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Dealing with overwhelming debt is stressful for everyone, but the men and women of the Armed Forces face unique challenges when they have mountains of bills to overcome. Often, debt has far-reaching effects that go above and beyond the financial implications civilians face.
A mind distracted from the mission
What happens to you when you are at the office and you receive a phone call from a bill collector? At best it only interrupts your focus, but it probably ruins your day. Instead of focusing on work, you spend the majority of your time trying to figure out a resolution to the problem.
The same thing happens to men and women in uniform. If a soldier’s mind is focused on dealing with an unpaid mortgage back home and the impacts of that unpaid debt on loved ones, that soldier is not 100 percent focused on the mission. The soldier’s life and the lives of others could be put in jeopardy if the soldier loses focus.
Loss of security clearance
If a solider is in a combat zone or field where security clearance is required, overwhelming debt and collection calls could potentially impact the standing of that clearance. Certain financial issues, such as not being able or willing to pay debts, frivolous spending, and illegal activities such as theft, could revoke or make it impossible to obtain a security clearance.
(Click here to read more from another veteran who overcame obstacles to pay off debt he accrued in the military.)
Financial problems and disagreements about money are among the top causes for divorce in the United States. This is not something new. However, military families have additional challenges, including permanent changes of station (PCS) and separation from family for long periods of time.
Soldiers face the possibility of a PCS or deployment every two to three years. Many military personnel struggle to maintain two households after purchasing a home in one state and not being able to sell it when they have to quickly move.
When reservists and national guardsmen and women are deployed, they often leave good paying jobs and take a significant pay cut, which impacts their ability to keep up with regular expenses. Additionally, if the service member is the person primarily responsible for managing household finances before being deployed, he or she must rely on a spouse or significant other to pay the bills.
If payments are not made on time, the service member’s credit could be significantly impacted. This, combined with a rocky financial foundation, can exacerbate an already difficult situation and lead to divorce.
Suffering in silence
Although servicemen and women may receive information about financial literacy, they may not speak up or ask specific questions because they may feel that unwanted attention could be directed at them. Many armed forces personnel hide the fact that they are experiencing financial difficulty and try to handle it alone.
For any veteran, active duty or retired, the lesson here is to seek help early from a trusted and reliable source. Don’t suffer in silence. There are numerous resources that can help you deal with the overwhelming debt that you may be carrying. You may want to try a free budget and credit counseling session with a nonprofit credit counseling agency, which can help you create a customized action plan for dealing with your debts and working toward financial stability.
You can also check out my book, The Veteran’s Money Book, which provides a step-by-step program to help military veterans build a financial action plan to map their futures.
Mechel Glass is the vice president of education for ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions. She is responsible for developing the curriculum and financial education materials for online classes including webinars, podcasts, videos, and listen-on-demand classes. She provides support and training for the agency’s community outreach programs and staff, including financial education specialists in 15 states. Glass also manages the development and reporting of the agency’s online education, and she is the co-author of The Veteran’s Money Book (Career Press, April 2014).
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