NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. â€” Airmen from Nellis and Creech Air Force Bases participated in a town hall with the Nevada attorney general and an assistant director for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau May 16, 2012.
Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Holly Petraeus, who heads the CFPBâ€™s Office of Servicemember Affairs, were on base to discuss the unique financial challenges servicemembers face and offer tips on how to avoid illegal or harmful financial practices.
During the town hall meeting, the pair discussed predatory lending practices, financial hardships and consumer protection options.
Airmen asked questions ranging from how to avoid disreputable lenders to how to choose the best education options.
Military personnel should access the CFPBâ€™s Servicemember page for information on these and other topics, including legal and emergency assistance, financial management services, and links pertaining to military spouses and Wounded Warriors.
In particular, accountability in education has received renewed emphasis, Petraeus said. The Departments of Education, Defense, and Veterans Affairs, in consultation with the CFPB, were recently directed by Presidential executive order to take steps to ensure that servicemembers, Veterans and their families can get the information they need about the schools where they spend their education benefits.
According to a Senate committee report released last fall, Veteransâ€™ education benefits made up as much as 90 percent of the revenues of certain publicly-traded for-profit colleges. Because G.I. Bill benefits represent a lucrative revenue stream for for-profit schools, military members have become targets for high-pressure and dishonest marketing tactics from some of them, prompting the President to direct preventive action from government agencies.
According to Petraeus, the directive strengthens oversight and accountability of the schools that offer educational programs to the military.
Discussion at the town hall meeting also touched on the housing market and the implications of recent modifications to the Home Affordable Modification Program. The CFPBâ€™s Office of Servicemember Affairs worked with the Department of the Treasury to make changes to HAMP that will provide more opportunities for mortgage assistance to military homeowners.
Under the changes, which will go into effect June 1, 2012, military homeowners and other families who are permanently displaced by a job-related move may still qualify as owner-occupants, which means they may still qualify for a HAMP mortgage modification, according to the CFPB.
Earlier in the day, Masto and Petraeus dined with servicemembers and participated in a roundtable discussion with base senior leaders and representatives from support agencies.
Petraeus has carried her agencyâ€™s message to more than 25 military bases in the last year. But the forums she hosts are not only about disseminating information.
â€œIâ€™m also on the road to hear from them,â€ Petraeus said, adding that the forums provide her with first-hand accounts of various financial scenarios facing troops – stories she shares with her colleagues in Washington, D.C.
â€œThese agencies help bolster and enforce an array of federal and state laws that make your life as a consumer and a service member easier,â€ Col Darren Bishop, 99 Mission Support Group commander, told the town hall meeting audience.
While enforcement is necessary to catch illegal practices, education is of paramount importance to keep troops safe in the first place.
â€œParticularly for our servicemembers, we want to make sure they have the information they need to protect themselves so they do not become victims,â€ Masto said.
Payday lenders and for-profit colleges, for example, can present unique challenges in that it can be difficult to discern whether a company is legitimate.
â€œLook for the red flags,â€ Masto said, noting especially that if an entity demands money in advance of a service, it is likely to be a scam.
The CFPB, which was created in 2010 by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, is focused on one goal, according to its website: watching out for American consumers in the market for consumer financial products and services.
If there is a question as to an entityâ€™s legitimacy, a complaint to be filed, or if a servicemember has a general question, they should contact their base legal assistance office, state attorney general or the CFPB at http://www.consumerfinance.gov/servicemembers.