The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is a federal statute passed by Congress to allow military members to suspend or postpone some civil obligations so that the military member can devote his or her full attention to military duties. The original Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act (SSCRA) was passed during World War I. The statute was reenacted during World War II, and was later modified during Operation Desert Storm.
Who Does It Protect?
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is designed to protect active duty military members, reservists who are in active federal service, and National Guardsmen who are in active federal service. Some of the benefits under the SCRA extend to dependents of active duty military members as well.
What Kind Of Relief Can It Provide?
The SCRA can provide many forms of relief to military members. Below are some of the most common forms of relief.
- 6% CAP ON INTEREST RATES: Under the SCRA, a military member can cap the interest rate at 6% for all obligations entered into before beginning active duty. This can include interest rates on credit cards, mortgages, and even some student loans (except for Federal guaranteed student loans), to name a few. To qualify for the interest rate cap the military member has to show that he or she is now on active duty, that the obligation or debt was incurred prior to entry on active duty, and that military service materially affects the members' ability to pay. To begin the process, the military member needs to send a letter along with a copy of current military orders to the lender requesting relief under the SCRA. The interest rate cap lasts for the duration of active duty service.
- STAY OF PROCEEDINGS: If you are served with a complaint indicating that you are being sued for some reason, you can obtain a "stay" or postponement of those proceedings. A stay can be used to stop the action altogether, or to hold up some phase of it. According to the SCRA, you can request a "stay" during any stage of the proceedings. However, the burden is on you, the military member, to show that your military service has materially affected your ability to appear in court. In general, you can request a stay of the proceedings for a reasonable period of time (30-60 days). For example, if you are being sued for divorce, you can put off the hearing for some period of time, but it is unlikely that a court will allow you to put off the proceedings indefinitely.
- DEFAULT JUDGMENTS: A default judgment is entered against a party who has failed to defend against a claim that has been brought by another party. To obtain a default judgment, a plaintiff must file an affidavit (written declaration of fact) stating that the defendant is not in the military service and has not requested a stay. If you are sued while on active duty, you fail to respond and as a result a default judgment is obtained against you, you can reopen the default judgment by taking several steps. First, you must show that the judgment was entered during your military service or within 30 days after you've left the service. Second, you must write to the court requesting that the default judgment be reopened while you are still on active duty or within 90 days of leaving the service. Third, you must not have made any kind of appearance in court, through filing an answer or otherwise, prior to the default judgment being entered. Finally, you must indicate that your military service prejudiced your ability to defend your case and show that you had a valid defense to the action against you.
- PROTECTION FROM EVICTION: If you are leasing a house or apartment, the SCRA can protect you from being evicted for a period of time, usually three months. The dwelling place must be occupied by either the active duty member or his or her dependents and the rent on the premises cannot exceed an amount set each year by the Department of Defense. In 2019, that amount was $3851.03 a month. Additionally, the military member must show that military service materially affects his or her ability to pay rent. If a landlord continues to try to evict the military member or does actually evict the member, he or she is subject to criminal sanctions such as fines or even imprisonment. However, if you feel that you are in this situation, don't just stop paying rent and wait three months. Talk to an attorney.
- TERMINATION OF PRE-SERVICE LEASES: The SCRA also allows military members who are just entering active duty service to lawfully terminate a lease without repercussions. To do this, the service member needs to show that the lease was entered into prior to the commencement of active duty service, that the lease was signed by or on behalf of the service member, and that the service member is currently in military service.
- MORTGAGES: The SCRA can also provide temporary relief from paying your mortgage. To obtain relief, a military member must show that their mortgage was entered into prior to beginning active duty, that the property was owned prior to entry into military service, that the property is still owned by the military member, and that military service materially affects the member's ability to pay the mortgage.
As you can see, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act can be a big help to military members in times of need. In fact, the United States Supreme Court has declared that the Act must be read with "an eye friendly to those who dropped their affairs to answer their country's call." It actually provides many more protections than those listed here. If you think that you may qualify for protection under the SCRA, you should talk to an attorney.
For details and links to additional information, go to this link: https://www.justice.gov/servicemembers/servicemembers-civil-relief-act-scra
Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans.
To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:
- Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
- Apply online at iowalegalaid.org