Emergency Financial Assistance: A Comprehensive Guide
Financial emergencies can strike anyone, anytime, and junior enlisted military personnel are no exception. Whether it’s an unexpected medical bill, a sudden car repair, or an urgent home maintenance issue, these situations can create stress and uncertainty. However, with the right knowledge and resources, you can navigate these financial storms with confidence. This article aims to provide you with practical steps to take when faced with a financial emergency.
Understanding Financial Emergencies
A financial emergency refers to an unexpected expense that requires immediate attention and financial resources. It could be anything from a broken-down vehicle to an unforeseen medical expense or sudden loss of income. These emergencies can be particularly challenging for junior enlisted military personnel, who may not have substantial savings or access to traditional financial services.
Steps to Handle a Financial Emergency
- Assess the Situation: The first step in any emergency is to assess the situation calmly. Determine the urgency of the expense and how much it will cost. This will help you understand the scale of the problem and plan your next steps.
- Contact Your Service’s Aid Society: If you don’t have an emergency fund that will cover the expense, your next step should be to contact your service’s aid society. These include Army Emergency Relief (AER), Air Force Aid Society (AFAS), Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS), and Coast Guard Mutual Assistance. You can access assistance through any office, even if it’s not one for your own service. Find the nearest office using the locator at https://www.armyemergencyrelief.org/offices/. If you are not near any military installation or the office near you is closed, call the American Red Cross Services to the Armed Forces hotline to request assistance.
The aid societies provide no-interest loans and sometimes grants for emergency needs. Emergencies can be anything from travel for emergency leave to being short on rent to a DFAS screw-up. If you consider your issue a need, give them a call and see if they’ll consider it. Most requests require proof of need and a basic budget counseling session, but some of the societies offer a small, no (or few) questions-asked loan. Command notification or approval is rarely required. (AER still requires command review for soldiers with less than 12 months of service.)
- Explore Military-Specific Benefits: See if there are military benefits that could help you. If you are overseas and have emergency leave, your command can pay for your travel back to the States. If you’re moving to a new rental, apply for Advance BAH. If you are about to PCS or did recently, apply for Advance Pay. Advance BAH and Advance Pay are both 0% interest loans, usually paid back over 12 months.
- Consider a Personal Loan: If military-specific resources are not enough, consider taking a personal loan. Credit unions often have lower interest rates than banks. Some credit unions, like the Navy Federal Credit Union, cater specifically to service members and their families.
- Reach Out to Your Chain of Command: Your superiors can provide guidance and may be able to connect you with additional resources. They can also provide necessary documentation if your financial emergency is due to a military-related incident.
Other Options to Consider
- PenFed Foundation ARK Loan: The PenFed Foundation offers the ARK loan up to $500 with 0% interest and only a $5 funding fee. They are available to Active Duty, Reserves, and National Guard through PenFed and some partner credit unions.
- Grants for Military Families: Organizations that provide grants to military families include Operation Homefront, the VFW’s Unmet Needs program, USACares, or one of the many programs listed at Operation We Are Here.
- Friends and Family: Don’t hesitate to ask friends and family for help. They might be able to lend you money or assist in other ways, such as providing meals or transportation.
- Negotiate with Creditors: Ask a creditor to change your due date or let you skip a payment with no penalty. Many creditors are willing to work with you if you communicate your situation to them.
- Sell Unneeded Items: If you have items that you no longer need, consider selling them. This can be a quick way to raise cash.
- Local Programs: See if there’s a local program for your particular need. For example, most areas have food banks or places to get diapers or formula. Some areas have an organization that provides furniture to military members or helps with transportation. If you can’t find anything, ask a chaplain, your community services organization (ACS, AFRC, FFSC, MCCS), your family readiness person or group (FRG, Key Spouse, Ombudsman, FRO), or the aid society office.
- Credit Card or Personal Loan: Consider using a credit card or applying for a personal loan if you are sure you’ll be able to pay it back. Be cautious with this option, as high interest rates can lead to more significant financial problems down the line.
Facing a financial emergency can be daunting, but remember, you’re not alone. As a member of the military community, you have access to numerous resources designed to assist you in times of need. By taking proactive steps to manage your finances and utilizing the support available to you, you can navigate through financial emergencies and come out stronger on the other side. Remember, the key to managing these potential financial emergencies is preparation. Having an emergency fund, understanding your financial options, and knowing where to seek help can make a significant difference when facing these challenges.