Show of (virtual) hands: How many of you have had the “absolute pleasure” (note sarcasm) of having your service member’s pay messed up?
That’s what I thought. I wish I could say I am surprised, but the truth is most (if not all) of us have or will experience a military pay issue at one point or another in our service member’s career.
To add ‘insult to injury’, the vast majority of these pay discrepancies always seem to occur during periods of transition that are already stressful enough. PCS, deployment, TDY, unaccompanied orders, reenlistment, separation or retirement…you name it and Murphy has his hands all up in it.
The military pay system is complex, and it can often be difficult to navigate trying to correct errors within it. There are several errors that you might encounter, and several ways to go about correcting them.
Make sure you know how to read a Leave and Earnings Statement (LES), which is basically your service member’s check stub, and have your service member check it each payday to make sure it’s correct. Your wallet will thank you in the long run for being prepared for potential errors.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
UNDERPAYMENT & NO PAY DUE
Picture this: It’s payday and you’re at the commissary (which is brave of you by the way). You’ve picked your items, thrown them into the cart and navigate your way through the sea of people to go to the checkout line. You go to use your bank card…and it declines. “What the HECK? I know we have money in there…we just got paid!” So you check with your bank only to find out that there is literally NO money in your account. Chances are, you just experienced an underpayment or the dreaded No Pay Due.
As much as I would LOVE to tell you that your service member just got an unexpected raise; I can’t. I really wish I could, but if you’re seeing extra dollar signs in your bank account then it’s probably a mistake. Trust me, it’s happened to my husband as well. It’s payday and I’m getting ready to do the bills and see that he was just paid an extra $400!
“YES!” I think to myself. “The Marine Corps FINALLY sees just how AWESOME my husband is and they gave him a RAISE! YAY!” Thankfully, my husband was looking at the bank account right around the same time and called me to tell me that YES, he really IS that awesome, but NO…he didn’t get a raise.
In this case we left the funds in our bank account, and I’m so glad we did. His next paycheck was $400 less than what it usually was because they had noticed the mistake and recouped it on the back end. Had we gone ahead and spent the money without realizing that the overpayment was an error, he could have contacted his finance office and worked out a payment plan to garnish future checks over time.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
It’s definitely difficult when you experience a lack of funds unexpectedly. Your service member’s pay may have been cut, but that doesn’t mean that the bills will wait to be paid. There are a few things you can do, though, that might help ease the burden while you and your service member straighten it all out.
- Prioritize Your Bills. Concentrate on the necessities. Food, housing, gas for your car…all of these things are absolutely necessary to live while you’re figuring out this pay issue. Those are what you should concentrate those funds on.
- The Finance Office. This should be your service member’s first stop. Sometimes, depending on the issue, they are able to correct quickly to avoid any issues.
- Talk to Your Creditors. As soon as you know that you won’t be able to make payments on any credit cards or loans right away, contact your financial institutions and let them know what’s happening. Often they will delay your payments without penalty, or at minimum they could waive any late payment fees.
- Savings. If you have any savings available, this would be the time to use it. My husband and I didn’t have a savings back in the day, but we do now. After the first ‘no pay due’ we received, we decided to set up a separate savings specifically for any military pay errors. TRUST me, it’s absolutely worth it. We recommend having enough saving to cover one month of bills and expenses, since it usually takes about a month to correct some of the more complex pay errors.
- Credit Cards. I know, I know. You don’t like to use your credit cards and they are only for emergencies. Well, guess what? This IS an emergency! This is exactly why most of us have these credit cards. Just make sure and remember to pay it off once the pay issue is corrected.
- Seek Assistance. If you do business with a military-affiliated banking institution, like USAA or Navy Federal, give them a call and see what kind of a loan they can offer you. They might be able to give you a low rate personal loan on the fly. If you’re considering a loan, make sure that you go with this route first and try to avoid pay-day loans and lenders.
- Service Relief Aid. Several of the services have relief aid entities that are specifically around for emergencies like this! The Air Force Aid Society, Navy Marine Corps Relief Society, Army Emergency Relief and Coast Guard Mutual Assistance programs all vary in the assistance they provide, but many of them include a no or low interest emergency loan as well as budget counseling to avoid something like this in the future.
Military pay problems suck, no doubt about it. If you haven’t experienced any of this yet, KUDOS…but you most likely will. Hopefully you will take some of these suggestions and prepared for if (or when) you do.
If you have experienced this before, then most likely you have used some of these suggestions or have found another way to mitigate the damage of the dreaded pay problem and we’d love to hear about your battle plan!Subscribe to Military Spouse's Weekly Newsletter