Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
Protections for you as you protect our Nation
What is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act?
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is a federal statute ( 50 USC 3901 through 4043) with the purpose “to provide for, strengthen, and expedite the national defense through protection extended by this chapter to servicemembers of the United States to enable such persons to devote their entire energy to the defense needs of the Nation” (50 USC 3902). In other words, the statute grants active duty service members (or reservists activated for more than 30 days) certain relief from judicial and administrative proceedings and certain transactions so that they can concentrate on defending our nation.
https://scra.dmdc.osd.mil/single_record.xhtml Use this website to obtain proof of your service that you can include in your letters.
What are some of the protections offered by the SCRA?
Some of the most commonly used protections include:
Terminating a Vehicle Lease Prior to Lease Expiration Date
A servicemember may terminate a lease agreement of a motor vehicle used by the servicemember or dependents. The servicemember must demonstrate any of the follow: (1) the servicemember entered into the lease prior to going the military; (2) sometime after beginning the lease, the servicemember received PCS orders OCONUS, or from an OCONUS state to a CONUS location; or (3) sometime after beginning the lease, the servicemember received orders to deploy for not less than 180 days. The benefit provided by the SCRA is that the service member WILL NOT be subject to the early termination fee for ending the lease in these situations. (50 USC 3955).
Terminating a Residential Lease Prior to Lease Expiration Date
Similar to terminating the vehicle lease above, in certain conditions, a servicemember may terminate a residential lease prior to the expiration date set forth in the rental agreement. The servicemember must demonstrate either: (1) the servicemember entered into the lease pre-service; (2) the servicemember received PCS orders, or (3) the servicemember received orders to deploy for 90 days or more. The SCRA protects the servicemember from termination or cancelation fees. (50 USC 3955)
Terminating Cell Phone Contracts Prior to the Service agreement Expiration
A servicemember who receives orders to deploy OCONUS for not less than 90 days, or PCS orders within CONUS to a location that the cellular provider does not provide service, may request a termination or suspension of a cellular service contract. The service provider may not subject the servicemember to additional penalties or extra fees for exercising such a right under the SCRA. As an added benefit, if the servicemember is transferring to that location for less than three years, the service provider must allow the servicemember to keep that phone number so long as the servicemember reinitiates service with that number upon returning to an area supported by the service provider. (50 USC 3956).
Reduced Interest Rates on Credit Cards and Loans
One of the most valuable forms of relief offered by the SCRA is the reduction of interest rates on obligations the servicemember entered into prior to joining the service. A servicemember may reduce a interest rates on financial obligations entered into before active-duty service to six percent, but only joining active duty service affected the servicemember’s ability to repay the obligation. One this technically means is that if the servicemember made less money after joining the military than when the servicemember incurred the pre-service financial obligation. In practice however, credit companies are very likely to reduce the rate regardless of pre- and post-service ability to pay. As an added benefit, the reduced rate applies retroactively to the time the servicemember entered into service, meaning that any amount of interest paid at the rate higher than 6% will be applied to principle repayment. This benefit only lasts while the servicemember is on active duty. The reduced rate does not apply to obligations, such as refinancing or credit card balance increases, entered into or accrued while on active duty. (50 USC 3937)
Stay of Civil or Administrative Proceedings
A servicemember may request a stay of proceedings to allow the servicemember to appear in and defend a civil cause of action. A stay means a delay or postponement, it does not mean that the case goes away permanently. A judge, magistrate, or hearing officer must issue a stay of at least 90 days upon receiving proper notification from the servicemember. The servicemember must demonstrate to the court or administrative agency that such military service materially affects his or her ability to appear for such proceedings. This right does not apply to criminal proceedings. This type of relief is most commonly used to prevent default judgments in civil suits or family law matters when a servicemember is deployed. This protection is closely aligned with another SCRA protection which prevents foreclosures on property. (50 USC 3931)
The SCRA offers many other protections which can save you money and heartache. Ensure you are familiar with them and feel free to reach out to the Law Office of Matthew T. Smith or your local legal assistance office if a creditor, landlord, or magistrate is refusing to recognized your rights under the SCRA.
If you would like the template forms to request the relief discussed above, please click this link and provide us with your email address. The Law Office of Matthew Smith will provide you with template letters with areas highlighted for you to input your information.
What happens if a company, landlord, or other individual does not abide by the rules of the SCRA?
If you properly invoke the protections of the SCRA and an individual violates the SCRA, then the individual may be subject to both a civil action brought by the Attorney General and a private right of action brought by the servicemember. In the private right of action, if the servicemember prevails, the court can award equitable or declaratory relief, monetary damages, and attorneys fees.
If you feel as though someone is not properly recognizing your SCRA rights, please contact the Law Office of Matthew T. Smith so we can discuss the way forward to ensure that you get the protections you are entitled and that the same thing does not happen to other servicemembers.