Wednesday marks Military Consumer Protection Day. It is so designated in light of some special situations that members of the military and their families face in today’s marketplace.
Our military members tend to be younger and financially less experienced than average citizens. They move more often and often face challenges in securing housing. Ten years of war have meant mission training has come before financial training, leaving many enlisted veterans poorly equipped to deal with the rigors of economic life back home.
In the past, payday lending operations located near military bases helped those needing a small loan to tide them over until payday. Today there are fewer of those businesses; the internet-based array of illegal, unlicensed predatory lenders may demand interest with an annual percentage rate of 300 percent or more.
At Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, principal examiner David Leach says, “We have a small handful of licensed payday lenders, who follow Maine law — no more than a $25 fee on a payday loan of $250.00 or more.”
Leach urges military people to check with his office for licensed lenders ( www.credit.maine.gov, 1-800-332-8529) and avoid all others.
A white paper by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last September called for expanding availability of small-dollar, low-interest military loans. These loans could include an automatic savings component in the repayment plan; accumulated savings over time could help build credit and be used for future short-term cash needs.
Deciding when to leave the military can have big financial implications. People at a financial planning conference late last year were told that career people who leave early could lose between $300,000 and $400,000 in pension and benefits. Planners were urged to prompt clients who insist on leaving active duty to consider joining the reserves.
There are several websites that can help with financial planning, among them www.military.com, www.tricare.com and www.va.com. The Maine state government site includes a “Financial Field Manual” for military families, produced by Kiplinger’s and the Better Business Bureau. Find the manual at www.investors.maine.gov (scroll down to “recent publications”) or call 1-877-624-8551 for a hard copy.
To be on guard against scams targeting service people, visit www.stopfraud.gov/service-members. Maine’s Bureau of Insurance has a webpage dedicated to life insurance (from Maine.gov search “military insurance”).
The Federal Trade Commission has more on Military Consumer Protection Day at www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/military-consumer-protection-day-2013.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.