When Army Major Mark Stone (not his real name) deployed to Iraq last year, he found himself more scared about what was happening at home than in the Mideast.
Shortly after arriving at his duty station, he suffered an eviction scare. The rent on his two-bedroom apartment was paid a week late. He quickly switched to online bill payment and got the help of a trustworthy stateside friend to take care of most financial issues. He also convinced his apartment manager to waive any late fees.
Whether the deployment is planned or somewhat of a surprise, members of the United States armed forces and their families are seldom covered as far as financial planning for the service member’s absence. One Army wife complained that when her husband first deployed to Iraq, he forgot to pay a credit card bill. When she tried to call the credit card company to find out the actual balance, the customer service representative refused to give her any information since it wasn’t a joint account. Her husband’s credit rating suffered as a result.
A number of Internet sites offer help for the deploying service member and his or her family. Meredith Leyva, of Pensacola, Florida, is the wife of a Navy officer. She founded the site CinCHouse.com to provide ideas for managing finances during deployment and general assistance for military families.
Another helpful site is Operation Home Front, at http://www.operationhomefront.org. Many service members and their families also find excellent advice at the site of the United Services Automobile Association (USAA). This organization was founded in 1922 by a group of Army officers seeking to self-insure each other for automobile insurance. It’s located at http://www.usaa.com.
There are some logical steps all military families can take to make their financial lives easier, according to USAA. The first is to build an emergency savings fund of three to six months of living expenses. Families facing a deployment should put aside a minimum of $2,000 more to cover unexpected expenses such as car repairs, plumbing problems, or other unanticipated bills.
Leyva says before a service member deploys, the family should set aside additional funds to cover routine responsibilities the member routinely performs, such as maintaining the lawn or cleaning the house. In the chaos of a deployment, it might prove necessary to hire someone else to take care of these services.
If the deployment results in an unused vehicle, families in the U.S. should check out potential savings on insurance. And for single service members or those with minimal possessions, it might be possible to avoiding paying any rent or utilities by placing items in storage.
All service members should realize that the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2004 might qualify them to get a lower interest rate on mortgages and credit card debts well as protection from eviction after any late rent payments. In some cases, they are eligible to delay civil legal actions, including divorce, foreclosure, and bankruptcy.
Sometimes deployment to Iraq has led to an improved overall financial situation for a family. Those at home are forced to take action to pay bills, understand what’s required to keep the family afloat, and become very adept at handling financial issues.
USAA offers a handy pre-deployment financial checklist:
1 – Choose someone at home to handle bill payment and other issues. Depending upon your state of residence, you might need to execute a power of attorney to do this.
2 – Set up a record of all your personal or family accounts and take a copy with you once you deploy. Singles should provide this data to a responsible individual in the States, preferably the one with the power of attorney. For married service members, all accounts should be in both spouses’ names.
3 – Arrange for automatic payroll deposit, investments, and bill payments whenever possible. You might need to find a bill payment service that permits you to pay obligations online from any place in the world with access to the Internet.
4 – If possible, set up any loans your family might need while you’re away. You might be able to secure lower interest rates based on your military service.
5 – Create a special folder in which to store receipts and financial and legal documents during your deployment.
6 – Take the time to update life insurance policies, beneficiary forms, and wills. Also check out insurance savings if one or more vehicles won’t be driven while you’re overseas.
7 – Notify any creditors and other financial institutions that you’re deploying. Be sure to furnish them, as well as the representative you designate to handle emergencies, with a way to contact you if problems arise.
8 – Consider the benefits available through Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance. It presently includes traumatic injury protection, which could keep your family afloat if you suffer certain types of injuries.
Once you’re completed the checklist, you can deploy knowing you did everything possible to protect your family and your credit rating while you’re gone.