Alaska military members get financial advice

Rachel D'Oro | Associated Press

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON -- As a young military couple, David and Holly Petraeus had to have a "hot" car while they were stationed in Italy. Turns out they got a costly lemon in the sporty English Jensen-Healey they chose, the wife of the CIA director and former top U.S. commander in Iraq said Wednesday.

"It was a nice car -- when it worked," Holly Petraeus said. "I can tell you the names of all the car parts in Italian because the mechanic and I were very close friends by the end of our time over there."

Holly Petraeus now visits military installations across the country, giving financial and scam-protection advice to service members, including avoidance of predatory loans, scams and other bad deals targeting young military families. Part of her advice: Do as I say and not as I did.

She visited Alaska this week as the director of the Office of Service Member Affairs at the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, speaking Wednesday to service members at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage. On Tuesday, she spoke at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks.

Inside a theater at the Anchorage base, Petraeus told the crowd about the bureau's mission to educate military families so they make better financial decisions. She said her office also serves as an advocate for people who fall victim to abusive financial practices. It's easier to avoid signing a contract than getting untangled from it.

Petraeus talked about a soldier in South Carolina who took out a $1,600 auto-title loan spread out over 32 months. His monthly payment was $585, Petraeus said to a few whistles of surprise. The loan had a 400 percent interest rate -- or more than $15,000.

"That is what I don't want anybody to sign up for," said Petraeus, who also took questions from the audience.

In attendance was Pfc. George Roberts, who has witnessed a more subtle version of that practice. The 23-year-old soldier originally from Savannah, Ga., said an Army buddy was shopping around for a car at an Anchorage auto dealership that quickly targeted him for a 29 percent interest loan. Roberts was with his friend at the time and persuaded him to avoid that kind of deal.

The friend later got a car with an 8 percent loan.

After listening to Petraeus, Roberts said the session was "very good, very informative." And even though service members get some financial education in basic training, there's a lot going on, people are tired, they're getting yelled at. Roberts liked learning in a calmer atmosphere. The message he took home was to be even more financially aware.

"It's about knowing everybody is not out to get you, but you need to know who is," he said.

Associated Press