Service members more financially stable than civilian counterparts

Monday - 12/30/2013, 9:17am EST

Gerri Walsh, president of FINRA, on the Federal Drive.

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Young male service members seem to be handling their finances better than their civilian counterparts, according to a report by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Foundation.

"A lot of it has to do with a steady paycheck," FINRA President Gerri Walsh said on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp. "Being able to make ends meet from month to month is definitely a hurdle that you're able to overcome."

The FINRA report looked primarily at males ages 18 to 35.

Walsh said many civilian males in that age group are unemployed or do not have a steady source of income, which can make them stressed about their finances.

Fifty-seven percent of military members reported no difficulty in covering their monthly expenses and bills, and 54 percent said they have rainy day funds set aside for unanticipated financial emergencies.

But it's not all good news for service members. Credit card debt and mortgages rank high for causing financial strain.

"There's a culture of home ownership in the military," Walsh said. "Males 18 to 35 on the civilian side are far less likely to have a mortgage than their military counterparts."

About 36 percent in the military have a mortgage, compared to less than 25 percent of civilians.

In addition, 63 percent of young military males have an auto loan, and 38 percent have on-going student loans.

"Different kinds of debt rack up and can create some stress," Walsh said.

Loans and debt are not limited to members of the military. The report showed that American adults overall feel they have too much debt that they need to get under control.

"We saw, moving into the '90s and the 2000s, a loosening of credit standards, so that more people had more credit available to them," Walsh said.

For some people, the higher credit limit is like "money burning a hole in their pockets," she said.

Walsh recommends both service members and civilians struggling with their bills to carefully look at their personal balance sheets and talk to personal financial managers.

"What's coming in the door — what's your income? And what's going out the door — what are your expenses? Then, make a match," she said. "And that's hard. It requires hard choices. But sometimes you start to see that the things you think you need are in fact things you merely want and maybe can wait a little bit longer for."

Financial management and planning resources are available to service members through FINRA's Military Financial Readiness Program.

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