The Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act grants certain financial rights to military servicemembers during active duty. It provides special protections in such areas as eviction, rental contracts, civil lawsuits, interest rates on credit cards and mortgages, and mortgage foreclosure, among others. A military member must invoke the Act’s protections, as they are not automatically triggered.
Who Can File?
The Act protects active duty military members, reservists, and active duty National Guard members. The Act applies once the member receives active duty orders. In some cases, the Act’s protection applies to the servicemember’s family members and dependents.
Act Benefits and Requirements
The Act has several protections and benefits. In some instances, the servicemember must demonstrate that military service has had a “material effect” upon the servicemember’s ability to comply with the requirements of the legal or financial matter at issue. Depending on the type of protection requested, the member must seek relief under the Act within 30 to 180 days of the end of military service.
Court and Administrative Proceedings
Military servicemembers may request a court to delay court or administrative proceedings for at least 90 days if the member is unable to attend the proceeding due to active duty. The request must be in writing and must outline why the servicemember cannot attend and when the member is available to appear. The request must include a letter from his commander stating that the servicemember does not have permission to attend the proceeding due to active duty. The court may approve further delays of the proceeding upon the appointment of an attorney for the servicemember.
Execution of Judgments
If a judgment has already been entered, a military servicemember may delay or prevent the judgment from being enforced. This also applies to the execution of judgments that would garnish the servicemember’s wages or attach a lien to servicemember property. The servicemember must demonstrate that active duty has a material effect upon his ability to comply with the judgment. The stay applies to active duty servicemembers and is available up to 90 days following the servicemember’s discharge from active duty.
If a default judgment has been entered because the servicemember failed to appear in court, the servicemember may request the court to set the default judgment aside. The servicemember may seek such relief if the default judgment was entered while the servicemember was on active duty or if the judgment was entered within sixty days of the servicemember leaving active duty. The servicemember must prove that he was prejudiced by not being able to attend the proceeding and that good defenses to the suit exist.
Six Percent Rule
The Act allows an active servicemember to reduce the interest on mortgages and consumer debts, such as credit cards, to a rate of six percent. A servicemember may only seek interest reduction on a debt that was incurred prior to active service.
Life Insurance Protection / Health Insurance
A servicemember has a right to defer payment of life insurance premiums and to reinstate health insurance he maintained prior to the beginning of service.
Lease Termination and Eviction
A servicemember may terminate a lease he held prior to service if he receives a permanent change of station order or he will be deployed for more than 90 days. This applies to residential, vehicular, and agricultural leases. Courts may also stay an eviction proceeding if active duty materially affects the servicemember’s ability to pay rent.