Holly Patraeus, assistant director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Servicemember Affairs, spoke in front of the Senate Committee on Banking in an effort to bring to light financial obstacles military personnel face and to act as a financial advocate for all service members.
Wife of the now retired four-star general who was recently in charge of our troops in Afghanistan, Patraeus claims her experience as a wife, daughter, sister, and mother of service members makes her qualified to address military issues.
In Patraeus’ testimony before the Senate Committee, she addressed her concerns with the many types of loans that are used to victimize the military.
In her personal and professional experience, Patraeus has found military personnel often suffer from “too much month and not enough money.”
Predatory lending and horrid financial scams leave many of our troops struggling to pay off expensive debt for years.
Car dealers, for example, often congregate around military installations in an attempt to sell service members “clunkers at inflated prices with high financing charges.”
Patraeus claims it’s commonplace for dealers to use “spot financing” wherein a member will purchase car with a promise of certain financing, then be told in the following weeks that the financing fell through and that they’re now required to pay more on the vehicle.
Given the economic climate, since military service members receive a guaranteed check every month, predatory lenders seek them out. Salesmen who offer payday loans, rent-to-own plans for merchandise, and steep financing for items such as high-priced electronics, all of which just barely skirt the rules governed by the Military Lending Act, often go out of their way to target service members.
While not necessarily under lenders’ control, one of Patraeus’s largest concerns is home ownership.
She claims military members were hit particularly hard by the housing market crash. When a service member’s home is underwater and they receive a change of station notice, they can’t sell their home for enough to pay off their existing mortgage. Loan modifications and short sales usually aren’t options since the member isn’t yet delinquent on their payment, and refinances aren’t offered since upon moving their home is no longer their principal residence.
This often results in members leaving their family behind in their home while they migrate to their new station alone. Upon returning from deployment, the soldier and their family undergo serious family problems due to separation and finances.
When service members do fall behind on their payments, they experience harassment unlike that which citizens go through under the same circumstances: 20 to 30 calls a day, threats of reporting their default to military superiors, and even threats to punish members under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is a type of law applicable only to those in the military.
According to Patraeus, there has even been report of a lender “harassing a surviving spouse of a service member killed in action, insisting that she had to use the money from his death gratuity to pay the debt immediately.”
Patraeus claimed her department would persist in their effort to educate the military about financial matters, and to work further with other agencies to fight back against predators and scams pursuing military personnel.