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Holly Petraeus touts financial protection resources availabe through CFPB

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Robert Dantzler
  • 42 Air Base Wing Public Affairs
You walk in to the car dealership, fresh out of basic training, and you're ready to buy your first car. Papers get signed, and you walk away feeling like a million bucks with a shiny new key in your hand. A month later, reality sets in when the first payment decimates your paycheck.

Servicemembers and their families can be an easy target for predatory lenders, if they're not informed or ready for the financial choices they'll be faced with. What is a reasonable interest rate? How much can I afford to spend on a mortgage? Am I being treated fairly by this debt collector?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a supervisory agency of the federal government that works to ensure businesses are following consumer laws, consumers are not being taken advantage of, and that financial education/resources are available to pre-emptively help consumers.

Holly Petraeus, the assistant director for Servicemember Affairs at the CFPB, visited Maxwell to inform those who attended her presentation Oct. 15 at the Air Force Judge Advocate General's School about what the CFPB is, their role, and how they can help military families.

"We opened our doors in July of 2011 ... and we were created as part of the response to the financial crisis that happened in 2007/2008," she said. "The Congress and the president looked at who was actually looking out for consumers when all these terrible mortgages were being written. The answer was that there were federal laws in place, about 18 of them, to protect consumers, but they were being enforced by seven different federal agencies.  So the CFPB was created to take the lead in enforcing those laws and looking out for consumers."

One of the biggest ways that they protect consumers is by fielding complaints sent to them about businesses and situations, ranging from things like debt collection to inaccurate credit reports to abusing consumers.

"The military complaints, and that includes veterans as well as active duty and family members, is over 25,000 now that have come to us," said Petraeus. "When you file a complaint with us, some people will get money back. We've gotten back over a million dollars for servicemembers that way, but in many cases they just get a resolution of their problem."

Educating consumers is another mission of the CFPB. A young Airman coming in to the Air Force straight out of high school may not be equipped to make important financial decisions. The CFPB is working on a resource that will educate servicemembers on the importance of financial planning and choices prior to their shipping off to basic training. Petraeus also described a resource available on their website .

"We have on our website something called 'Ask CFPB,' that has over a thousand questions and answers, the most commonly asked financial questions, and some of the answers are military-specific," she said.

Their website is chock-full of other resources for military families as well as non-military consumers, whether they are dealing with student loans or "templates for letters you could send to a debt collector saying 'tell me more about this debt' or 'this isn't my debt.'" said Petraeus.

The military has recognized the direct impact a servicemember's financial stability has on their effectiveness on and off the battlefield. Having grown up in a military family, as a child and as a spouse, she saw first-hand how conflicts and deployments affected the financial situations of families.

She passionately described her desire to help,

"It's my first visit to Maxwell Air Force Base, and I think it's really important for me to get out to the bases and actually meet servicemembers and their families, and let them know that I'm there for them, but also to hear straight from them about what their issues are," said Petraeus.