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SECNAV Message to the Fleet on Predatory Lending 
By Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter
There has been an alarming rise in the number of Sailors and Marines who unwisely turn to predatory lenders charging exorbitant interest rates to solve financial difficulties. By pushing borrowers deeper into debt, this practice is having a strongly negative impact on military personnel, their families, and overall command readiness. In addition to jeopardizing their careers, service members are putting their personal and financial well-being at great risk. Commanders at all levels must get more involved.

Last year Congress directed the Department of Defense to conduct a study on the impact of predatory lending on service members. The final report entitled “Report on Predatory Lending Practices Directed at Members of the Armed Forces and Their Dependents”, which is available at http://www.navy.mil (located on SECNAV page), was released on August 9, 2006. The conclusions indicate that predatory lending contributes to a dangerous cycle of debt on the part of borrowers, and is having a negative impact on military personnel. Responsive leadership demands that commanders, commanding officers, and our senior enlisted leadership digest this report and share its findings with their subordinates, and follow through by implementing steps to protect our Sailors and Marines from predatory lenders. To the extent allowable by law and regulation, we need to ensure that we are not aiding and abetting the continued exploitation of our Sailors and Marines in any way.

Progress is being made on the legislative front to place limitations on payday lenders and their ability to target service members. But legislative action is only one tool to help our Sailors and Marines in this area of great concern. Command leadership must continuously strive to better protect personnel from the perils of predatory lenders, as well as ensure that adequate support is provided to individuals who find themselves in difficult financial conditions.

Commanders, commanding officers, and their senior enlisted leadership must redouble their efforts to ensure that our Sailors and Marines understand the pitfalls of predatory lending. Everyone who needs financial help should know how to obtain it legitimately by starting with the command financial adviser, and including, if necessary, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, and the legal assistance department at the local Naval Legal Service Office (NLSO). NSLO attorneys are also a great resource to review loan agreements before our Sailors make commitments that lead to financial difficulty.

An educational thrust led by commanders, commanding officers, and senior enlisted leadership, a robust legislative relief effort, and utilization of programs that provide financial assistance are necessary to support Sailors and Marines before they find themselves in debt to payday lenders. A dedicated effort across the entire chain of command is paramount to protect our people from predatory lenders.

This is an all hands fleet readiness issue and needs to be viewed as such by all levels of the chain of command.

(Source: U.S. Navy)

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