Senators raise red flag over financial risks enlisted military face

Lawmakers want Defense Department to step up efforts to protect finances when military are overseas

Nov 4, 2015 @ 2:12 pm

By Laura Sanicola

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Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Tom Feltner, director of financial services at the Consumer Federation of America, have called on the Defense Department to take action to ensure service members have the tools they need to protect their finances during deployment.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported last month that since October 2012, more than 650 active-duty service members have submitted complaints about their credit reports.

“We hope the military would be assertive in helping them” Sen. Brown said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. “The military is not particularly good at telling service men and women what their rights, responsibilities and options are.”

Victoria Fillet, a principal at Blueprint Financial Planning, advises service members to protect their identity by putting a credit freeze through all agencies.

“This is easy, not expensive and the best way to protect identity,” Ms. Fillet said.

Last week, Mr. Brown sent a letter with 19 Senate colleagues to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, delineating their concerns over reports of significant harm to the finances and credit of active service members while deployed.

“It is unreasonable to think that a country would send its men and women overseas to defend our national security without equipping these brave service members with the adequate safeguards to protect their finances and their credit,” the senators wrote.

ACTIVE DUTY ALERTS

Service members have the option to use Active Duty Alerts on credit reports, which prohibit businesses from extending credit to them without taking extra care to ensure no identity theft is in the works.

But less than 1% of service members reported placing an Active Duty Alert on their credit reports before leaving for deployment.

Sen. Brown helped back a Department of Defense rule to strengthen its implementation of the Military Lending Act and close loopholes that made it possible for lenders to charge excessive fees to military families. Among his goals is to ensure there is greater understanding by financial institutions of the situation members of the military oversees face.

“If a loan payment is missed, we want a credit or bank to know that this person has extenuating circumstances and work with them and not foreclose and not affect the credit,” Sen. Brown said.

FINANCIAL WOES RAMPANT

Financial woes among military members are rampant. A survey commissioned by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling last year found that 77% of military personnel reported having financial concerns and more than half said they are ill-prepared, financially speaking, for an emergency.

Sean Pearson, a financial adviser with Ameriprise, recommends active duty personnel understand the help already available to them.

“Legal counsel on your installation can help you,” Mr. Pearson said. “Make an appointment as soon as you find out that you may be deployed.”

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