Serving in the military demands a multitude of sacrifices on behalf of one’s country. Servicemembers give up time with their families and friends and have to miss birthdays, holidays and other important events many of us take for granted, not to mention the risk of the ultimate sacrifice: injury or death.
On top of all the sacrifices our servicemembers make, they shouldn’t have to sacrifice financial security as well – but in fact, they often do.
Long deployments can prevent servicemembers from dealing with financial issues like mortgages or loans at home and increase childcare costs by removing one caretaker from the home. The military also require frequent moves as servicemembers are re-assigned to military bases across the country or across the world.
We know that financial stress can reduce job performance; a study released last year by Northwestern Mutual found that 41 percent of employees say financial stress is hurting their careers. This is especially dangerous for our country’s men and women in uniform, whose jobs can put them in dangerous situations where focus on the job is essential to their safety and the safety of their colleagues. In some cases, servicemembers’ financial stress can lead them to lose their security clearances.
On top of the normal financial stresses we all face, a 2006 Department of Defense report found that “predatory lending undermines military readiness, harms the morale of troops and their families, and adds to the cost of fielding an all volunteer fighting force.”
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) established the Office of Servicemember Affairs to look out for military members and protect them from unscrupulous financial practices targeted to their unique situations.
Under CFPB Assistant Director Holly Petraeus, who led the office from its founding in 2011 until January 2017, the office has provided financial education and advice to military members and veterans and fought against improper debt collection practices, mistreatment of student loan borrowers and more.
In one such case, the office found that a lender specializing in loans to servicemembers threatened to harm borrowers’ careers or tell borrowers’ commanding officers that they were struggling to pay their debts.
Among the office’s victories are:
- Strengthening the Military Lending Act to add more financial products to the types of loans covered, helping protect servicemembers’ credit.
- A $60 million settlement with student loan servicers for running a “years-long scam” to overcharge military families on their student loans. The settlement included refunds to 78,000 servicemembers
- A $28.5 million settlement with Navy Federal Credit Union for improper debt collection actions and freezing customers out of their own accounts.
The Office of Servicemember Affairs also provides veterans and members of the armed forces the opportunity to submit complaints if they feel they’ve been targeted by unfair practices and offers resources to help them answer some of the frequent questions they may face.
Our servicemembers already make sacrifices to protect the United States. Their financial security shouldn’t be on that list.