OCTOBER 10, 2019 – Fort Knox financial specialists agree uncontrolled personal spending is a real problem for many Soldiers.
Mounting debts can mean dire consequences to a military career, family life and financial futures.
“Budgeting is absolutely critical to getting out of debt,” said Ronald Rowland, a financial counselor with the Soldier For Life: Transition Assistance Program. “It’s a simple process of looking at the money you have coming in and finding out where it’s going.”
Rowland said waiting too long to act really complicates things, however.
“You don’t control your budget, and it begins to control you,” he said. “You get too deep into debt and that affects your security clearance, then the type of assignments and schools you’re able to get. It can even affect your ability to stay in the Army.”
The Army considers Soldiers with unmanageable debt to be potential liabilities. Army Regulation 600-15 gives commanders authority to deny re-enlistment, administratively separate, and charge Soldiers under the Uniform Code of Military Justice articles 92, 123, 133 and 134.
Rowland said statistics confirm that unmanageable debt is a consistent source of unrest with couples and a leading cause of divorce.
“The best thing [couples] can do is to face the truth, and they usually need help to do that,” he said. “[Financial counselors can] get them focused on the solution rather than blaming each other.
According to Rowland, relief might not be as unattainable as it may seem.
“There are a number of good credit counselors on post who will help you,” It won’t happen overnight, but in six months, most people could have spending and debt payments under control.”
Alison Dupont, a financial readiness specialist with Fort Knox Army Community Service, said Soldiers have a number of financial services from ACS they can tap into, include budgeting, education on spending habits/pitfalls and financial planning for the future.
“Budgeting is needed because it lets you know where you’re at, but getting out of debt is more than paying off your credit cards,” said Dupont. “We’re teaching you to prioritize your debts, to change your spending habits, to know who and how much you owe to pay your bills on time, how to clear your credit, how to create a backup savings fund and a retirement fund. Shannon Wilson, the financial readiness manager and Army Emergency Relief officer, said budgeting is still helpful in today’s ever-increasing cashless culture.
“[The average person] doesn’t carry cash anymore and they don’t balance a checkbook, either. They use debit cards, their money goes straight to their bank, and they use their phone to move funds,” Wilson said. “They don’t actually see the money or the things being taken out automatically, and it’s very hard to track exactly what’s happening if you don’t keep a budget.
“That is where mishaps come from. A mistake happens and you get an overdraft and another one; it keeps rolling and rolling till it takes all your pay.”
According to Rowland, many Soldiers simply make purchases outside of their means.
“Take a look at the parking lot when Soldiers get back from deployment. You’ll see all the very expensive high-end cars out there, but in three months’ time, they’re gone. They got repossessed and are on the used car lots,” he said. “Soldiers come back with a wad of money but find out it’s not enough to afford the car payments, the insurance, the maintenance and the gas to put in the car.
“Cars, credit cards and rent-to-own furniture are all traps for Soldiers who are trying to keep up with the ‘Joneses’ without realizing where they’re heading.”
Soldiers in financial trouble may qualify for a lifeline from Army Emergency Relief Wilson said, and in most cases, they won’t have to engage their commander first to receive assistance.
According to Wilson, AER was designed to get Soldiers home in the event of a death of an immediate family, but the program has evolved and its philosophy has changed. She explained that it’s become a part of Soldier readiness with added categories that could help Soldiers with their finances woes before they become career altering.
AER assistance is typically used to help get Soldiers over an emergency financial hurdle, Wilson explained, and it shouldn’t be seen as a crutch for those who don’t have spending under control.
“It takes some stress off of them when they know they have an outlet to resolve a financial situation. [It] can be a band aid to stop the bleeding until they are paid,” said Wilson. “It’s not a fix. Financial counseling is the path [needed] to get Soldiers back on track by teaching them to budget, to avoid excessive debt, and to plan for their financial future.”
AER assistance is evaluated on a case-by-case basis and should meet the terms that govern the program in AR 930-4.
Story by G. Anthonie Riis