HOUSTON - According to credit counseling agency Money Management International, more than 90% of veterans report being in debt. The non-profit says it just received a grant from USAA to offer free financial coaching to help veterans get out of debt.
Not only do many veterans struggle with debt, MMI finds 44% say debt affects their mental and emotional health.
One veteran shows us how she broke free from the debt cycle and paid off $40,000 in debt in less than three years.
"I was a CB, a Construction Battalion in the US Navy," said Sandy Wilsnach.
But Wilsnach says after returning to civilian life, school, divorce, and raising two kids, she and her new husband were buried under $40,000 in debt.
"The minimum payment I was paying on my credit cards totaled about $2600 a month, and there’s just no way I can do that and started to get anxiety from that," she said.
Many veterans' financial struggles begin because they have difficulty finding civilian jobs after military service.
"Translating those amazing skills that someone had in the military service, translating those skills to civilian work," said Tara Aldrete with Money Management International.
It's a challenge that was made worse when veteran unemployment spiked to 11.7% during the pandemic in 2020, two points higher than its peak in the 2008 recession, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Many veterans also struggle with debt after leaving service, its steady paycheck, and housing.
"You know your bills are always going to get paid. When you get out of the service you lose that," explained Wilsnach.
Add to that, in January, Veterans Affairs will resume collecting overpayments for disability and education benefits, and medical co-payments, which were paused during the pandemic.
Non-profit credit counseling agency Money Management International just received funding to expand its one-on-one financial coaching for veterans.
"We can work with creditors to get those interest rates lowered to the point where you’re making maybe the same monthly payment, maybe less, getting it paid off quicker," said Aldrete.
Wilsnach says the program helped her pay off that $40,000 in less than three years.
"Things have really turned up! We were able to buy a house this past June. We closed June 4th," she smiled.