Debt Free Resources
and Debt Advice
A wide variety of debt-free resources and debt advice are available to you as members of the U.S. armed forces from a variety of sources, most of them at no cost.
Congratulations on making the commitment to get out of debt for life! Now, you need some guidance on selecting the best method of achieving that goal. You want to know if debt consolidation is right for you -- should you consolidate credit card debt, or is there a better method of debt elimination?
Where do you turn for free debt advice? Fortunately, there are a number of places where you can get help in your quest to become debt free.
We'll list some of the debt free resources available, with a description of what kind of help you can expect from them, and you'll find links to others on our links page.
Military Legal Assistance Offices
One of the best places you can go for free information and advice on consumer debt counseling is your local on-base Legal Assistance (or JAG) Office. They can be helpful if you are having trouble with a landlord, car dealer, credit card company, or debt collector.
Legal Assistance Attorneys are licensed attorneys. They must be licensed to practice law by their own state bar associations before they are accepted into the Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Corps.
They cannot represent you in local courts, as a matter of DoD policy, but they can provide valuable advice, and sometimes, a call or letter from an attorney can be all it takes to solve your problem.
Who is Eligible for Military Legal Assistance?
If you are a holder of a US military ID card (active, active reserve, retired, or dependent), you are entitled to the free services of a Legal Assistance attorney. And you may see an attorney from any branch of service, not necessarily your own. For example, if you are in the Air Force, but there happens to be an Army or Navy base nearby and you'd rather go there because you prefer that no one recognizes you, that's perfectly okay.
Some service members are afraid to visit the base JAG, or staff JAG, or the Legal Assistance Office, because they are afraid that their financial problems may be reported to their command. After all, this is a military officer they are going to see, right?
Yes, but there is a very important difference between talking to this military officer and talking to another officer in your chain of command. And your visit to them cannot be reported to your chain of command without your permission.
How Can a Legal Assistance Attorney Help?
You should be aware that, while a Legal Assistance Attorney can be a great debt-free resource, there are limitations regarding how much help he or she can give you. The Services have restricted legal assistance attorneys from representing service members in a civilian court (they would have to be licensed in that state to do so anyway, but even in the situation in which an attorney is stationed in the state where he or she is licensed, the prohibition still applies).
A Legal Assistance Attorney won't generally be able to help you with specific debt management advice, but he or she may be able to help you draft a letter to resolve your problem, or may write a letter or make a phone call on your behalf. You'd be amazed at how much better a used car salesman will respond when he gets a call or letter from your JAG office!
I'm proud to say I've been able to help several service members deal with unscrupulous car dealers who lurk on that "mile of cars" just outside the gates, when they were getting nowhere on their own. Having the weight of the military supporting you can be a valuable asset, particularly with a merchant or landlord in a "military town"! And being contacted by a military attorney lets them know you are serious, you are getting good legal advice, and they won't be able to railroad you.
Start in Your Local Legal Assistance Office
If you are having financial problems, or problems with a landlord (or tenant) or car dealer, or a bill collector, start your quest for help in your on-base Legal Assistance office.
- Those attorneys are there specifically to provide assistance to you;
- Their services are free to you;
- You can count on your discussion being kept confidential; and
- They may be able to refer you to available debt-free resources in your local area to help you with grants (money that does not have to be paid back) or loans.
- And, in the event you need to hire a local attorney, they'll tell you that, too.
If you have a problem that needs to be handled in civilian courts, the Legal Assistance Attorney will tell you that, and he or she will give you the names and phone numbers of several attorneys in your local area who may be able to help you. Legal Assistance Offices are not permitted to refer you to a specific attorney, but if you ask for a referral, they will give you a list of qualified attorneys in the local area.
(Hint: While they are required to give you more than one name and number, you may ask them what they know about the attorneys whose names they gave you, or if they know any of them personally. You might also just ask them, "If you were making this call, which one would you call first?")
The Armed Forces Legal Assistance (AFLA) Web site is a joint initiative of the Armed Forces legal assistance offices that aims to provide general legal information to the military community to enhance its readiness. It has an excellent list of FAQs, explaining who is eligible for their services, and the types of services provided.
Locate the military Legal Assistance office nearest you. If you are stationed outside CONUS, click here, and then click on the second blue link on the left-hand side, which says "Legal Service Homepages."
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