Military Line’ Works to Boost Financial Fitness

WASHINGTON — A young ser­vice mem­ber sad­dled with debt and in need of some quick cash does­n’t have to go far. Lenders offer­ing same-day loans sit out­side the gate of near­ly every mil­i­tary instal­la­tion in the nation.

But the lure of fast and easy cash can lead strapped troops down a path of steep inter­est rates and fees that far sur­pass their ini­tial loan. 

In oth­er words, if it sounds too good to be true, it prob­a­bly is, said Bren­da Lin­ning­ton, direc­tor of the Bet­ter Busi­ness Bureau Mil­i­tary Line. 

Pro­tect­ing ser­vice mem­bers and their fam­i­lies from finan­cial pit­falls such as pay­day lenders is Linnington’s pri­ma­ry goal at Mil­i­tary Line. The program’s mis­sion, she explained, is to increase mil­i­tary mem­bers’ finan­cial lit­er­a­cy through infor­ma­tion, edu­ca­tion and out­reach — both online and on the ground. 

“I’d like Mil­i­tary Line to serve as a bridge between the civil­ian and mil­i­tary com­mu­ni­ties,” said Lin­ning­ton, an Army vet­er­an and the wife of an active-duty Army offi­cer. She took on the job in Jan­u­ary after the for­mer direc­tor, Hol­ly Petraeus, left to head the Con­sumer Finan­cial Pro­tec­tion Bureau’s Office of Ser­vice­mem­ber Affairs. 

The pro­gram, cre­at­ed in 2004, also is a part­ner in the Defense Department’s Finan­cial Readi­ness Cam­paign, she said, which gives local bureau rep­re­sen­ta­tives access to teach finan­cial lit­er­a­cy class­es on mil­i­tary instal­la­tions. The bureau, she added, has 164 local offices scat­tered across the country. 

The impor­tance of a mil­i­tary family’s finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty can’t be over­es­ti­mat­ed, Lin­ning­ton said. 

“If we’re deploy­ing a young sol­dier and expect­ing him to do great things on our behalf, but he’s great­ly in debt and col­lec­tors are call­ing his fam­i­ly,” she said, “that sol­dier is nev­er going to be com­plete­ly mission-ready.” 

One major con­cern, Lin­ning­ton not­ed, is that finan­cial issues often lead to the loss of secu­ri­ty clear­ances, which can affect ser­vice mem­bers’ abil­i­ty to per­form their jobs. 

“To be under that lev­el of emo­tion­al strain and then expect them to be a strong fam­i­ly that’s grow­ing and thriv­ing is unre­al­is­tic,” she said. 

Debt and debt man­age­ment are among the most press­ing finan­cial issues for ser­vice mem­bers and their fam­i­lies, she not­ed, par­tic­u­lar­ly for the younger pop­u­la­tion. Reports indi­cate that junior ser­vice mem­bers car­ry a heav­ier load of debt than their civil­ian counterparts. 

This debt com­bined with a steady pay­check and a strong sense of dis­ci­pline can add up to an attrac­tive tar­get for scam artists, Lin­ning­ton said. “It’s very entic­ing to some­one look­ing to entrap you in a con­tract,” she added. “A young pri­vate might not make a large income, but col­lec­tive­ly, if there’s a bunch of pri­vates, that’s a lot of money.” 

Lin­ning­ton said the scams have come fast and furi­ous in recent years. Some scam­mers con­tact mil­i­tary fam­i­ly mem­bers by phone or email and make false claims that the ser­vice mem­ber has been wound­ed over­seas and mon­ey is need­ed to help. Or, a per­son posts a house for rent, but when the ser­vice mem­ber arrives, the per­son has van­ished, along with the secu­ri­ty deposit. 

And, while pay­day lenders are, by law, capped at 36 per­cent, they find loop­holes by charg­ing fees as opposed to boost­ing inter­est rates. 

“There are some real­ly ter­ri­ble things going on,” she said. 

To avoid get­ting trapped in a scam, Lin­ning­ton stressed the impor­tance of finan­cial edu­ca­tion and well-being. “It’s get­ting peo­ple to real­ize they need to be care­ful and not nec­es­sar­i­ly go on someone’s word,” she said. 

Tack­ling debt also can help, she said, since feel­ing over­whelmed finan­cial­ly can leave peo­ple more vul­ner­a­ble to unscrupu­lous busi­ness­es and preda­to­ry lenders. 

Peo­ple who are in over their heads should talk their local per­son­al finan­cial man­ag­er, she advised, who can pro­vide guid­ance and refer­rals to help­ing orga­ni­za­tions, such as mil­i­tary aid societies. 

The Mil­i­tary Line web­site also offers ser­vice-spe­cif­ic resources, such as con­sumer alerts and guides, reports on busi­ness­es, and an avenue to file com­plaints. The bureau will help to resolve issues and also alert the mil­i­tary pop­u­la­tion of a poten­tial scam, she said. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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