experience — maybe no experience at setting a budget — so mistakes are made.
Frequent moves can apply more pressure, particularly when a military family needs to sell their home on short notice. The lack of day-to-day continuity also makes things difficult for a spouse to find and hold a good job.
Deployment can add more complications, especially if an unprepared spouse inherits all the financial responsibilities. Bills could be neglected during the transition. Those missed payments could lead to more debt.
Because of the steady paychecks, military members also can get credit more easily and are more likely to be targeted by creditors.
Some military members could be afraid to seek financial help, particularly if they are involved with collection agencies, because they are fearful of jeopardizing their security clearance.
But, in fact, a great course of action is contacting a non-profit credit counseling organization approved by the NFCC. Most of the sessions are free and credit counselors can help military families get out of debt. Counselors can provide credit solutions, tips for debt management and deliver information on:
For the informed and financially prudent, there are ways to avoid any financial trouble. But it requires planning and discipline. With that, over time, a secure future could be ensured.
If military families find themselves slipping into debt, there are proven ways to reverse the cycle. Portions of a sound financial plan could include:
Getting Out Of Debt: It sounds obvious, but making a plan to make more than the minimum payment on debt, especially credit card debt, will increase the odds of finding financial freedom.
Building A Budget: Tailoring a plan to a unique income and spending needs will add clarity. It helps to pull records from banks and credit cards for at least the past three months to determine what’s going into various spending categories.
Eliminating Unnecessary Spending: It’s always enlightening to examine the entertainment budget. It could be time to restrict eating out, going to the movies or treating yourself to that special latte. Painful, yes, but in the long run, the added discipline will pay dividends.
Improving Your Credit Score: Make all your payments on time. Improve your debt-to-income ratio. Don’t let any bill go into collections. It’s surprising how much a credit score can improve in one year.
Using Common Sense: There is “good debt,’’ such as purchasing a home, buying a car or entering a college savings plan. But stay away from “bad debt,’’ such as running up a credit-card balance, getting lured into new credit cards that promise low interest rates, seeking cash advance loans and borrowing money for big-ticket items that just aren’t needed.
These are tips to take seriously. The average military member who contacts a credit counselor has accumulated about $10,000 in consumer debt, according to the NFCC. If you’re just starting out in a military career, don’t go there.
And if you’re stuck in a difficult financial situation, there’s hope. Get some help. Stick to a plan. Use common sense. Later in life, you will salute those decisions.
Reeves, S. (2016, March 2) 5 Reasons Members of the Military Go Into Debt. Retrieved from https://www.veteransunited.com/money/5-reasons-members-of-the-military-go-into-debt/
Muse, K. (2016, January 5) 7 Financial New Years Resolutions For Military Families. Retrieved from http://themilitarywallet.com/financial-new-year-resolutions-for-military-families/
Weisbaum, H. (2015, January 13) Survey: Military Families Have More Debt, Fewer Assets Than Civilians. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/business/personal-finance/survey-military-families-carry-more-debt-have-fewer-assets-civilians-n390046