A Financial Education Event

On ABC NEWS – Heroes at Home Corner – Military Financial Issues

I’m going to fly in one of those jets one of these days! My work with military money matters makes me concerned with recent bad news for military members and their families.

I was on ABC News this week talking about this survey. And here’s the short version of what we discussed:

The Investor Education Foundation of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority developed a military survey in consultation with the Treasury Department and the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy. Their findings were alarming in that there is a significant increase in consumer debt among military members with more than one in four reporting a credit card debt load of more than $10,000.

Q. Ellie, you work extensively with military members in addressing their financial concerns, how bad is the problem?

A. The information that came out of this new survey is pretty sobering. The study focused on the financial capability of military personnel and found that while some in the armed forces are handling their finances fine, an alarming percentage aren’t doing so well. Debt is only one of the concerns that came out of the report, but it made it to the top of the list because the average military member has more consumer debt than the average American civilian.

Q. Why is debt more of an issue for service members than for civilians?

A. There are a number of reasons that account for this higher debt burden. For one thing, the survey found that military personnel and spouses are generally heavier users of credit cards than are civilians. And we all know that the more you use them, the more likely you are to be more heavily indebted to credit card issuers. In online polling of 700 current members of the U.S. armed services and 100 spouses of current members, more than one in four respondents reported having more than $10,000 in credit card debt. Ten percent of respondents said they were carrying $20,000 or more in such debt. The percentage of those who made minimum credit card payments, took out cash advances and paid fees was highest among families of enlisted personnel and junior noncommissioned officers.

Q. I can certainly appreciate the concern over this increased debt load, but what are some of the reasons that military families have more debt besides the fact that they use their cards more? After all, they do get a regular paycheck, military housing and health care.

A. Even though active duty troops can count on a regular paycheck from Uncle Sam, many military families face the same pressures affecting other Americans during this downturn: Spouses are having difficulty finding work, and mounting debts and foreclosures are forcing them out of rental homes. For those who are stationed overseas those factors are multiplied even more because in some countries spouses are not allowed to work on the economy. Also, when your loved one is deployed in harm’s way, there’s a greater tendency to overspend on comfort items for yourself and your children, for childcare and for eating out because you’re too tired or too depressed to cook. So military families are feeling the effects of our economy…and doubly hard in some cases.

Q. Most Americans I’ve talked to are concerned about their own finances in a post recession economy, but there seems to be a greater concern when military members have money problems. What are the long term implications regarding a lack of financial stability among service members?

A. Yes, you’re right, all of us are concerned about our money and how the economy is going, but our individual money problems usually don’t impact national security. But when you have those serving in the armed forces bogged down with the same issues, it is elevated to that disturbing level of impacting national security. 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 also can result in sanctions, impair career advancement or lead to a discharge.

Q. We’ve talked about consumer debt, but what are some of the other problems that tend to plague military families that may not necessarily impact civilian families?

A. More than one-third of the military respondents said they had trouble keeping up with monthly expenses and bills. Many service members have gotten payday or auto title loans and these kinds of loans deteriorate their assets. Members of the military use payday loans three times as often as civilians, a separate Defense Department study found. With a payday loan, you borrow against a future paycheck. On an annualized basis, I’ve seen the interest rate on such loans range from 400 percent to more than 1,000 percent. Although there are many similarities in how they handle their money compared with the civilian population, military families have unique issues such as frequent deployments. Being in the military may be a secure job, but for many the paycheck is small. It’s not hard to end up with ‘more month than money,’ especially if you are young and have little experience of managing finances. And the military does have special challenges with frequent moves that always end up costing money.

Q. What is the Department of Defense doing in light of the recent financial crisis among military members?

A. The DOD has had financial counselors as part of each branch’s family support centers, but one or two people servicing the population of an entire base isn’t enough. Consequently, they have also created a financial readiness campaign because of the number of military personnel in debt and because so many were losing their security clearances. The Investor Education Foundation is also helping, conducting financial education forums here and abroad and awarding fellowships to military spouses to help them become accredited financial counselors so that they can help their peers. A soldier who is worried about finances is not a soldier who can focus 100 percent on his or her job. I think that when we put our national security in the hands of our fighting forces, then it’s in all our interests that they be able to do their jobs without being sidetracked by financial problems.

Lest you be discouraged by this recent survey–there is hope! Next blog, I’ll answer questions from our men and women in the military (and their families), so stay tuned.

And to all those who serve in our armed forces, we thank you!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Red, White and Scammed – Part II- Answering Your Questions

Here’s a blast from the past–when our children were little & white tights were in!

This is part two of a series that is an effort to help military families. I’ve been on ABC News and KLOVE these past two weeks, answering your questions.

Here’s a transcript for those of you who asked–Be sure to pass this link along to your military friends!

Q. Ellie, you came to our Army base to speak last November and I think that your message really helped me get through my husband’s deployment. Thank you for the work you are doing with military families. I did have a question about ordering items online. You showed us how to pay 40% less by using some websites, but how do I know if the website is legitimate?

Steph from Rothenburg, Germany
Submitted via online contact form
ELLIE: Steph, thanks for writing and thank you for what you do as a military family member, I admire you so much and know it’s a hard job! To avoid getting scammed online, make sure that you never respond to an email inquiry, but you find the site yourself on your own search. Then, go to BBB.org to make sure they aren’t listed and also check out the FTC.gov, plus the Internet Crime Complaint Center at IC3.gov, to investigate complaints against the company.

Q. I’m 19 and have been a soldier for 18 months. There are quite a few of my friends who regularly go to the payday loan business that is right outside our base. I keep telling them that they are losing a lot of money by getting a pay advance, but they say the interest rates are low and it’s no big deal. What do you think?

“Private Benjamin” from Ft Bragg
Submitted via Facebook
ELLIE: Private Benjamin, thx for your service and you’re the smart one. Tell your friends that some of these payday loan companies are charging as much as 500% interest. Even though the Defense Authorization Act of 2007 put a cap of 36% on interest loans to military members, many of these companies skirt the law by added exorbitant fees and calling the loans “revolving lines of credit” instead of payday loans in order to bypass the law.

Q. My husband’s hazardous duty pay was backlogged by red tape and didn’t arrive early enough for us to pay our bills. How am I supposed to pay things like our car loans while he is in the Middle East if I shouldn’t go a payday loan center?

Justine Long, Fort Drum, NY
Submitted via Facebook
ELLIE: In situations like yours, there are resources as near as your Army Community Services center where they can offer free financial advice. In extenuating circumstances, such as yours, you might even qualify for special programs offered by the Army’s charity, Army Emergency Relief or the AER. By going to these legitimate resources, you can avoid getting ripped off.

Q. Our community here in Alamogordo, NM is very supportive of the military and so is Las Cruces, which is a little further down the road. Many businesses carry banners that say, “we support our military.” Even so, a friend of ours bought a car from one of these places and it turns out that the dealership didn’t own the title and then went out of business. Now our friend has an $12,000 loan to pay and no car to show for it! How can we avoid being “taken” and who can we trust?

Heidi Rothenburg, Holloman Air Force Base
Submitted via blog

ELLIE: Heidi, I’m so sorry to hear of that situation, especially from a business that advertises its support of the military. Unfortunately, auto vendors are a huge source of complaints. In most cases, the salesperson will offer you “easy credit” but you pay jacked up prices, hidden fees and interest rates of 15% to 20%. Military financial counselors have files full of horror stories. Bad dealers have taken cars in trade, promising to pay them off and then they go out of business, leaving service members with two payments. Go to BBB certified dealers and if the deal sounds too good to be true, just walk away, because it usually is. Or go to your base’s ACS, Airman & Family Readiness Center or Fleet and Family Support Center for local financial counseling.

Q. My daughter just got commissioned with the Marine Corps and I’m concerned about the possibility of someone taking advantage of her financially. Are military members bigger targets for fraud than civilians?

Sue Simpson, Stillwater, OK
ELLIE: Military members have guaranteed paychecks and won’t ever get laid off. This makes them good credit risks. But it also makes them targets. Some people see the military as cash cows and they want to get their cut. One of the greatest evidence of this fact is that outside of any large military installation, you’ll see businesses that offer payday loans, pawn shops, and check cashers. These are the kinds of businesses that prey on unsuspecting military.
Stephanie, Phoenix, AZ
Submitted via email
Thank you to those who serve!
Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Red, White and Scammed – Tell Your Military Friends to Beware!

This week on ABC NEWS and KLOVE, I’ve been discussing how
thousands of service members engaged in fighting America’s battles overseas are now encountering a foe here at home. Enlisted men and women are easy marks for sleazy car dealers, insurance scammers predatory lenders, and identity thieves. So pervasive are the rip-offs and so troubling is the debt incurred by military personnel that US Department of Defense officials recently labeled the situation a threat to national security.

We have a long tradition of military service in our family. My grandfather was a bombardier who died in WWII, my father is a retired chief master sergeant in the Air Force, my husband, Bob, flew Air Force fighters for 25 years, our son, Philip, is a senior at the Naval Academy and will to cross commission into Marine Corp Aviation, our next son is headed toward the Air Force Academy next year and the youngest son wants to go to Westpoint and be in the Army. In fact, the photo you see is Bob, pinning on the Philip’s Airborne wings–the very wings Bob earned 30 years ago when he was a cadet at the Air Force Academy!

Q. The DOD has labeled the fraud situation among the military as a threat to national security. How does getting scammed impact lives overseas?

ELLIE: It’s all about distraction. When military members are distracted, whether it’s worry over identity theft or trying to wondering if their spouse is able to deal with messy finances at home—then that’s when accidents happen. Distraction leads to worry which leads to accidents. And when accidents happen, then there is loss of life. So if we want to help save lives overseas, then we can all do our part to protect our military members by exposing rip offs and scams whenever possible.

Q. What kind of paycheck does a typical recruit make & what are some of the questionable ways that local businesses try to get a piece of that paycheck?

ELLIE: They earn about $1800 per month & these paychecks can be carved to bits by bad deals. For example, a computer store outside of Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois employs attractive women to troll for new sailors. Once they get them inside the store, they are pressured into buying a very basic laptop for more than $4000, which is three times as much as the computer is worth. Then they finance the deal and the computer ends up costing even more with the store also making money on financing.

Q. What are some other common ways that the military is ripped off and people should be aware of?

ELLIE: There was recently a multistate investigation launched into life insurance scams that were being perpetrated against military members just before they took off to the Middle East. These scamsters sold soldiers extremely overpriced or misrepresented policies, taking advantage of the emotional situation of leaving families to go into harm’s way. This investigation ended with the companies offering more than $70 million dollars in refunds to thousands of service members. When it comes to life insurance, military members are offered SGLI or Servicemembers Group Life Insurance, which is a legitimate source for low premiums, so there’s really no need to secure other private insurance!

Q. Tell us about the “Red Cross” scam that is getting a lot of attention among military families?

ELLIE: This is fairly despicable, as it prays on the emotions of family members. A con artist claiming to be with the Red Cross will call a parent of a servicemember or their spouse, telling them their loved one has been injured and they need their social security number to authorize help for them. In some cases, they ask for an initial cash payment. Military members need to clear any report of injury through the chain of command or by contacting the base family community services.

Q. It seems that our military is very young, what is the average age of a service member and do they receive any kind of personal finance education as part of their training?

ELLIE: Yes, they are young, in fact, the average age range of military members is between 22 and 28 years old. Of the groups I routinely speak to around the world, I’d say that the average 22 year old has an even younger wife and a baby as well—so it’s a lot of responsibility for someone so young. The good news is that since 2004, service members learn about personal finance as part of their early training. When I go to give my “Heroes at Home” message I teach about finances and also encourage them to use the resources they have available to them on base. Army Community Services, Airman and Family Readiness Centers, Fleet and Family Support Centers—all of these have personal finance counselors there who are ready and willing to give free financial counseling to service members and their families. It’s what I call my $300 tip, because a couple hours with the caliber of financial professional at any of these centers is equivalent to paying $300 to a CFP or CPA.

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Do You Know Someone in The Military?

We will be giving free, autographed copies of Heroes at Home to anyone whose question is read on ABC News Now’s GOOD MONEY show on Friday, December 11th

The deadline for your questions is: Thursday, noon PST, December 10

Topic: Military Money

  • Do you know someone in the military or are you a military family?
  • Do you have a question about how to manage your money in the military?
  • Maybe you are having trouble budgeting?
  • What are some of your specific money problems?
  • What are some of your financial stresses in the military?
  • Or you might want to help the military and don’t know how?

Ask Ellie any military money related question and if your question is read on the air, you could win a copy of Heroes at Home: Help and Hope for Military Families. This is a book that has 100,000 copies in print and is helping servicemembers and their families all around the world!

Remember the ABCs of past prize winning questions:

  • Accuracy– Questions that accurately fit the show’s theme for the day are most relevant. This week’s theme is “Military Money.”
  • Brevity – If it takes two minutes to ask the question, then it won’t be selected. A question that can fit into a 10 to 15 second soundbite is ideal.
  • Clarity – The world of TV news revolves around questions asked in a way that is easily understood by viewers. Please email your questions to: assistant@elliekay.com or posted on Ellie’s blog right here!

We look forward to hearing from YOU as you join Ellie on ABC News!

Submit all questions right here on Ellie’s blog http://www.elliekay.com/ and/or send a copy of the question to: assistant@elliekay.com

Thank you for supporting our military!

The Greatest Generation – Proud of our Military

It’s past midnight in Germany where I just spoke to the military spouses in Katterbach. They are facing multiple deployments into downrange, sometimes high risk areas and many are so young.

This is YOUR current Army and military, an all volunteer force–they know the risks and take them anyway. You would be proud of what I saw in the spouses…–courage, strength and hope.

Truly, the sacrifices we call upon them to make has got to mean I just spoke to “The Greatest Generation.”

I so admire these heroes.

The message I brought them was from YOU, America. I told them that we loved them, we are proud of them, and together we are going to be all right.

Please remember the families of the Katterbach area as well as all military members and their families in your prayers.

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Ellie In Germany — I LOVE the Army!

I’m in Germany to speak to the military and their families stationed around Katterbach. They put me up at Colmberg Castle in a sweet suite that overlooks the village….oh, my, goodness–what a view out of my window.

We toured the village and I snapped this photo of the Kathy Wohlfahrt Christmas Village and I caught the reflection of the beautiful building across the street. Believe it or not, I actually found the small 1/2 price clearance section in that story (even though it was written in German, I can sniff out a bargain anywhere). I bought many small gifts there and will get a tax back break when I take my receipts to the airport. This was true when I traveled in Israel, too. So be sure to see if the country you visit has tax back offers and get the information from the merchants so you’ll be equipped at the airport to get your refund.

The last photo is me in the wrong kind of stocks! I prefer the financial ones. We toured the criminal justice museum and saw forms of “justice” throughout the ages including iron maidens and chastity belts. I would have been a criminal during the 1700s when drinking coffee was outlawed in this part of Germany and they had official “coffee sniiffers” to find you out! I also would have been forced to wear the “flute shamer” for musicians who sang or played musical instruments badly.

I talk to the military audience tomorrow night and I’m so honored to be able to give them a good work in due season–they need all the encouragement they can get in the midst of the sacrifices they make for all of us.


Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Calling All Military Spouses!

We are a proud military family as many of you know! My hubby became a fighter pilot in the 80s and has loved every one of his 5,000 hours in the air. Philip, our second oldest son, is at USNA(Naval Academy) and plans on becoming a Marine Corp aviator. The next two sons (still in high school) want to go to USAFA (Air Force) USMA (Army) or even USNA. By the time we’re done, we’ll be a joint force (purple) family! But it runs in the family. My dad is a retired Chief from the Air Force and my Grandpa was a bombadier in WWII. In fact, we can trace our roots all the way to the Mayflower (John and Priscilla Alden) and they are peppered with service members.

My profession revolves around money matters but my passion revolves around military families. Heroes at Home, is now in the hands of over 100,000 military members and their families, making a huge difference in lives. I’ve spoken directly to the troops as well as to their spouses everywhere from California to China and from Germantown to Germany. Ellie Kay bylines are in Military Money (Kiplinger), Operation Homefront, CincHouse.com, and Military Spouse. All of this is because I believe in and support our military members. I want to bring that message directly to the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In these travels, I have found listening ears as the presentation seeks to encourage and inspire those who put service before self. I know that the WWII generation has been called “The Greatest Generation” but when I look at the young private, stationed in Germany who has to leave his pregnant wife to go to Afghanistan–and he does so willingly and with honor. When I see the airman who volunteers for his third tour in Iraq, knowing it has the possibility of being his last. When I look into the eyes of a 21 year old woman, who proudly tells me what company she’s with and when she’ll go remote to Korea. When I see this generation making the sacrifices that would have made their great grandparents proud. It’s then that I have to say that we’re looking at America’s Greatest Generation. It’s important that we support them. The men and women who serve in our military today–and their spouses are the greatest. I salute them. I thank them every chance I get–whether it’s on tv, in person at a Heroes at Home event or in the airport. I encourage you to do the same.

I just got back from TRADOC (a major Army command in Ft. Leavenworth) and once again, I saw the greatest generation in action. The Heroes at Home speech I presented is the same one I’ve given to over 100,000 military members and their spouses–one event at a time. I don’t do it for the standing ovations. In fact, I’m convinced that those standing O’s aren’t for me at all. I think that my verbal affirmation of the fact that “America loves you, we’re proud of you and together we’ll be all right” is the reason they stand. Not to single out a keynote speaker, but to applaud the fact that the sacrifices they make have value and meaning–it’s worth it. They stand as a team and as a family.

While at TRADOC, I met a team of people also interested in improving the quality of life among military personnel and their families. In an effort to better serve the military, a research group at the University of Kansas is calling for military spouses to complete a survey. Your anonymous response to this research project will help in the implementation of the Army’s new Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program.

If you just want to leave a post and thank someone for serving, you can do that here on my blog. With Veteran’s Day coming up next month, I think saying “thanks” to a military member or their family is a perfect way to celebrate!

May God Bless America,

Ellie Kay

Dr. Laura features Ellie Kay’s “Heroes at Home”

Today, Monday, November 17th, Dr. Laura is featuring my book, “Heroes at Home” on her radio show and will give away 30 copies of the book. So call in today and get your free copy! http://www.drlaura.com/reading/. Her son is an American paratrooper and there’s nothing like having your baby go and jump out of a perfectly good airplane to make you want to reach out to other military families and help them!

That’s what I did last week on Veteran’s Day when I was on Midday Connection, a large national radio call in show. One of the callers was Kelly, a girl who had read “Heroes at Home” and was in the audience when I spoke at the Stryker Brigade in Alaska two years ago. It was a horrible, no good, very bad time for these families as their military members, who had been gone a year, came home and were sent back for another four months. Donald Rumsfeld was sent out to play “clean up” batter and the community of Fairbanks, Alaska brought me out to play “pinch hitter.” He spoke of “reasons” and I spoke of “reality.”
On the phone, Kelly thanked me and talked about what it was like for her and her husband during that time and how our “Heroes at Home” team made a big difference. I remember telling them not to vent on their spouses in Iraq, but to tell them three simple things, “I love you, I’m proud of you, I’ll be all right.” Then when they came home from Iraq, they could let him change diapers.
Later in the program, a female soldier called in who was also in the Stryker Brigade during that difficult time and shared the perspective of what it’s like from the other side of the ocean. She said she remembered hearing what our team did for the families during that trip and thanked me from a soldier’s perspective.
Finally, Bill called and gave us a retiree’s perspective. His voice sounded so feeble, but Anita, the host, and I quickly realized it sounded that way because he was emotional. His quietly told us that he (and others) had been honored at a special Veteran’s Day event at a local middle school. Anita had to drag his own story out of him because he was too humble to let us know that he was a tail gunner in B-17s in WWII. He said, “This program, what they did for us, was very meaningful.” Then he began to cry. It was a powerful moment. Somehow, I held it together enough to thank him for his service and Anita had to cut to a break because she, too, was feeling the power of a grateful heart.

Michelle Obama to Meet Ellie Kay & Discuss Military Families??

Sometimes I hear that I’ve been featured in the media and didn’t know it until someone told me. This happened last month with The Today Show and The New York Times. Sure, in some cases like the NYT, I posed for photos in my office, but I still didn’t know when it would run. But this past weekend this phenomenon bordered on the absurd when I was on The Happy Homewives Club radio show and the host asked me, “So what was it like meeting with Michelle Obama?” I was speechless.

It’s one thing to be featured in the media and not know it, but it’s quite another to have a meeting with the future First Lady and not know it! I blurted out, “I didn’t meet with Michelle Obama! Why did you think I did?” She went on to say, “I got a press release from the DNC that said, Ellie Kay to meet with Michelle Obama and discuss military families.”

So, I’m waiting for the call (and I may be waiting a while) but I think someone (besides me) may be confused. After writing the book Heroes at Home and speaking to military families around the world about their finances and lifestyle, I do have a few things to offer up to Mrs. Obama that I think can help her understand what military families are facing and how she can make a positive impact in their lives.

Veteran’s Day is tomorrow and I’d encourage you to not only say “thank you” to a man or woman in uniform, but I’d say take it a step further–thank those military families for their contributions as well. After all, they are the Heroes at Home.

To all veterans–past and present–and to their families I say, “Thank you for your service.”

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)


Ellie on Fox News Network!

I came home from Fort Polk, LA to a message from The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet. They had a family they wanted to help recession proof their life. I packed my bags and left the next day for New York. My hotel was in Times Square, so I shielded my eyes from looking at the N-ked Cowboy (and instead saw the N-ked Cowdog) and made my way to the Stage Deli for some pickles and cheesecake.

Here’s a link to the show we did with the Payne family. They were fantastic and when they showed up, the father did not have a job after much searching, they had their five beautiful kids in tow and their house was in foreclosure. Here’s a link to their story.


And it’s cool to report that this story has a happy progress report after only one week! Here’s the note I got from Jefri and Tymika:

This is Jefri Payne from Indianapolis, IN. My wife (Tymika) and I were on the Morning Show with Mike and Juliet with you last Monday. I am writing to thank you for all the wisdom, advice, and most of all the encouragement you shared to help us improve our lives financially. Things have started to improve for us. I started a new job Wednesday as a substitute teacher in the local school district. I have signed on with Career Builder to improve my marketability. Tymika is clipping coupons like a madwoman. We took our children to Wal-mart with the gift card and treated them to some new clothes, shoes, and groceries. We have spoken to a certified mortgage loan officer about our mortgage situation. After reviewing our paperwork, she discovered that we have been overcharged. To top things off, the realator who got us in this house was put in jail for mortgage fraud. When everything is said and done, we will be paying 50% less per month and possibly credited all that we have paid thus far. I am looking forward to things turning around completely. — Thank you, Jefri and Tymika Payne!

So take courage, Mr. & Mrs. America! Your “low point” may simply be your “turning point” toward a road to recovery!

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

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