WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 18, 2009) -- If financial hardships have Army families singing the blues, maybe some advice from certified financial planner June Walbert might change their tune.

Walbert's first recommendation is to eliminate consumer debt.

"Consumer debt is the number one stumbling block I see people have when it comes to reaching their financial goals," she says.

Some may say "tell me something I don't know" or "I want to eliminate my consumer debt, but times are hard."

A lot of people are facing hardships and Walbert recommends notifying financial institutions when difficulties arise. She also opposes the use of debt consolidation and management programs seen in ads or heard about over the air.

"They really can't do as much for you as you can do for yourself," Walbert insists. "It won't cost you any money to pick up the phone and call to ask for a lower interest rate."

Instead of consolidating debt, Walbert says pay credit cards off one at a time. Start with the highest interest rate debt first, paying it down and eventually off, while making minimum payments on the rest until paying off the last card with the lowest interest rate.

During tax season, Walbert encourages deducting anything possible. According to Walbert, Soldiers can deduct expenses from uniforms, professional journals and associations.

The more listed in deductions; the more saved in taxes, says Walbert.

She also suggests looking at the bottom line of the 1040 to determine whether it makes sense to deduct a traditional IRA contribution or contribute to a Roth IRA. The traditional IRA contribution has IRS mandated income-phase-out limits.

"You get tax relief now but pay taxes later on down the line in retirement."

Walbert's preference is to make a Roth IRA contribution instead. That is taxable money now and any of the growth it experiences over the decades is withdrawn tax free during retirement with income-phase-out limits as well, she says.

According to Walbert, Soldiers deployed overseas earning tax-free combat pay can also deposit tax-free pay in a Roth IRA.

"That means tax free in tax free out and that is sweet, sweet."

Walbert says homeowners' deductable items include mortgage interest as well as property taxes.

For everyone's cash flow in the service, Walbert says there should be a priority list: paying off consumer debt, building a savings account with at least three months of living expenses and investments such as retirement plans.

As a financial planner, the number one question she gets asked these days because the nation is in a declining market is "should I continue to invest for my future'"

"The answer is a resounding yes, especially for those long-term goals," she says. "Soldiers should definitely be investing because stocks right now are very inexpensive."

Army families should watch where they shop and take advantage of the benefits the military offers such as the commissary and the post exchange, says Walbert.

"You really do save money."

She also recommends putting together a spending record so Soldiers and their families know where their money is going and can develop an action plan to avoid or eliminate debt.

Army families will be less likely to go ahead and charge those cards back up again because that pain of paying them off will still be in their minds, she says.

June Walbert is a certified financial planner with USAA with over 17 years of experience in the military and presently serves as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve.