The Defense Department is again working with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help service members with their higher-education expenses.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Holly Petraeus, the bureau's assistant director for service members' concerns, yesterday announced they are starting a training program for judge advocate general personnel, personal financial managers and education service officers.
The training is to spread information about the benefits and consumer protections service members are afforded under the Service Members Civil Relief Act, including interest rate reductions, loan deferral programs, principal reduction options on certain loans for service in hostile areas, and loan forgiveness on certain federal loans for public service.
"We also plan to push out the message through a variety of media to all service members," Petraeus said. "We want them to know that even if they did not know about or ask for student loan repayment benefits when they entered the military, it's not too late to do it now."
The announcement came as the bureau released a report outlining the unique obstacles service members report in trying to pay off student loan debt. The hurdles they describe range from not being able to get the information they need to hitting roadblocks when pursuing benefits.
With many entering service with tens of thousands of dollars of debt - and financial problems being the No. 1 reason troops lose their security clearances - the intervention could go a long way in helping ease the burden of college debt.
In an effort to educate military consumers and the advisors seeking to assist them, the bureau has developed a guide for service members with student loans. Service members also can use the CFPB's Student Debt Repayment Assistant online tool.
The new outreach on student loans is the latest to make higher education more affordable and easier to attain for service members and their families. Last spring, President Barack Obama signed an executive order cracking down on colleges and universities that prey on service members, their families and veterans.
As military benefits go, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is one of the best, which is why about 325,000 service members and 550,000 veterans have pursued college degrees under it. With the help of the protection board, the Defense Department created a memorandum of understanding that colleges and universities must abide by, including providing clear information about their programs, before GI Bill money can be used there. The change goes into effect Jan. 1.
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