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National Survey Shows 40 Percent Of Military Personnel Have Difficulty Making Ends Meet


Ed Olander, a 20-year Navy veteran who is teaching sailors how to be command financial specialists and is conducting financial counseling at the Fleet and Family Support Center in San Diego



FinanCial Capability in the United States

FinanCial Capability in the United States

A new report out this week shows most military families are managing their daily expenses, but that a worrying number of them aren’t making it, and are falling under loads of debt.

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When Ed Olander first started out in the military, the only financial advice he got came from his chief: "Don't blow your money on one weekend."

Today, Olander, now a financial counselor at San Diego's Fleet and Family Support Center, says financial education in the military is changing.

"It's starting at boot camp, all the way through school commands," the 20-year Navy veteran told KPBS Midday Edition. "The Navy makes it mandatory. Every command that has over 25 people has to have a financial counselor there."

Yet financial difficulties for people in the military are still common.

A new report out this week finds most military families are managing their daily expenses, but a troubling number of them are still struggling: Nearly 40 percent of families can't pay their bills. Additionally, 25 percent of those surveyed have overdrawn from their checking accounts and 19 percent have dipped into their retirement funds, the report shows.

Olander said he wasn't surprised by the results.

Starting military salaries are not easy to live on. Junior enlisted military personnel earn an average of $18,000 to $28,000 per year.

While those living on a military base or ship, usually have meals and housing covered, military families may still suffer.

"Trouble is now since the recession hit, we're getting a lot of personnel joining in because they lost their civilian job, coming in with young families," Olander said.

Military spouses may be unemployed due to relocating to the military base, and to stay up on bills, service members may take loans with high interest rates. Thus beings the cycle of debt, which can be exacerbated in San Diego due to the city's high cost of living.

Financial instability can be a devastating blow to one's military career, Olander said.

"The number one cause of pulling security clearances in the Navy right now is still financial mismanagement," he said.

Someone who is financially at risk is also at risk of making a bad decision or being compromised by someone else — "from drug dealers to foreign governments" — who wants information, he explained.

Olander said the first line of defense is preventing debt from happening in the first place, but because the military is a culture of "solve your own problems," service members don't usually come to financial counselors like him until after they're struggling.

Some basics he recommended involve developing a spending plan to "plug up the leaks," and setting money aside. Free financial counseling is available to active duty service members and their families at the Fleet and Family Support Center in San Diego.

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