For those new to the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines, a whole new world of rules and regulations must be learned. One of the first things a military member is taught outside of basic training and technical school are the rules of financial responsibility.
Once, people in uniform simply showed up for duty and focused on getting good performance reports. Today, you can go off to war and still track your mortgage, insurance payments and student loans online; the military's expectations have evolved along with the technology.
What is your financial responsibility as a military servicemember? Every branch of the service has different rules, but there are three basic areas of financial responsibility: family care, car insurance, and on-time payments.
FAMILY FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS
Divorce and marital separation are unfortunate realities for many in uniform, and often a source of financial difficulty for officers and enlisted alike. If you are a newcomer to military service, it's crucial that you understand the military's strict requirements when it comes to financial support of spouses and children. As long as you are legally married to your spouse, you are held responsible for their financial well-being. Are you currently deployed? Are you working through a difficult time in your relationship and separated from your spouse? Just because you aren't physically in the home doesn't eliminate your obligations.
Are you married, but living in an apartment or in the barracks as a result of a pending divorce? Don't make the mistake of thinking you can stop making your rent or mortgage payments just because you live apart. If you receive a housing allowance, have a mortgage or lease in your name, or pay child support, the military requires you to live up to these legal obligations. Short of a finalized divorce and court-approved division of debt, when you sign your name, you're obligated to pay.
Some in uniform have learned the hard way; if your military chain of command finds you to be delinquent there are a variety of disciplinary actions including counseling statements, letters of reprimand or admonishment, even Article 15 Non-Judicial Punishment. As with all disciplinary actions, you'll be given a chance to speak in your own defense, but it's always better to avoid the issue by being careful to meet your financial obligations even in difficult or unfortunate personal circumstances.
PAYING YOUR BILLS
Financial responsibility for military members includes paying your bills on time. In the early stages of credit trouble, your commanding officer may not be aware that you're late on your credit card payments. But if you have difficulty and miss making payments on your government-issued travel card, your commander may be notified automatically; once the chain of command gets involved, disciplinary action up to and including Article 15 punishment is possible. Your supervisor or commander may also get involved if other creditors call your office to discuss delinquent mortgage payments, rent or other bills.
Don't forget that most credit applications request your work phone number or request employer references. It's very easy to track you down based on the information you list on a credit application. Once those creditors start calling, it's only a matter of time before your chain of command gets involved.
GET HELP FOR FINANCIAL TROUBLE
If you have financial difficulties there are two things you should do immediately. The first is to contact your creditors and try to make arrangements for lower payments or extended payment plans wherever possible. There are many ways to prevent going into default on loans, credit card bills and mortgage payments. Those in mortgage trouble should consider the new HOPE for Homeowners program; people with too much credit card debt may be eligible for a debt consolidation loan or other programs to reduce interest rates and lower payments.
Second, inform your supervisor you're having financial trouble and make arrangements to get free financial counseling at your base Family Support Center. Don't let your supervisor find out about your financial issues by accident; you find it much easier solving your financial problems by using your chain of command and getting needed help, before your financial situation gets out of control.