COLUMBIA (WACH) -- For some who've pledged to serve this country, times are hard and it's not just because of what they're dealing with on the frontlines of war. Many of them are paying a hefty price trying to navigate their own personal battlefields on American soil.
According to a 2010 study by the Financial Industry Regulation Authority's Investor Education Foundation, 27 percent of military families admit to having $10,000 or more in credit card debt, compared to 16 percent of civilians.
â??If you look on the bright side, you'll be fine. Once you start looking at everything as the big picture it starts getting really, really depressing,â?? says U.S. Army Sgt. Emma Rastelli.
Sgt. Rastelli is on the frontlines protecting the American dream, but she's having a hard time living it. Her debt is choking the life out of her finances. Sheâ??s already paid off $47,000 of her debt, but still has $97,000 left to pay off from a foreclosure.
â??It's a very big number to try to tackle; that's hardest thing, because you see the number and you're like how do I pay this? What do I do?â?? Rastelli says.
Madelyn Mercado manages the Financial Readiness program at Fort Jackson. She's well versed on the problems many soldiers have keeping their financial houses in order because of what service to the country demands.
â??With these high up-tempo and high deployments, soldiers are experiencing separation from their family members and in many cases that's double expenses,â?? Mercado says.
"At one time the army talked about relocating people every seven years, but that hasn't happened. They're relocating about every two to three years and especially those families who have purchased a home here recently and with the housing crisis, they're not getting as much money as they would have in the past with the home. So with the family that has to PCS (permanent change of station) every two years, you have to relocate; you have to start all over," says Emma Watson, Housing Program Manager at Fort Jackson.
A number of services are available to soldiers to help improve their financial situations. They're offered free and confidential counseling, debt liquidation assistance, interest free loans and grants in some extreme circumstances. Unresolved financial issues can cause service members to lose their security clearance or worse, be discharged. And the negative impact of financial problems doesnâ??t end there. Mercado says, â??It affects mission readiness. When they're not focused on their job because they're worried that their wife is going to be evicted, the electricity is going to be disconnected, they're just not going to be able to fully perform and do their duties.â??
According to the FINRA Investor Education Foundation study, here are other ways service members are hurting financially: About 10 percent of homeowners admitted to being late on a mortgage payment at least once in the two years prior to the study, 3 percent have experienced a foreclosure and one in seven surveyed said household expenses exceed their income.
Despite her money problems, Sgt. Rastelli manages to stay positive. She hopes something good can come from her financial hardship. â??If I have to go through this to help someone then Iâ??m willing to do it and that's how I look at it,â?? Rastelli says.