Life gets busy. You have decisions to make and little time to research options. So when it's time to sign that document, whether it's a new mortgage, an online purchase agreement or a credit card application, perhaps you'll skip reading the fine print and just sign on the dotted line, assuming everything is in order. However, sometimes businesses are not quite so trustworthy. Fortunately, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has your back. The consumer bureau's main focus is to protect the interests of American consumers in the financial products and services market.
The bureau specifically examines the financial issues for military service members through their Office of Servicemember Affairs. As a result of a Financial Fitness Forum, this office pinpointed the following financial needs for service members: personal financial readiness, products tailored to the needs of military personnel, short-term lending alternatives, distressed military homeowners and responding to the military consumer. With this background, the bureau carries out its mission "to educate and empower service members and their families to make better-informed decisions regarding consumer financial products and services."
Keep your financial accounts in order
Keeping a clean financial record is a necessity for military service members since personal integrity and career advancement rely on a healthy financial status. Poor financial decisions that cause debt collection and bad credit reports may cost a service member a security clearance, and that can affect the readiness of a military unit. It's important that the financial agencies you work with maintain high standards and do not mislead their customers with deceptive or abusive financial practices.
The bureau gives consumers the information they need to understand the terms of financial agreements and is working to make such agreements less complicated. One of the purposes of the bureau is to enforce federal consumer financial laws by supervising banks, credit unions and other financial institutions. This means looking out for the consumer; being able to know the difference between good lenders and bad lenders is one of the ways that the bureau can help you. Here are other areas that the bureau offers guidance for military service members:
- Planning for your future. Helping You Save emphasizes specific ways military service members can save money, thereby lessening their need for high-cost credit. Of course, planning for your future also includes getting more education. Resources offered through Dollars for Degrees show the many programs and benefits for education available to military service members, including the Post 9/11 GI Bill®, the Montgomery GI Bill®, loans, grants and scholarships.
- Protecting your finances. While service members have unique financial challenges due to deployments and frequent relocations, they also have access to programs aimed at helping them to meet these challenges. In Accessing Your VA Benefits, the bureau provides legitimate resources to accessing your VA benefits and warns against trusting unknown solicitations from people posing to be from the Department of Veterans Affairs. These people, who may telephone or knock on your door, are trying to gain access to your personal financial information. Deployment and Your Credit Card explains your rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which provides special benefits for service members, such as limits to service card fees and the interest charged on balances you owed when you entered military service.
- CFPB service members blog. This blog offers timely topics that are relevant to service members. Recent topics include using caution when you sign an agreement to purchase an item, suggestions about filing taxes and deceptive marketing used to attract GI Bill users.
How to become financially educated
As you can probably tell by now, succeeding in financial areas requires a little research. Don't cringe, however. There are organizations, such as the CFPB, that are there to help you. It's easy to manage and save your money if you access such programs and other financial support programs, which are conveniently available through Personal Financial Management Programs, just one part of the family readiness system. These Programs are offered on military installations at no cost. To find a trained PFM counselor, visit MilitaryINSTALLATIONS. If you are not near a military installation, another way to access financial counseling through your family readiness system is to contact Military OneSource and the Military and Family Life Counselors Program. The sooner you begin getting your finances in order through the use of these programs, the less likely you will be to need assistance getting out of a financial bind in the future.