Right outside the gates of U.S. military bases are the types of opportunities that can get the young and enlisted into a lot of consumer trouble without much effort.
Halliwell said young men come back from deployments with significant amounts of money—they receive increased pay when deployed to combat zones—and that makes them an easy target for consumer spending. They are also often inexperienced when it comes to money and are all gathered in one location.
"Look around military bases and there are lots of opportunities for people to spend money: car dealerships, custom-car shops—you name it," Halliwell said.
Self-financing auto dealers with ruthless repossession standards, electronics stores and jewelers selling at marked-up rates, and representatives from for-profit colleges who may offer an inferior education while making money by recruiting those who are still enlisted and will qualify for post-9/11 GI bills are just some examples of the way in which the military is a prime example of the "buyer beware" philosophy endemic across the country.
"The most unique one I saw was outside a base in Virginia where you could rent rims for your car," Petraeus said. "I was amused because it never occurred to me to rent rims for a car."
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On the "Ask USAA" section of its website, a typical questioner might cite a $700 monthly truck payment and wonder if he or she can "just give it back to the dealership," Halliwell said.
One aspect of military life that can contribute to excessive spending is stress, and stress can lead to questionable decision-making or retail spending as a form of self-medication.
"Most people don't have to worry about a spouse being sent to Afghanistan or dealing with explosive device—and some people need retail therapy to deal with it," Halliwell said.
"I will say that we use that term, retail therapy, somewhat jokingly during deployments, and now it's service members located overseas who can overspend online, too, but we see that in civilian world as well," Petraeus said.