Financial management; take control of your funds

1 Nov 2013 | Cpl. Brady Wood

A new survey focusing on the financial capability of military personnel revealed that there is an alarming number of personnel who do not manage their finances well.
Service members with severe financial problems run the risk of losing their security clearance, impairing career advancement, having sanctions placed on them or being discharged.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina and Duke University said the study of 1,000-plus veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan era found nearly one-third had exceeded their credit limit, written a bad check or been contacted by a collection agency. About five percent of those surveyed spent some time homeless.
In the Installation Personnel Administration Center, on both Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, service-members, and DoD employees can find a financial planner who will show them how to budget and save money.
“As long as the service member’s issue relates to finances, we can help,” said Chuck Mathieu, the personal financial management specialist for MCRD Parris Island. “We can teach them about budgeting, tax withholding, thrift savings plan, you name it.”
Marines who were in debt when they joined the Marine Corps can utilize the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
“The SCRA states that if a civilian enlisted in the armed forces and was already paying interest on a car payment or even a credit card, that service-member can contact the credit card company or car dealership if that’s how they got a car and request that their interest be reduced to six percent,” said Mathieu.
In order to take advantage of the SCRA, service members must get a letter from a PFM and fill in information such as their name and when they left for recruit training. Once the letter has been properly filled out, the letter, along with a copy of the Marine’s orders, must be sent to the creditor or lender.
“The last thing they need to do in order to reduce their interest is send a copy of their orders in order to prove that went to recruit training on the day indicated in the letter,” Mathieu added.
Even someone who has been in for seven years but enlisted with debt in their pocket can take advantage of the SCRA.
Mathieu and his colleagues have realized that, when it comes to tax season, the tax withholdings on service members LES is too high.
“Usually when people come in for budgeting we ask them to bring their leave and earning savings,” said Mathieu. “The biggest thing that I see is the amount of tax withholding. From that we gather that they are getting a big refund and are not declaring as many exemptions as they should be.”
Tax withholding and SCRA are two of 10 problem areas that financial specialists come across the most in which service members can save money.
“We have had service members come to us who year after receive $2,000 - $4,000 back on their tax refund,” said Mathieu. “What we try to encourage to them to try to change their withholding that way they get less of a refund and add that to their monthly paycheck in order to pay off bills, put a little in savings or increase how much they are putting into their TSP.”
Despite financial counseling being available for veterans through the Veteran’s Administration, prior service civilians can also call and schedule a meeting with any personal financial management specialist.
As a result of the personal financial management specialists, service members, DoD employees and veterans are able to get help with their finances. As long as the issue relates to finances, they can help you get on the right track.