Transition Guidance

Success during your transition is the result of an honest self-assessment, developing sound financial and career planning objectives, aggressively pursuing your job search strategies and a little hard work!

Title:Do not Let Over Spending Wreck You

Author:Karen Jowers, Copyright, permission Army Times. All rights reserved.

"If you buy something, you're going to have to pay for it, - if not now, then later." So says Leo Fennessey, a retired Army First Sergeant who is the area manager for the Consumer Credit Counseling Service in Killeen, Texas, near Fort Hood.

At this holiday season time of year, Fennessey and others who help members of the military community manage their debt and solve their financial worries are particularly busy. "The service members are buying three TVs and three DVRs for every household," Fennessey says.

Money In, Money Out:

"For a lot of service members, this is their first job" as adults, says Janet Glasgow, training development coordinator for the Consumer Credit Counseling Service, a civilian nonprofit organization with offices nationwide. Glasgow's is in Jacksonville, Fla. A paycheck, readily available credit and the attitude of "gimme now," create "a recipe for trouble," Glasgow says.

"If you don't have the skills, it doesn't matter what your education or rank is - it's hard to manage," she says.

Officials in the Air Force Aid Society are seeing "debt loads that are tremendous," says Jim Delaney, a retired colonel and the nonprofit organization's assistant director for policy. "We see people coming in to see us who are maxed out on their credit cards."

Like its sister relief organizations - Army Emergency Relief, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, and Coast Guard Mutual Assistance - Air Force Aid provides assistance to service members and families in financial emergencies. All the organizations work closely with the military services' financial counselors.

The military could do more to fend off and deal with its members' overspending, if it had more money, Delaney says. "The problem is, we in the military have not been able to do a strong program of money management. Family support center personnel are under stress. Many are double- or triple-hatted," performing several jobs because of a lack of money for more staff, Delaney says.

All too often, service members get consumer loans with interest rates of 20 percent and up for big-ticket items such as furniture, stereos and televisions. "I don't know whether this is because they don't know how to shop for credit, or whether they don't qualify for lower interest rates," Glasgow says.

Even among the higher ranks of officers, there is a need for more education, says Col. Ray E. Porter III, director of personal affairs management for the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pa.

Four years ago, Porter began teaching a course on personal finances at the college, where most of the students are senior O-5's. Now it's the most popular elective course.

Don't spend more than you earn. Budget your money. Save part of your paycheck. These financial basics sound simple, but they're much harder to practice. It's hard to save every month when the temptation is to keep up with the Jones's.

The class was established "because officers are not focused on their personal financial training, but on the mission, the job and the soldiers," says Porter, who tries to teach officers how to help their soldiers manage their finances, not only at home but also in the field.

Military Life Is Expensive:

The demands of military life sometimes contribute to financial problems, counselors say. "In some cases, deployment puts people over the edge financially," Fennessey says.

"You're maintaining two households, and the spouse over there forgets what it costs to live day to day... They come back home and say, 'Where'd all the money go?'"

"And we get lonely. We get nervous and go out and shop to make ourselves feel better," Fennessey says. Officials at Fort Hood try to avoid such problems with briefings for soldiers before and after deployments. "It's an ongoing process to educate people," Fennessey says.

Moving presents another difficulty, says Charlene Plympton, who manages the personal financial management program at the family support center at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. "The family may have two incomes and use both incomes to get a loan."

"Then the service member gets reassigned and they now have only one income because the spouse doesn't have a job at the new duty station." Suddenly, the loan presents a financial hardship.

Before buying things on credit, it's particularly wise for military families to think hard about their financial future as well as the present. Before making a commitment, think about how you'd make the payments if you had a large unexpected expense, or if one of you lost your job.

"The trick is not to commit yourself to debts that are long-lived," Plympton says.

Getting Help:

If you're unable to make regular payments on your debt, are concerned that your house of credit is about to come crashing down or would like help in preparing a budget, consult a personal financial management counselor.

You can find one on most military installations, usually at the family service center, or in the civilian community.

The non-profit civilian Consumer Credit Counseling Service has 1,200 offices throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada. They can be found in the business pages of the local telephone directory under "Consumer Credit Counseling Service" or by calling (800) 388-2227.

The service operates under the umbrella of the National Foundation for Consumer Credit, which has more than 200 member services. The foundation has a NFCC home page on the World Wide Web; it can show you where the closest CCCS office is.

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