"They're Internet savvy, but not financially savvy," Petraeus says of many young military personnel. "They don't recognize some of the red flags out there." One advance-fee purveyor, she says, operated under 16 different names in 13 states!

Petraeus hopes to see bank fees both on credit cards and debit cards reined in. "There's a lot of money being made out there-far more than was being made by banks back when I was younger."

When Petraeus was younger, hidden fees on debit cards and credit cards were not the issue. Like many military spouses, she tried very hard not to bring her husband any issues she could solve herself. Nevertheless, among their financial blunders: The couple signed a contract for an apartment-sight unseen at the first place they were assigned.

Not only was it totally different from a photo in the brochure, but "it was not very nice, and it was in a neighborhood that had a lot of police reports every weekend." The couple made the mistake of buying furniture from a rent-to-own company. It was more expensive than buying, and if you missed a payment, the company took back the furniture, and all the money previously paid was pocketed, she says.

Then there was a realty partnership investment that never did obtain approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission. "At least we did get out the money we put into it, but we didn't make anything on it." The couple, she acknowledges, failed to do proper due diligence.

Petraeus, an English and French major and summa cum laude graduate of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., has been married to Gen. Petraeus for 35 years. She met her husband-a cadet at West Point-on a blind date. Both were in their senior years. She won't discuss the circumstances of the meeting. But coincidentally, her late four-star general father at the time was superintendent of West Point-from which Gen. Petraeus graduated near the top of his class.

Now, she says, Gen. Petraeus spends one-quarter of his time at home. "I certainly see him far more than when I saw him when he spent four years living in Iraq. Like most people, e-mail is a big part of his day."

Holly Petraeus did volunteer work at army posts in several areas, and also worked as a civilian on military bases, sometimes in administrative roles. She began turning to financial issues in a big way around 2003 while her husband was constantly away commanding the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq.

At Fort Campbell, Ky., she hooked up with the CEO of the nearby Tennessee Better Business Bureau and began an educational campaign, which grew into the national BBB Military Line. She also talked to congressional reps, served on state boards and testified at public hearings.
A major cause in 2003: The unfair practice of stripping financial benefits from low-income military families due to the deployment of one family member. Often, there was no change in family financial situation when this occurred-just one less family member at home.

Does this shameful practice continue? Petraeus says that because benefits are provided by so many different state and federal agencies, it's impossible to know.