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Consumer protection program to aid military

It is impossible to be anywhere around San Diego County and not recognize the valuable presence of the military in the community. An estimated 90,000 Navy personnel live in the region and another 35,000 Marines are based here.

In addition, more than 57,000 retired military members call San Diego home.

These men and women — and their families — focus on preparedness to carry out their assigned duties in defending our country. Unfortunately, their efforts are often sabotaged because of personal financial crises.

Wednesday is the first Military Consumer Protection Day coordinated by the Federal Trade Commission and other consumer organizations. The effort is designed to launch a year-round campaign to provide active duty and retired communities with resources to deal with managing money, protecting personal information and avoiding scams.

Jessica Rich of the FTC says this day “gives us an opportunity to focus on the service members, veterans and families who sacrifice so much for our country. They are targets for fraud because they relocate frequently, and many are living on their own and earning a steady paycheck for the first time.”

The commission reports it received more than 62,200 complaints from military consumers last year. Identity theft topped the list with 24,800 complaints, followed by debt collection, and scams of various natures.

One of the biggest areas of financial concern for military families over the years has been predatory loans with extremely high interest rates. The Military Lending Act approved six years ago put a limit on the interest rate charged for these short-term loans and prevented lenders from automatically being refinanced.

A study by the Consumer Federation of America found the crackdown on these lenders had an immediate impact.

“Mapping the locations of lenders near Camp Pendleton in California shows a 70 percent drop in the number of payday loan outlets after the MLA took effect. The impact of the federal law prohibiting certain payday and car title products is very pronounced,” cites the report.

Military families, like many others, have felt the impact of the Great Recession and continue to struggle with financial challenges.

The National Military Families Association finds three particular military stressors. They include a lack of employment opportunities for spouses who give up jobs due to change of station, underwater mortgages and inability to sell homes when a service member gets orders to move, and veterans who have less of a safety net and encounter varying criteria for help from nonprofits that assist veterans.

Financial stress can have an impact on a member of the military’s ability to meet preparedness requirements and carry out their duties. The often opt for off-base businesses to meet short-term needs rather than turn to programs immediately available where they are stationed.

Military Family Assistance Centers, Fleet and Family Support Centers, and the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society are just a few of the approved programs that can help these service members and their families take care of money issues and do the jobs they are assigned without being impacted by financial burdens.

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