By Andrea Stone (Fort Carson)July 3, 2013
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Losing 20 percent of a paycheck can be a hardship for many families, but the Financial Readiness office at Army Community Service is ready to help.
The financial counselors began teaching classes recently for furloughed civilians, to help them estimate what their reduced pay will be and make a plan to cover the shortfall.
"We're available at ACS, and we can help all active duty, National Guard, Reservists and … we can also help all (Department of Defense) civilians," said Dallas Shrawder, financial counselor with ACS. "No other program at ACS is here for civilians at Fort Carson."
In the classes, counselors use a basic budget plan to help attendees see where their finances stand and a furlough calculator to see what their paychecks will look like and to help them figure out if there's enough in their budget to make up the shortfall.
"It's tough when you get used to making x amount of money. It's hard to make less because most people in the U.S. spend all the money they make," he said. "(We) can help you find a little bit of money if your budget really doesn't have any give in it."
Some of the options to increase income are adjusting Thrift Savings Plan contributions, reducing expenses and calling creditors to ask about adding a payment to the end of a loan, he said.
"If you know ahead of time (that your income will be reduced), it's pretty easy to communicate with your creditors," Shrawder said.
Being proactive with finances is critical for those with security clearances.
"If the individual needs a security clearance for what they do, financial issues is the one thing that doesn't go well with security clearance," he said. "We've seen a lot of people having some problems trying to redo security clearances. …We want to make sure that we can keep them employed. We need good people that have good healthy backgrounds."
The class has been taught to more than 100 people at the Network Enterprise Center and Evans Army Community Hospital, but the financial services are also available on an individual basis.
"Anybody can come in one on one. Absolutely all the services we have are confidential," Shrawder said. "It's just to help them get in a better position."
His top recommendation is to put cash flow down on paper, know where the money goes and decide what's needed and what's not.
"Try to get an emergency fund tucked away so you have some access to cash as quick as possible in case a hardship would happen during your less pay period," he said. "If you lose 20 percent of your pay, and you haven't been doing routine care on your vehicle (for example), Murphy really strikes when you're least prepared."
But the planning doesn't stop when the furlough ends. When pay returns to normal, if people have adjusted to living on less, they can use the 20 percent to pay down debt.
"If there's some past due stuff, … when your pay comes back in, maybe we can take care of some of that older stuff," Shrawder said.
Dealing with finances comes down to discipline, he said.
"If you're not willing to do the hard work, then we can't help you in Financial Readiness. All we do is help you with some tools, help you build some really good rapport with your creditors so you can get some plans in place," Shrawder said. "Just having a plan in place gives you that peace of mind you need to feel more comfortable."