Some form of debt haunts most Americans. But a new study reveals that members of the military accrue debt at alarming rates when compared to civilians. This debt can endanger service members’ financial lives (and their jobs) if left untouched.
Approximately 36,000 active members of the military have security clearances recently requested financial help due to large debt threatening their clearances, according to nonprofit VeteransPlus in an NBC News article.
The article also stated that military members in debt tend to have an average debt-to-income ratio of 46.5 percent, about 10 percent higher than normal.
Because service members protect national security, the military expects them to keep up with their bills. The problem is that the military lifestyle makes staying out of debt quite difficult.
Here are five reasons members of the military tend to accrue debt.
“Service members may find themselves in debt for a number of reasons,” said Gerri Detweiler, Director of Consumer Education at Credit.com. “For many, the pay may be steady, but it’s not large, and that means they have to stretch their paychecks quite a bit – especially if they are helping to support a family.”
When military members are forced to squeeze every last dollar out of their paychecks, they might not be able to save a significant amount for emergencies at home. So if there is a family emergency, they might have to go into debt, which can easily become a downward spiral if it’s not carefully monitored.
Another reason for debt in the military is needing to move locations often. “Frequent moves can add additional expenses,” said Detweiler. “And those moves can make it harder for a spouse to hold and advance in a good paying job.”
According to an article from Credit.com, the fact that the current U.S. housing market is still recovering makes it harder for service members to sell their homes on short notice when they’re asked to move. As a result, they have to pay mortgages on both their old and new homes in order to maintain good credit, which places a added burden on their financial lives. Debt can start to pile up despite their efforts.
Deployment makes it difficult to stay out of debt as well. If a service member leaves a spouse at home, he or she will automatically receive all the financial responsibilities while the service member is deployed. If communication fails for some reason, the spouse at home might forget to pay a seemingly innocuous bill. But that missed payment can create larger problems if not taken care of. Because most of the financial pressure is put on the spouse at home, missed payments can lead to more debt.
Because of their steady, guaranteed paychecks, military members can get credit more easily and are more likely to be targeted by creditors than civilians. “Additionally, those (military) that do carry credit card debt have higher balances than their civilian counterparts,” said Karen Carlson, Director of Education at InCharge Debt Solutions. “Carrying debt, however, limits a service member’s ability to maximize other military benefits, like the Thrift savings program.”
Another reason people in the military are more susceptible to the credit industry than civilians is that service members can’t have a debt settlement, but civilians can, according to Tom Breazeale, Founder of Military Debt Management Agency.
The underlying reason service members stay in debt once they accrue it is fear of losing their security clearance if their superiors find out about their debt. “Unfortunately, members of the military may be afraid to seek out help,” said Detweiler. “I’ve heard from service members who are deeply underwater on their homes, for example, but are afraid to get help for fear of jeopardizing their security clearance.”
So if they don’t acknowledge their debt and seek help for fear of losing their clearance and job, the debt will only continue to increase.
But nonprofit companies such as VeteransPlus and Military Debt Management Agency work to make it possible for military members to put their debt behind them. “A successful military career can lead to a lifetime of financial security if you exercise some of the discipline gained from basic training in your personal finances,” said Carlson. “We encourage service members to get out of debt and stay out of debt, with the help of nonprofit credit counseling.”
Photo courtesy of Tax Credits