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Q: What rights are provided by the Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act (SCRA)?  

A: The SCRA applies primarily to members of the armed forces when they are on active duty (with few exceptions). The SCRA does not apply to civilian employees of the armed services and employees of government contractors. It is applicable to all civil and administrative proceedings, both in the U.S.  and territories subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. The act is not applicable in criminal proceedings.

The act permits service members to request a stay (delay) of any civil or administrative proceeding for not less than 90 days if: (1) they are on active duty; and (2) military duty will materially affect their ability to appear. A request to stay proceedings must be accompanied by a letter from the service member’s commander stating that military duty prevents appearance at the proceeding and leave is not authorized.

The SCRA also authorizes courts to vacate or stay an attachment or garnishment of a service member’s property, toll the statue of limitations during the period of active duty, and reopen a default judgment.

Beyond court proceedings, the SCRA provides rights relevant to termination of residential, automobile and cellular phone contracts. For example, if his/her ability to comply with the contract is materially affected, a service member may terminate or suspend a cell phone contract based on: (1) orders to PCS within the U.S.; or (2) orders to deploy outside the continental U.S. for more than 90 days. The Act also protects against early termination fees.

The act’s “6 percent interest cap” reduces the interest rate on debts that existed prior to entry on active duty to 6 percent. The protection remains, at a minimum, for the period the service member is on active duty. Interest at a rate in excess of 6 percent per year is forgiven, not deferred, and the amount of any periodic payment due must be reduced by the amount of interest forgiven.

To take advantage of this provision, the service member must provide to the creditor written notice and a copy of military orders calling him or her to active duty for a period not less than 180 days. Of course, the service member must meet the aforementioned “materially affect” requirement. The SCRA offers many other valuable benefits.  Contact the Legal Assistance Office for more information.

This column is not intended as individual or specific legal advice. If you have specific issues or concerns, you should consult a judge advocate at 421-4152/civ. 0711-729-4152.