A soldier's guide to getting out of debt

 

They were the words no soldier in the field wants to hear: “We’re in trouble here.”

Coming from the mouth of an experienced Navy SEAL, while backed into a dead-end alley in the middle of the night in Baghdad Iraq, they were especially ominous. Jeff Rose heard those words when his platoon became turned around during a mission and wound up in a dangerous position. While nothing bad happened, “this experience impressed on me the importance of knowing where you’re going. I never wanted to feel that way again,” he writes in his book, Soldier of Finance.

Rose served nine years in the Army National Guard, including a 17-month tour in Baghdad. Now a Certified Financial Planner, he often draws on his experiences in the military when helping his clients face difficult financial situations. Here are four things he says being a soldier taught him about getting out of debt.

You Need a SIT Report

“In the military, it’s all about intelligence — it was constantly getting information back to us so we could make the best decision at hand,” he says. Soldiers use something called a SPOT Report — a specific report that has to be filed within 5 minutes of observing enemy activity. It provides essential information that will be analyzed and used to determine the best course of action.

Similarly, if you have debt, Rose recommends completing a “Debt Situation Report” or SIT Report, detailing your every debt you owe. Your report should list:

  • S – Size of debt
  • I – Interest rate
  • T – Type of debt

“It’s a matter of knowing exactly what you are dealing with,” he explains. “Most people are just oblivious with what’s going on with your finances. “

In his book, he recounts a client who was preparing for retirement and claimed she didn’t have much consumer debt, but when she tallied it all, the total was more than $50,000. That’s why you have to write it all down: The numbers don’t lie.

You Are Your Number

In the Army, Rose was known to his superiors primarily by his roster number. “We didn’t have a name,” he laughs. “We had a number.” Similarly, when it comes to your credit, “Your credit score is your roster number and your credit report is your financial identity,” he says. If you apply for a loan, he points out, lenders really don’t care what your name is, but they do care about your credit scores and the information in your credit reports.

Because your credit report and credit scores will significantly influence the interest rates you pay on your debt, knowing what is in your credit report and understanding whether your credit scores are strong will be essential in creating a plan for tackling your debt.  Here’s how to get your free credit reports and also how to get a free credit score — and to learn whether yours is strong.

In Rose’s case, the first time he checked his credit report he found a major problem.  “My wife and I requested our credit scores and she was kicking my butt. I thought, ‘What’s going on?’ I found an unpaid gym membership (on my reports). We were able to get it off my credit reports and my scores went up almost immediately.”

You May Have to Crawl to Get There

The Military Low Crawl is the way soldiers move from place to place when they are in the field without a lot of cover. It basically involves keeping your head and body as low as possible as you (very) slowly and painfully make your way to your destination. “It’s just miserable,” Rose says.

If you are trying to get out of debt or repair your credit, you may feel like you’re doing the low crawl, he says. “It feels like you are never going to get there,” he says, “But keep your head down, keep going, and eventually you (do).”

You Need Battle Buddies, Not Blue Falcons

Rose ran into his own problems with debt while in college. The National Guard paid his tuition and fees, and he had his part-time job along with his one-weekend-a-month military service to bring in extra money. But he took several department stores up on their offers for credit cards, and soon maxed out one and carried balances on others.

Then a friend explained how easy it would be to get student loans. Never mind that Rose didn’t need them; he filled out the application and soon had a check for $2,700 to spend on anything he wanted.

“Three semesters on, I suddenly had student loans of more than $10,000,” he explains in his book. “By that time, my credit cards were up to $8,000. That’s a lot of debt with virtually nothing to show for it other than a lot of junk that I not only didn’t need, but wasn’t worth $18,000.”

With the help of his “Battle Buddy” — his future wife, he set about tackling his debt.

In the Army, Rose said, everyone was assigned a Battle Buddy and was required to learn everything they could about that person. “Your Battle Buddy was the person you knew you could absolutely lean on and confide in when you needed it most.”

A Blue Falcon, on the other hand, is someone who is not a good Battle Buddy.  “It is important that you be aware of Blue Falcons in your life,” writes Rose. “Choose a Blue Falcon as a Battle Buddy, and you are liable to get screwed.” They may be nice people and even well-intentioned, but they can also easily help distract you from your goals.

When choosing a Battle Buddy, Rose says, “It’s important to have someone who will give you encouragement but what’s most important in having the right type of Battle Buddy. It’s the kind of person who will call you out when you need it. They are not afraid to confront you when you’re making a big mistake.”

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