Credit misuse sending many troops into debt
Debt: n. an ingenious substitute for the chain and whip of the slave driver.
— Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — People don’t join the military to get rich, but if they don’t manage their credit, they just might find themselves broke.
Colin Schriver, a Fleet and Family Service Center personal finance manager at Yokosuka Naval Base, tells servicemembers that if they are constantly running out of money before they run out of month, they might be in for trouble.
“About 85 percent of my clients come to me due to being overextended in credit card debt,” Schriver said. “Today, servicemembers are bombarded with easy credit. We no longer have to save money to make a purchase. We can (charge) it, and it’s ours — it’s easy.”
According to Schriver, credit card debt is a major problem for servicemembers because most are young, inexperienced spenders enjoying a regular paycheck.
“Creditors target servicemembers,” Schriver said. “These days, credit has become a necessary evil. You need it to make almost any large purchase, but you don’t have to get into a financial bind trying to earn it.”
Schriver recommends a couple credit-building options for servicemembers with less-than-desirable or no credit:
Secured Credit Card. Secured and unsecured cards can be used to pay for goods and services. However, a secured card requires you to open and maintain a savings account as security for your line of credit whereas an unsecured card does not. The savings requirement varies depending on the lender, and typically, a bank will pay interest on the savings account.
(Buyers beware: You may have to pay application and processing fees.)
Gas Station Credit Card. Even if your credit is less-than perfect, you may be approved for a gas station card. These cards can be used for auto repairs, gas and food sold at the gas station. However, these cards generally carry a high interest and should be paid off every month in full.
(Buyers beware: just because these cards are easier to get, do not overextend yourself with them. The idea is to rebuild or establish a solid credit history.)
Servicemembers new to spending should be wary of the temptation of instant gratification that credit cards offer, Schriver said, warning that you should avoid using credit cards for purchasing consumables, impulse buying, spending for status (do you really need that brand?), spending to feel good and everyday living expenses.
Schriver recommends servicemembers determine what their debt-to-income ratio is as a measure of fiscal stability. The basic formula to find where you fall is:
Debt divided by after-tax income equals debt-to-income ratio.
For example, if your credit card debt is $6,000 and your annual after-tax income is $30,000, divide your debt, $6,000, by your income, $30,000. You would have a debt-to-income ratio of 20 percent of your annual income.
Many mortgage companies consider a debt-to-income ratio of 36 percent to be good.
But for the military, having a score of 36 percent could mean bad news.
“For some security clearances, a debt-to-income ratio of 20 percent your total income is the limit,” Schriver said. “If you exceed 20 percent, well you may find yourself looking for a new job description.”
For servicemembers already in over their head, Schriver recommends consulting a financial advisor. He strongly suggests that people stop using their charge cards and develop a budget that accounts for everyday expenses and regular occurring periodic expenses such as anniversaries, holidays or vacations.
“I tell people that the bottom line is that they have three options,” Schriver said. “They can increase their income, decrease their living expenses or decrease their debt.”
Do you need help handling debt?
Warning signs of too much credit card debt
Not paying off your credit card balance each monthMaking only minimum paymentsGradually committing more income to debt repaymentsFalling behind on paymentsUsing cash advances to meet monthly living expensesSigns that you may need professional assistance:
Rotating bills (paying some this month, some next month)Using credit to pay creditBeing denied additional creditDishonesty with spouse about debtsUse of consolidation loans to reduce payments— Stars and Stripes