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Civil Relief Act provides legal provisions to service members

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- While working as a servicemember brings with it many sacrifices, it also comes with a number of benefits.  Being aware of these benefits allows you to save a significant amount of money and hardship.

Congress passed the Service members Civil Relief Act in 2003.  It provides a wide variety of legal protections for service members and their families.  Below are just a few of the key provisions.

MOVING

Relevant to members who are moving because of military orders, whether for a deployment or permanent change of station, the SCRA mandates that a landlord must permit a member to break his or her lease without penalty.

Termination of the lease is not automatic, however.  First, the member must provide notice in writing and must provide their landlord with a copy of their orders.

Second, termination is not effective immediately.  Rather, a lease may be terminated 30 days after the first date on which the next rent payment is due.

For example, if "Airman Snuffy" pays his rent on the first of the month, and gives notice of his PCS orders May 15, the lease is terminated on July 1. Since the next payment after notice is due June 1, and the lease does not terminate until 30 days later, he owes rent through the end of June.

You have to provide prompt, effective notice to your landlord or you may be stuck paying extra rent.

Also, note that the SCRA protections only apply to military members and their dependents.  If you sign a lease with a non-military friend or a family member who is not a dependent, that person will remain bound by the lease and be subject to early termination fees and other costs.

PRE-SERVICE DEBT

For those of you who entered military service with prior debt, you may be able to take advantage of a significant reduction in interest rates.

Interest rates on loans -- including credit card debt, mortgages and student loans -- that were accrued prior to joining as an active duty military member may be reduced to a rate of no more than six percent.  In order to qualify, you must send your creditor a copy of your orders and a letter requesting that the rate be reduced in accordance with the SCRA.

In addition, because of a new executive order, federal student loan servicers must automatically apply the rate cap without being asked to do so.  However, you must still file a request with any servicer of a private loan.

STAYS IN PROCEEDINGS

Being in the military often means being away from home, whether you are a permanent party member stationed far from your home of record, or on a deployment in another country.  As a result, defending a legal action brought against you can be very challenging.

Luckily, Congress recognized this fact and provided for a number of protections.  First, in civil actions, including family law and custody matters, a military member has a right to postpone proceedings until they can properly appear to defend against it.

A court may stay proceedings on its own accord, or it must do so upon application by a member.  In order to fulfill the latter condition, the member must submit a letter explaining why military service affects his or her ability to defend against an action and when he or she will be able to return to participate in the litigation.


Author's note: This article is not intended to replace seeking legal advice from an attorney.  Walk-in legal assistance with an attorney is provided at the Sablich Center 2 p.m.-4 p.m., Mondays and 9 a.m.-11 a.m., Wednesdays.  

For more information, call 228-376-8601.