American soldiers don’t only have to worry about bombs and bullets anymore. Increasingly, they have to worry about usury.
Despite large pay hikes in the late 1990s and a 3.1 percent pay hike in January, more and more members of the armed forces are suffering financially.
Military personnel, whose debts outweigh 30 percent of their income, are officially considered to be in financial distress. Soldiers in this situation cannot be sent overseas.
Since 2000, the number of military personnel barred from deployment overseas has increased 1,600 percent. In a story by the Associated Press, Capt. Mark D. Patton, the commanding officer for Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, said, “Security clearances were denied or revoked because of financial difficulties for some 2,000 sailors last year, and the trend is similar in other services.”
The Pentagon has identified one possible fix for the problem: payday loans.
Payday loans are a rip off to an astonishing degree. When measured yearly, the amount of money many customers will pay on their payday loans can be far more than 100 percent. Only 12 states prohibit such high interest rates on short-term payday loans. Florida is not among them.
Steve Tripoli, a consumer advocate with the National Consumer Law Center, told the Armed Forces News Service that predatory short-term lenders often target military personnel since many of them are young, financially naive and have moderate or low incomes. He asserted that they set up shop on main roads leading to and from military bases in hope their neon signs will attract those who are temporarily short on cash.
In response to these claims, the industry said they offer a service when no one else will. They argue that an enforced usury regulation applied to short-term payday loans will drive them out of business. In the process, this will send soldiers to totally unregulated lenders, such as those found on the Internet.
Why the short-term payday loan industry requires a triple-digit profit off each transaction is a mystery. The credit card business is immensely profitable, and on a year-by-year basis, credit cards charge far less than payday loans.
The military already offers financial counseling to troops, but more than mere awareness is needed in this instance. The reason why is obvious: Usury is a crime, no matter whether it takes place over two weeks or two years.