McFeatters: Support our troops with honest loans
We love our troops, but some of us love ripping them off even more.
Among those most determined to get their hands on the skimpy paychecks of the younger members of the military are certain segments of the student-loan industry.
"Many service members may not have access to the full range of benefits afforded to them due to servicing errors and complex eligibility," says a government report released Thursday. Often, this is in violation of the law, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said at a press conference.
Somehow, this confusion results in increased profits for the loan companies. And it has to be deliberate. After the liar loans, toxic mortgages and flawed foreclosures of the Great Recession, it has to be deliberate profiteering. The financial institutions no longer get the benefit of the doubt.
The loan companies will argue that the youngsters who signed for the college loans were of legal age and should have known what they were signing. Try telling that to St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. It's hard even for most loan officers to make heads or tails of the fine print in the documents they are putting before 18-year-olds.
The number of military personnel with student-loan debt somewhat mirrors the general population. About 41 percent in the military have student-loan obligations, compared to about 67 percent of college seniors. The average burden of $25,566 for a military member compares with $26,600 for the average college borrower.
A corporal with two years of experience earns about $23,360 a year, according to the Army. Clearly, this is someone scraping the bottom of Mitt Romney's 47 percent, but then Romney is clearly unfamiliar with the military and how its enlisted members live.
Like obesity, the indebtedness of younger military members is a threat to national security. Pentagon officials say debt is one of the top sources of anxiety among troops.
Members of the military struggling with serious debt are likely to lose their security clearances; in fact, it's the top reason they do. Panetta says that's something "we absolutely have to address." Debt-burdened members of the military do have certain recourses, but lenders aren't likely to tell them. They are eligible for reductions in monthly payments, for loan forgiveness after a certain number of payments, a reduction in the amount of principal for each year of military service, and a reduction in interest rates to 6 percent for student loans taken out before service.
Curiously, these benefits are not widely publicized by the lenders.
Put simply, our young soldiers may be naive and not terribly well educated in the ways of the world. But exploiting them is not only sleazy, it's unpatriotic.Dale McFeatters is a senior writer for the Scripps Howard News Service.