Military life is one of frequent transitions. Each deployment, promotion, and change in duty status brings the need to make money-related decisions. These financial decisions can have long-term effects on family life, mission readiness, and security clearances.
Service members often run into trouble because of the irregularities in their daily life. They may tend to overspend and receive contact from debt collectors. They may fall for financial scams and become a victim of identity theft. Or, due to errors on credit reports, they may be denied loans or have a vehicle repossessed. Learning more about consumer credit and how to build a strong credit history can help servicemembers and veterans improve their financial health.
Take Advantage of Free Credit Reports
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you’re allowed one free credit report from each bureau – Transunion, Experian, and Equifax – within a twelve month period. Send a letter to one of the bureaus and request your reports. Review them carefully to ensure that there are no errors and that you recognize all of the listed accounts.
Credit reports include personal information, credit history, credit inquiries, and public records. Credit cards, mortgages, and loans are all listed along with the payment status. If you fall behind on payments or default on a loan, your credit report will list this negatively. Negative entries may make it more difficult for you to open a new line of credit, be approved for a new loan, or receive a promotion or security clearance. It may also mean that you will be approved for a loan, but with a higher interest rate.
Regular credit report checks help you monitor your accounts and determine whether someone has accessed your credit report without your permission or opened accounts in your name. If you notice suspicious activity, information that does not belong to you, or believe you have become a victim of identity theft, follow these steps:
-Contact the Bank or Creditor
-File a Police Report
-File a Fraud Alert
-Request your current credit reports
-File an Identity Theft Affidavit with the Federal Trade Commission
-Keep an organized file with all correspondence and records
-Protect your personal information. Keep it private.
Know How Much You Spend
A budget helps you see where you can cut back on spending and create a workable plan to pay off debt.Take the time to set a budget. Divide your regular expenses into categories for housing, food, transportation, health care, personal & family and finances. Determine how much you can afford to spend on each category every month. Use a spreadsheet or online tool to keep track of all of your accounts and expenses.
Be Aware of Scams
Follow your gut. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Unfortunately, service members are frequent targets for various scams. Companies or organizations could call and claim to belong to a veterans group or another legitimate sounding organization. Be sure to research the organization, find out where they’re located, see if there is a complaint board online, and investigate whether the company is reputable.
Be cautious. If you receive a call from someone, do not provide any personal identifying information, such as your social security number or date of birth, or access to bank accounts or credit and debit cards. Require them to provide you with something in writing that states who they are and where they are located.
Financial Guidance for Service Members
Remember, you’re not alone. There are many services offered through the Department of Defense and veterans organizations to help service members keep finances on track. Do your research and make a financial plan that is right for you.
Seek Legal Help
Flitter Milz is a nationally recognized consumer protection law firm that assists victims of identity theft that have suffered from credit report harm, abusive debt collectors and wrongful vehicle repossessions by aggressive lenders and repo agents. Contact Us to discuss whether your consumer rights have been violated. There is no cost for the consultation. Pictured above: Attorneys Cary Flitter (center), Andy Milz (left),
Jody López-Jacobs (right).