Its not very often that I get to cross paths with American Heroes such as Captain Stephen P. Dunn. He is an attorney with Howard and Howard and is also active in the United States Armed forces, protecting our country including my family and me. I will always be indebted to Captain Dunn for his courage and his performance to our country. Thank you, Captain Dunn, for keeping our country safe.
Captain Dunn co-wrote an article in the Michigan Bar Journal of August 2008 that talked about the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act at 50 USC Appendix 501-596 which provides special protections for our protectors in the armed forces. In 2003, the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act was completely re-written, and re-named the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The bill was signed into law by President Bush on December 19, 2003. Captain Dunn pointed out several provisions of the act that I thought that i would share with you, my readers. Here are the major points that I am relaying to you from Captain Dunn’s article:
Creditors cannot charge more than 6% interest to service members before they enter active duty. Captain Dunn reports that creditors must forgive interest greater than 6 percent on such debts or obligations. This provision applies the when the service members entry into active duty materially affects his or her ability to repay the debt or obligation. It applies to nearly all debts before activity duty with the exception of federally subsidized education loans.
Servicemembers can stay lawsuits against them for a period of not less than 90 days. If a Servicemember gets sued, he can simply write a letter to the court asking the lawsuit to be stayed if his or her active duty interferes with his ability to appear in court This does not apply to criminal cases.
Servicemembers and their dependents can terminate a residential or motor vehicle lease upon the servicemember’s deployment , permanent change of station (including retirement and separation), or entry into active duty. Captain Dunn advises that the servicemember or his family must write a letter to the landlord or lessor of his intent to terminate the lease of the deployment or entry into active duty. The letter should also contain a copy of the servicemember’s orders or a letter from the commander if the orders are not available.
Penalties for violation of the Servicemembers Relief Act. Captain Dunn reports that the Act can be used not only as a shield against lawsuits but also as a sword. The Act can be used to sue landlords for damages, plus costs and attorneys’ fees which can be substantial.
Lessons to be learned:
1. Creditors and Collection Attorneys – When representing creditors against service members, using a little common sense can go a long way to protecting your client and you from an embarrassing lawsuit. The Service Members Relief Act was designed to protect our soldiers and sailors. If you have any reason to believe that the person you are suing or pursuing is a soldier or sailor, be very careful and verify their status before proceeding. Much like the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act contains an attorney fee shifting provision that can make these cases very difficult and expensive to defend.
2. Servicemembers - Know your rights. Just because you are entering the armed services does not mean that your creditors are simply going to get notice of it. You must be an active participant in managing your obligations before you leave. Send a letter to all of your creditors and include a copy of your orders. You may be very surprised to learn how many of creditors are not only willing to work with your family and you, but may have programs designed to help you while you are on active duty. As a servicemember, you have rights that you should absolutely use to benefit yourself and your family. Use those rights by putting your creditors on notice of your status.