Survey: A Troubling Number of Military Personnel Are in Debt

Military personnel and spouses generally have more credit card debt than civilians do, reports The Washington Post's Michelle Singletary. Find out how that might affect military readiness.

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By Michelle Singletary

Whenever I'm traveling and I see uniformed military personnel, I can't help but become a little teary-eyed.

I worry that the service members may be shipping out to Afghanistan or Iraq. I appreciate the sacrifice those in the military make, especially the many who are in combat zones.

So it's with no less concern that I'm troubled about the percentage of servicemen and women who are struggling financially. A new survey focusing on the financial capability of military personnel has found that while many in the armed forces are handling their finances fine, an alarming number aren't doing so well.

It's important that military personnel not be weighed down with money issues. Their financial stability is directly linked to their military readiness, according to studies by the Defense Department and the Government Accountability Office. Service members with severe financial problems can lose their security clearances, and bad money management can also result in sanctions, impair career advancement or lead to a discharge.

To gauge the financial health of service members, the Investor Education Foundation of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) developed a military survey in consultation with the Treasury Department and the President's Advisory Council on Financial Literacy. FINRA regulates securities firms.

"The most troubling aspect of the survey was the amount of debt members are carrying," said John Gannon, president of the FINRA Investor Education Foundation.

The military survey is one of three associated surveys that constitute FINRA's National Financial Capability Study. The surveys are being done to assess the financial capability of all U.S. adults, Gannon said.

Military personnel and spouses are generally heavier users of credit cards than civilians, the survey found, and they are more heavily indebted to credit card issuers.