DOD not sure troops are using financial guides
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is offering a host of new financial assistance programs to keep troops from becoming victims of predatory lenders, but isn’t sure whether they are working, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.
The news comes just a few weeks before new military anti-predatory-lending rules, including severe limits on payday lending to troops and their families, are set to go into effect.
In their visits to military bases, GAO researchers found that some junior enlisted members were skipping mandatory personal finance training. Others were unaware of short-term loans and counseling services offered by government and military support organizations designed to help keep them out of debt.
In other cases, senior officers admitted the classes may be skipped in lieu of deployment-related training, the report said.
While they acknowledged that tracking the effectiveness of the new programs is difficult, researchers said that the data is critical for the military.
“The problem is they aren’t really tracking how to get the most out of those programs,” said Jack Edwards, assistant director of the office’s defense capabilities and management research. “They may be doing a lot of financial training, but they don’t have a good idea if any of it is working.”
The new programs and financial health efforts are connected to Congress’ push last year to curb payday lending to military personnel.
The loans, advertised as short-term cash to be repaid in a matter of weeks, had drawn criticism from the military for high interest rates and frequent use of rollover policies that can exponentially increase debt.
On Oct. 1 new rules drafted by the Defense Department based on those congressional mandates go into effect. The regulations would cap all loans to servicemembers at a 36 percent annual interest rate and prevent multiple automatic loan rollovers, as well as require more detailed information be provided to troops before they accept any loan.
In the report, GAO officials ask for the development of a departmentwide monitoring program to make sure troops are receiving financial management training and are being informed about related resources. The Defense Department has promised such a review in the past, but the report notes that thus far, none has been put in place.