By Ashley M. Smith
USAREC Public Affairs
January 26, 2017
FORT KNOX, Ky. -- While the holiday season may be over, paying for the items many military families may have purchased is just beginning.
The end of January is likely the first time U.S. Army Recruiting Command families will see the reality of those purchases on their billing statements.
When Soldiers become overwhelmed by the strain of debt accumulated through the overuse of credit cards, Soldier and Family Assistance Program managers can refer Soldiers and their families to a personal financial counselor who provides free debt counseling for military families.
"It's very easy when you're in the military to overspend," said Meritta Dawson, Soldier and Family Assistance Program manager for the Baltimore Recruiting Battalion at Fort Meade, Maryland. Dawson is one of the many SFAs who can assist Soldiers in proper financial planning.
According to Christopher Gibas, a personal financial counselor for 3rd Recruiting Brigade, one of the most common problems is that credit is readily available to younger Soldiers between the ages of 21 and 30. This contributes to younger Soldiers being more vulnerable to overspending.
"Often times when (Soldiers) have been away from home, they try to make up for it through their spending habits," Gibas said.
Much like Soldier and Family Assistance Program managers, personal financial counselors are located within each recruiting brigade. They can offer face-to-face financial counseling for service members and their families during difficult financial times so that Soldiers can reduce the distractions caused by financial stress.
According to Gibas, when Soldiers come to him, he first refers them to a debt reduction planning website that educates users on how to prioritize which debt to pay down first.
"When a Soldier first comes to me, I try to create a strategy to ... help pay (the debt) down," Gibas said.
However, both Dawson and Gibas agree that indebtedness can be avoided with proper budgeting, being aware of your spending habits, and preparing for the future.
"Make sure you are budgeting," Dawson said. "Make sure you're talking with your financial counselor."
Gibas said that the best advice he can offer Soldiers to help them avoid going into debt is to avoid using credit cards whenever possible.
"Try to pay cash as often as possible," he said. "If you must use a credit card, try to pay the balance completely off each month. If you can't, make more than the minimum payment each month."
Gibas said that financial readiness is important for recruiters so they can set the example for new recruits.
"I think that financial readiness is an important part of military readiness," he said. "They need to focus on that just as much as they need to focus on their recruiting goals and the overall goals of the Army."