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In the military? 5 ways to protect your finances while protecting our freedom

By , CardRatings contributor
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Military families have many worries that other families do not have. And a recent study from National Federation of Credit Counseling of active duty military personnel showed that military families have one more worry on their plate -- financial instability. The survey showed the 77 percent of respondents have financial worries and 55 percent feel not at all or only somewhat prepared to meet a financial emergency. Since the financial needs of military personnel differ from those of civilians, it is essential to have a plan that is geared specifically for your specific circumstances.

Here are five steps to help keep your family's finances on solid ground during active duty:

1. Keep both spouses involved in the finances

While this is common advice for all married couples, it is especially true for military families.

"When the person who typically manages the finances is deployed, the other spouse must handle all of the bills," says Gail Cunningham of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). "Often, the person does not feel knowledgeable enough and does just the bare minimum, which creates financial problems during the deployment."

Cunningham recommends that if one person is managing the finances that both spouses sit down at least quarterly to talk about the bank balances, investments, credit score and goals. When both spouses understand where the money is going and what bills need to be paid, the family can continue to have financial stability even during deployments.

2. Bank with a military financial institution

Consider banking with one of the three large institutions who specialize in working with the military -- USAA, Pentagon Federal Credit Union and the Navy Federal Credit Union.

"All three of those have excellent products and understand what it means to be in the military," says Ryan Guina, founder of TheMilitaryWallet.com and a military veteran.

Guina says other institutions also have programs geared towards military. Many military credit unions will decrease or waive interest rates on loans when the serviceman or servicewoman is deployed as well as offering counseling and advice specific to the needs of active and retired military, he says.

3. Get a chip-and-PIN credit card before deployments

Since a credit card with chip-and-PIN security is almost always required for purchases in many countries, especially in Europe, sign up for this type of card before deploying. Doug Nordman, author of "The Military Guide To Financial Independence And Retirement" and founder The-Military-Guide.com, says that it can be challenging to get the card once you are overseas.

"My daughter is currently deployed in Spain and we had to have the card mailed to me in the States, then sent to a friend of hers in Spain since we didn't want the card sitting at port waiting for the ship," says Nordman. "She wasn't able to make purchases easily without the chip-and-PIN card."

4. Communicate deployments with lenders and credit bureaus

Many lenders will be willing to work with you regarding payments and rates if you are being deployed. Contact your lender and explain your situation. They can also help you set up automatic payments or any other electronic banking features that you may not currently be using or aware of.

"Since many credit card companies will shut down cards for unusual activity, be sure to let all of your credit card companies know as well so that you don't have to wake your spouse up at 2 a.m. so that you can make a purchase in Afghanistan," Nordman says.

He also recommends completing a Military Deployment Alert with the credit bureaus so that they will know it's not you if someone applies for a truck loan in Texas while you are overseas.

5. Consider credit counseling

Cunningham says many military families are hesitant to ask for help when it comes to finances because of fear of repercussions for their career. However, delaying getting assistance typically makes the problem worse, she says. The NFCC has 600 physical locations, as well as Internet credit counseling and the new Sharpen Your Financial Focus program, which provides guidance and resources for military members and their families.

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