As a retired veteran who is now counseling a son preparing to serve, Clay Stackhouse knows the financial hurdles associated with making the transition from military life to civilian life.

Two important things he’s learned in seven years as a regional outreach manager and certified financial instructor with Navy Federal Credit Union are that no two veterans’ cases are the same, and no situation should be considered insurmountable.

“People transition out at different levels and different experience levels, and just different experiences, period,” said Stackhouse, who served 30 years before retiring as a colonel from the Marine Corps. “I think that’s important to keep in mind.”

A sailor with 25 years of service on her resume and a soldier who enlisted fresh out of high school and only served his initial commitment are two very different transition situations.

“A vast majority (of military personnel) are very young when they enlist,” Stackhouse said. “They’re still relatively young (when they separate) and looking for something and go, ‘Wow, where do I go? What kind of profession should I pursue?’

“In transitioning, you have to know your identity, know where you’re going to go, and what you’re going to do. You also have to learn how you are going to manage your finances because it’s different (than a career military person),” who can rely on TRICARE and guaranteed dental care, Stackhouse said.

Some veterans who struggle to find their financial footing after retiring from the service don’t realize that many of the money situations they will face were taken care of while they were serving.

“While they’re in the military, their leaders all continually kind of take care of them,” Stackhouse said. “The military is vested in them being financially secure. They don’t want to deploy a unit with a bunch of people who are worried about their finances and can’t pay bills and things.

“And then once you’re out, you get that slap in the face and say, ‘Wait a minute. I have to do this all on my own?’ ”

When laying out a financial plan for veterans who are leaving the military, Stackhouse emphasizes three important facets of the transition:

  • Avoid abusing credit: “Don’t buy a Dodge Charger for your first car. I’ve found a lot of people have credit card debt, so they go and get another credit card, and just get another credit card. … Advertising works, and I think they’re young and the concept of paying off credit is huge, and the ones who are able to manage it do it very, very well. But if you do not manage that, it can compound and compound and it gets to be unsustainable.”
  • No situation is too desperate: Sometimes Stackhouse needs to use a little bit of TLC to ensure that his clients can overcome desperate situations. “There is no situation that’s too bad financially,” he said. “In other words, I tell them, it may take a little longer, but once we sit down and get you on a plan to financial freedom, we can do it. There’s a plan out there.”
  • Help (often free) is available: Stackhouse often finds that some veterans feel alone and don’t understand that there are organizations such as his and other veteran groups available to help with any financial questions after leaving the military. “One of the frustrations of this job is that so many of them don’t know that [help] exists,” Stackhouse said. “It’s rewarding once they realize it does exist, but to find out they’ve been operating without that for so long, it’s frustrating.”
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