I have a friend with terrible credit. As a teen, they racked up so much credit card debt that it went to collections and they had to appear in court. Even though they are now an adult with a steady job, they still have a hard time finding an apartment and buying a car. They will be paying for their debt (and their mistakes) for several more years.
Being in debt is no joke. Even after you start to recover and make better decisions, getting out of debt is a slow and painful process. Luckily, there are numerous resources available for service members and military families who struggle with debt. If you, your fiance, a friend, a neighbor, or someone in your unit is drowning in debt, then turn to these lifelines.
Start debt management
There are a number of strategies for getting out of debt and slowly improving your credit. Most of the strategies involve limiting your spending, making minimum payments on credit cards or loans, and balancing your budget. You can do this on your own, using financial management apps or books by noted, vetted experts. Or you can seek advice from a professional financial consultant, which may be offered as a free service on your base. Find out which of the following services are available near you.
2. Attend a class
The Family Services Center on your base probably offers monthly classes on financial management, paying off debt, and balancing a budget. These classes are usually free, and are taught by financial professionals. Often, the small class size allows you to ask questions specific to your situation. They may ask you to bring in bills, paperwork, and your service member LES (Leave and Earnings Statement) so they can help you crunch your numbers and make a solid debt payment plan. Contact the Family Center to learn about class dates and times.
3. Get legal advice
The base legal office will provide some counseling for debt management, particularly if you have questions about consumer law (credit card debt, auto loans, etc.). The legal office provides free legal counsel to service members, and sometimes to military spouses. You usually need to call and schedule an appointment or wait during their walk-in hours. They cannot provide a lawyer if you need to appear in court, but they can help you review your credit report and let you know your legal options if you are behind on debt payments.
4. CFS (Command Financial Specialist)
All military branches have a CFS assigned to most units. This is the service member in the unit who provides financial resources to active duty service members. They are trained to handle common financial situations, such as buying a car, checking credit scores, balancing a checking account, financial planning, and bankruptcy. The CFS offers classes, training programs, and one-on-one counseling with personal financial management so that service members will be ready for their missions instead of distracted by debt.
5. Research the Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act
Revised in 2003, this protects service member rights as soon as they enter the military, and applies throughout their time of active duty. This legislation allows service members to terminate a rental agreement, phone contract, or auto loan if they receive orders to deploy or PCS outside the United States. It also mandates that service members can consolidate credit card debt or mortgage rates to a lower APR, at a maximum of 6 percent. If a service member is about to default on a loan, this act enables judgement protection if certain conditions are met. More details are available here.
6. Navy/ Marine Corps Relief Society
On Navy and Marine Corps bases, the NMCRS offers no-interest loans to Marines and sailors faced with unexpected emergency expenses, such as car trouble or plane tickets home for a funeral. The loans are repaid from the service member’s paycheck on a timeline they choose. Larger loan amounts can be approved after reviewing the service member’s LES. The NMCRS also offers free consultations with financial professionals who can help set up a household budget or recommend a reasonable mortgage amount for a military family.
With all these resources on your military installation, there is no reason to let debt drag you down. Contact one of them today if you need financial assistance or advice.
Author’s note: This article does not assume that service members and military families struggle with debt more than civilians. The author recognizes that many military families are not irresponsible with money or currently in debt. This is simply a list of unique financial resources available to military service members.