In many cases, it pays to check with a financial expert to help you find a way out of debt.
"I've talked to a lot of folks in leadership positions in the military who say they wished their service members had come in and talked to a financial counselor," said Soneyet Muhammad, director of education for Clarifi a nonprofit credit counseling agency that also works with the military community on financial education and counseling. Financial counselors can often "uncover a path that's right in front of you" to get the finances on track, she said.
Some options for military families:
On-site help. Many military installations have personal financial management program specialists who can provide advice. To find them, use Military OneSource's Installation Program Directory at the bottom of www.militaryonesource.mil -- select "Personal Financial Management Services" from the drop-down menu and enter the name of your installation.
Counseling options. Request free, confidential financial counseling through Military OneSource. Troops and families can be connected to an accredited financial counselor for in-person, phone or video counseling, through the Defense Department's agreement with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. NFCC works with nonprofit credit counseling agencies around the country to provide counseling.
Military relief. If your troubles are beyond holiday debt -- if you can't pay for necessities such as rent, mortgage, utilities and food -- check with your military relief society. You can get a budget review and may be eligible for a grant or no-interest loan for emergencies. Remember that these important institutions – Army Emergency Relief, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, Air Force Aid Society – are also there to help when there's a family emergency such as a death in the family and you have no money for travel.
Bank, credit union programs. Check with your military-affiliated financial institution to see what personal finance assistance is available. Military banks and credit unions located on installations have agreements with military officials to provide financial education.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.