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Serving in the military is a serious commitment. Signing on the dotted line means dedicating years of your life to service—not to mention a lot of work. There are examinations to pass, sacrifices to make, and physical fitness standards to meet. When you have made all that effort, you don’t want financial mistakes to affect the livelihood you have worked hard for.

Here are three financial mistakes to avoid if you want to protect the military career you have earned.

1. Misuse of Your Government Travel Charge Card

A Government Travel Charge Card (GTCC) is meant to be used for approved expenses during temporary duty. It’s not for you to hit up Bed Bath & Beyond on the weekend (even if you have a coupon). The GTCC program is monitored, and improper use of the card will be reported to your leadership.

Your supervisors need to know that you will follow the guidelines for proper use throughout your career. Not having the discipline or knowledge to use a GTCC correctly can have a detrimental effect on your military future. Only use your card for official expenses, and don’t forget to pay your bill on time too!

2. Late Military Star Card Payments

The Military Star Card is available to military personnel and is administered by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES). Unlike the GTCC, the Star Card is a regular credit card: you may use it anywhere from uniform purchases at clothing stores to snacks at the gas station. What many servicemembers aren’t aware of is that AAFES is a branch of the Department of Defense. When you don’t pay your Star Card bill, it’s like not paying your boss the money you owe them (they’ll notice). In fact, when you don’t pay your Star Card bill, the terms and conditions clearly state the AAFES will “notify your unit commander about [its] Account collection efforts.

If your commanding officer gets a notification from AAFES that you aren’t paying the bill, you can be sure that won’t help your career. Not meeting your financial obligations gives the impression that you will likely not be good at managing people or your job. Pay your Star Card bill on time to ensure it has no negative ramifications on your military career.

3. Lots of Debt

Debt is always an issue, but it can lead to especially serious problems for those in the military for a few reasons. First, a high amount of debt could cause you to fail a security clearance background check. Not having a security clearance will make you ineligible for many jobs in the military and can therefore ruin your chances of a long military career. Second, financial troubles and debt can be a huge source of stress, and that stress can negatively affect your ability to make decisions—and that’s not something you want to deal with when you’re on active duty. Create a budget and spend less than you make to help pay down your debt and keep your military career thriving.

If you need more help avoiding financial mistakes, visit our Personal Finance Learning Center for additional tips.

Image: Catherine Lane

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