Mark Military Appreciation Month with money advice for serviceme - KPTV - FOX 12

Mark Military Appreciation Month with money advice for servicemen and women

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© US Army / Sgt. 1st Class Michael Guillory © US Army / Sgt. 1st Class Michael Guillory


By Andrew Housser

May is Military Appreciation Month, and while many people are thankful for our active and retired servicemen and women, few people understand the unique financial challenges people who serve our country face. Here are seven important points to keep in mind when living on a military service member’s budget.

1. Be careful to live within your means. Moving every few years, a common occurrence for many members of the military, can make it hard to stay organized and in control of finances. For these reasons, it is especially important for military families to create and use a simple budget. Keep it simple: List all of your expenses in one column, and all of your income in another. If the expenses are more than the income, tap into your creativity for ways to reduce expenses or add income. For example, consider switching to a more affordable cell phone plan, using the library and streaming media instead of subscribing to cable television, and preparing more meals at home instead of eating out.

2. Seek flexible career options for spouses. Especially in the early years, or for those without a college degree, military pay can be tight. Additionally, when one member of a household is in the service, it can be difficult for a spouse or partner to build a solid career. In fact, 90 percent female civilian spouses of active duty service members report they are underemployed, meaning they have more experience or education than their current job requires. And one in four military spouses is unemployed. It may take some thought, creativity and time to develop, but military spouses are prime candidates for “portable” careers. These might include self-employment and fields that do not require taking on student loan debt or obtaining re-licensure in different states. 

3. Automate finances as much as possible. With frequent moves and overseas deployments, it can be all too easy for military families to lose track of financial matters. Take the time to set up online banking and automatic payments for as many bills as you can. This way, you can make sure that you always pay on time. On-time payments make up about one-third of your credit score. In addition, paying on time will help to avoid late fees and penalty interest rates. 

4. Beware of scams. Scammers commonly target service members, who are especially vulnerable because of frequent moves that leave a trail of past addresses – and sometimes, mail and other personal information. Never send money or provide personal information, such as a copy of a passport or bank account information, to someone who asks on the internet. These scammers sometimes pose as online dating services or government contractors. Learn more about scams from the Better Business Bureau.

5. Be cautious about credit card debt. If your budget is balanced only because you are making minimum payments on credit cards, but not paying off the debt, make an honest assessment of your financial situation. If you can only make minimum payments, or if you are not able to even make minimum payments, and you do not foresee that situation changing in the future, seek help. It is especially important to protect your credit profile, because a very poor credit score can affect your security rating, too. A reputable debt relief specialist can help you to determine the best way to proceed. The American Fair Credit Council is a good resource to help identify a debt relief provider.

6. Take advantage of lower interest rates. If you have credit card debt, student loan debt, an auto loan or other debt that you obtained before you joined the military, you may be able to reduce the interest rates you pay. Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), lenders can only charge up to 6 percent interest on debts that you accrued before becoming active in the service. If you have credit card debt, student loan debt, an auto loan or other debt that you obtained before you joined the military, you may be able to reduce the interest rates you pay while you are on active service. 

7. Get other help if you need it. Service members do have the advantage of many potential financial benefits, if they qualify. These include education benefits, reduced-cost mortgage loans from the VA and reduced prices on many goods at the commissary on base. Some service members qualify for other help. For instance, the use of food stamps at commissaries more than quadrupled from 2007 to 2014. Do not shy away from this kind of assistance if it would help you to make ends meet.

Andrew Housser is a co-founder and CEO of Bills.com, a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about personal finance issues and compare financial products and services. He also is co-CEO of Freedom Financial Network, LLC providing comprehensive consumer credit advocacy and debt relief services. Housser holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College.
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