Naval Station Everett sailors get lesson in personal finance

By Amy Rolph Herald Writer

A young sailor raised his hand. He had a question.

How can he save money when he’s under pressure to spend? The right clothes, the right car. Eventually, a nice house. Those things cost money. So how is he supposed to save a minimum of 10 percent of everything he earns?

“That’s why it’s important to have that written financial plan,” said the man on stage. “The most successful people are the people who have cash, not the people who look like they have cash.”

The man wore a suit and stood in front of a brightly lit slide presentation. He faced a hangar filled with people wearing blue uniforms and military fatigues, and said it’s OK to want nice things. But you have to plan for them.

“If you plan, you can have it all,” he said.

About 450 sailors on the USS Abraham Lincoln showed up to hear Kelvin Boston talk about personal finance Tuesday morning. The host of the PBS show “Moneywise” visited the Everett Naval Base as part of a nationwide tour aimed at educating military members about saving and investing their money.

Boston keynoted the “Moneywise in the Military” seminar. He was joined by financial coach Peter Bielagus and Holly Petraeus, director of the Better Business Bureau’s Military Line and wife of Gen. David Patraeus, current leader of the U.S. Central Command.

Much of their message was a general appeal to common sense: Don’t spend more than you make. Check your credit score every year for errors. Start investing early.

But a portion was just for the men and women who serve on the USS Lincoln.

“All of you out there have a big target on you,” said Petraeus.

It’s a military target. Members of the armed forces have a steady income and job security, and that makes them a prime target for identity theft and dishonest lenders, she said.

“A lot of bad businesses are just delighted to do business with you,” Patraeus said.

She warned against lenders that ask for money up-front for a payday loan, and reminded that interest on those loans is capped at 36 percent for military members. (The annual interest rate on a payday loan is 391 percent.)

Some scams are set up near military bases to specifically target service members, Petraeus said. For example, a mall kiosk staffed by attractive young women might sell electronics on high-interest monthly payment plans, or promote giveaways that lead to expensive purchases.

“I don’t care if Megan Fox is working at the kiosk at the mall,” Petraeus said. “She’s not there to be your girlfriend.”

She warned against wiring money for any business deal with an unknown party; it’s usually a scam. And she said to be especially skeptical of any company that describes itself as military friendly.

But being in the military isn’t entirely cause for suspicion and frugality. It also means a pension usually worth about $3 million after 20 years of service, generous education financing that can now be transferred to spouses and children, and an easier time obtaining financing for a home.

“Use your benefits,” Boston said. “Get an (education), own your own home, and have money in stocks.”

Read Amy Rolph’s small-business blog at www.heraldnet.com/TheStorefront. Contact her at 425-339-3029 or arolph@heraldnet.com.