​When debt collectors go after soldiers

Military personnel are twice as likely to complain about debt collectors, who can devastate their careers.

U.S. service members have a debt problem, but it’s not the kind that affects many Americans.

Members of the military and veterans are twice as likely to complain about debt collection as the general population, according to the federal Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. One reason for the slew of complaints may be tied to how debt and problematic credit reports can threaten — and even end — a military career.

“Unpaid debt can impact a service member’s military career, affecting their security clearances, duty status, potential promotions and even their retention in the military,” said Holly Petraeus, assistant director for the CFPB’s Office of Servicemember Affairs. “We know that many debt collectors are aware of this, and some use that knowledge to threaten service members about losing their security clearance or contacting their chain of command if a debt isn’t paid.”

A troubled credit report, such as one that includes unpaid loans or debts that are in collection, can serve as a red flag to the military. That’s because a person who is falling behind in their financial obligations may be more open to bribes or accepting money in exchange for disclosing security secrets. As a result, military personnel may be more likely to seek to clear up problems on their credit reports than the general population.

But military life can also make it difficult for service members to keep up with their financial obligations. With every move or deployment, for instance, comes the risk that a bill might not be forwarded to them, leading to a higher chance of running into a collections problem.

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