Petraeus visits Okinawa to give financial advice
Hollister K. Petraeus, the assistant director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Service Member Affairs, visited Camp Foster and Kadena Air Base May 9-10.
CFPB’s mission is to educate consumers about abusive financial practices and study patterns in the consumer financial markets. The bureau also serves as a watchdog to protect military families from predatory practices by financial institutions.
“(The bureau) actually enforces about 18 federal consumer laws,” said Petraeus. “That means we can supervise and examine banks, credit unions, payday lenders and auto lenders. When I say supervise, that means we can look at their books and see if they’re complying with the law. If they’re not, we can help them fix it if it’s minor. If it’s major, we have an enforcement division that can actually file charges.”
While the organization originally focused on investigating credit card complaints, it has recently expanded its role to cover mortgage and loan issues.
The CFPB can provide anyone with financial information; however, CFPB focuses its efforts toward military families because of the unique challenges they face, according to Petraeus. Service members move often and have a steady paycheck, which makes them a target for scams and other unethical practices.
“The CFPB’s goal is to find out how the military is being impacted by negative programs that are taking money from service members,” said Anthony Green, a personal financial management specialist with Marine Corps Community Services. “The goal is to get an over-arching picture of what happens to us financially, specifically active-duty service members, reservists, the National Guard, veterans and retirees.”
Petraeus led conferences with various target audiences to assess and assist in consumer awareness and financial education. She also spoke with installation commanders and senior leaders during roundtable discussions and town hall meetings.
Petraeus spent time discussing who predatory lenders are and how they victimize consumers.
“Those are people who basically charge outrageous interest rates,” said Petraeus. “If you (search the internet for) military loans, you would find about 50 million. Many of them are internet lending companies who have military-sounding names, but if you look at the fine print, a lot of them have interest rates that range anywhere from 80 to 400 percent.”
Petraeus offered further guidance to keep service members from being victimized by these lenders.
“Be cautious. I know it’s human nature to just nod your head and say you understood it if someone gives you a long, complicated explanation,” said Petraeus. “Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I don’t want to sign this today. I want to take it to a judge advocate general or legal assistance office.’”
Petraeus expressed that even while stationed abroad, service members have a voice and the CFPB is available to listen.
“I consider it a great privilege to have someone of Mrs. Petraeus’ stature here to answer my questions directly,” said Marie Lewis, a Marine spouse who attended the town hall meeting on Camp Foster. “She explained the types of deception some institutions will use, such as illegally posting the Marine Corps seal on their website to make it look as if the military endorses that institution. Now I know not to take their word for it.”
The meetings also highlighted the many resources available to service members.
Lewis has taken advantage of those free services with her husband.
“We received sound guidance from Mr. Green during one of the free investment workshops,” she said. “We are saving to buy our first home, and the time we’ve spent with Mr. Green, and now Mrs. Petraeus, has definitely made us better-prepared.”
Green stressed that service members should attend financial meetings and use the other available resources to the greatest extent possible.
“One of the most important things that every service member—not just right now but in years to come—needs to do is become more financially sound and knowledgeable; that’s the key,” said Green.