Legal Protections for Military Service Members

In December, 2003, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) was enacted to update the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act (SSCRA) of 1940. The new act clarifies the old law, updates it to reflect changes in American life since 1940 (e.g., the existence of car leases), and includes judicial interpretations handed down in the meantime.

The SCRA improves upon and broadens the legal protections given to military servicemembers. Like its predecessor, the SCRA is intended to allow active duty military personnel to perform their duties without undue interference or distraction from legal or financial difficulties.

Here are the highlights of the SCRA:

  • Upon a servicemember’s request, a court must grant a stay of all hearings, for at least 90 days. Additional stays are in the judge’s discretion.
  • Interest rates (including fees and service charges) are capped at 6% per year. Interest above that rate must be forgiven, not merely deferred. To receive this benefit, the servicemember must request the reduction in writing, including a copy of his/her orders, no later than 180 days after returning from service. On a case-by-case basis, a court may allow a creditor to charge more than 6% per year interest if the court finds that the servicemember’s ability to pay more than that rate is not materially affected by reason of military service.
  • Vehicle leases entered before service can be terminated by the servicemember if he/she is called to active duty for a period of 180 days or more.
  • Residential leases can be terminated by active duty soldiers who receive permanent change of station orders or who are ordered deployed for at least 90 days.
  • Eviction protection for military families is extended. Under SCRA, evictions from rental housing are prohibited when the monthly rent does not exceed $2,400 per month, unless a court finds that the military service does not materially interfere with the servicemember’s ability to pay this obligation.
  • Mortgage foreclosures shall be stayed upon application by a servicemember. A foreclosure, sale or seizure of the property shall not be valid if made during, or within 90 days after, the period of military service, except by court order or by agreement. Anyone who knowingly causes a foreclosure, sale or seizure of property to be made in violation of SCRA is guilty of a misdemeanor.
  • Real or personal property owned by a servicemember (individually or with a spouse) may not be sold to collect property taxes, unless a court determines that military service does not materially affect the servicemember’s ability to pay the tax.
  • If a servicemember is personally liable for a debt for his/her business, his/her personal assets that are not related to the business are off-limits to the creditor during the military service.
  • A servicemember can waive SCRA’s protections in writing during or after the period of military service (but not before).
  • SCRA makes clear that its provisions extend to National Guard members who are called to active duty for 30 days or more pursuant to a contingency mission specified by the President or Secretary of Defense.

The SCRA reflects a renewed appreciation for what our military servicemembers do for all of us. In recognition of the many sacrifices made by the servicemembers who protect and defend our nation, the SCRA removes some of the financial and legal worries they would otherwise face back home.

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