We recently celebrated Veteran’s Day to honor the service to our country by millions of our Armed Forces personnel. But many recent veterans making the transition back into civilian life will struggle financially. Many have trouble even finding a job, particularly one that matches the experience they had in the military. Others have big dreams of starting a business, but don’t know how to achieve that goal.
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As a U.S. Army veteran who served as an intelligence analyst during the Persian Gulf War more than 20 years ago, I know the financial challenges faced by our young veterans. With their stable military pay and benefits no longer available, many will have a bumpy re-entry into society and can easily fall into debt.
To help them keep their heads above water while they determine their next steps, here are a few tips to help them get their financial lives back on track:
- If you want to start a business, take care of your personal finances first. Save money that can be used to invest in the business and make certain that your credit score is strong. No financial institution will want to lend you money if your own finances are in disarray.
- If at all possible, don't pay for housing. As difficult as it may be to handle, most young veterans will benefit financially from moving back in with their parents or a relative, at least for a short period. This move provides time to look for a job and adjust to other changes while you were overseas.
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- Build a budget to pay for essential everyday items. Uncle Sam isn't around anymore to pay for food, clothing or transportation. Speak candidly with your parents, relatives and friends about the cost of these items so that you can understand how much you should budget for each monthly.
- Work with an expert to convert your military work experience into civilian employment. A colleague at CredAbility served in logistics management in the U.S. Army and coordinated trucks carrying materiel from Kuwait to Bagdad. But when he returned home, he couldn't adequately explain this job to interviewers at UPS or Federal Express.
- Work with experts at a military career center or state labor department to find out how to qualify for civilian jobs.
- Don't blow your savings. Getting a job is the top priority for most returning veterans, but it will take time. It will be tempting to use the savings earned from hazardous duty pay on the latest cellphone, ball games and other entertainment. Start a savings or investment account instead.
READ: How to approach your spouse about setting up a household budget
- If you plan to go to college, consider a part-time job. Many returning veterans will enroll in college and have tuition and other costs covered by the GI Bill. A part-time job will help pay for many essential items and even give you an occasional night out.
- Don't go into debt. Upon returning home, don’t buy a new car or motorcycle and saddle yourself with monthly payments while you are making major decisions about career and family. If you don't get a job after a few months, don't apply for a credit card or, worst of all, get a payday loan.