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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — You don’t have to have money to build wealth. Servicemembers everywhere can enjoy the benefits of financial stability by following a reasonable spending and savings plan.

The most important thing servicemembers can do “is to arm themselves with knowledge,” said Colin Schriver, Fleet and Family Service Center personal finance manager.

According to a worldwide FFSC report, 25 percent to 35 percent of those at ranks E-3 and below cannot make ends meet. And 18 percent are delinquent in paying their credit card bills.

“If new military members would commit to saving 10 percent of their monthly earnings in the Thrift Savings Plan, by the time they are ready to exit the workplace around age 59, they will be able to truly enjoy being retired,” said Schriver.

“An E-5 came in to my office a few years back and asked for my opinion,” Schriver said. “He had used his credit card enough to ‘qualify’ for two round-trip tickets to Hawaii, but the tickets were due to expire the following month. The tickets required two Saturday-night stays. He was $16,000 in credit card debt, had no savings and no cash. He said he was planning to pay for the trip by charging it on a new credit card that he just got, with a $5,000 limit. So his question was: Should he book the trip? When I asked did he want to return from Hawaii $21,000 in debt and possibly jeopardize his security clearance and his career, he replied, ‘But the tickets expire next month.’”

According to Schriver, education is the key to helping servicemembers avoid situations like the one above.

Savings suggestions from the FFSC report include:

“Pay off high-cost debt. For example, if you have a $3,000 credit card balance at 19.8 percent, and you pay the required minimum balance of 2 percent of the balance or $15, whichever is greater, it will take 39 years to pay off the loan. In the end, you will pay more than $10,000 in interest charges.“Buy a home and pay off the mortgage before you retire. For most middle-income families, their largest asset is their home equity. Paying off a home mortgage also will provide an asset that can be borrowed against in the advent of emergency.“Participate in a work-related retirement plan. The Thrift Savings Plan offers a variety of mutual funds designed to yield the maximum return depending on the level of risk participants are willing to accept.”Schriver also said that when it comes to money and spending, avoid instant gratification.

“Instant gratification in the form of ‘retail therapy’ can become a real problem,” he said. “We want what we want and we want it now. … People purchase things to make themselves feel better. Once the newness wears off, they have to buy something else. When the cash runs out, people often turn to credit.”

Credit, said Schriver, is a double-edged sword: “Too much can be as bad as too little.”

An FFSC report cites several reasons servicemembers may be particularly susceptible to credit problems. First, they’re usually young and away from home for the first time. Being away from family support and influence for the first time may lend itself to impulse spending. Second, the fact that servicemembers have a steady income is widely known — and attractive to predatory lenders and those willing to make lines of credit readily available; such “services” can be found around almost every military installation in the United States.

Identifying what and how much you can afford is important, Schriver said. By knowing the difference between a need and a want, he said, servicemembers can develop spending plans and budgets that should enable them both to enjoy themselves now and save for the future.

Editors note: The week of Feb. 25 through March 4 is designated as Military Saves Week, a nationwide effort from nonprofit, commercial and government groups to help educate servicemembers and military families how to save money, build wealth and achieve financial goals.

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