Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003
The greatest sacrifice one can make for their country is to join the armed forces. Individuals who join voluntarily put their own lives on hold to answer their nation’s call to duty---families are separated, careers are put on hold, and time with friends and family is lost. The U.S. government recognized this great sacrifice early-on in our nation’s history when it passed the first special law protecting servicemembers during the Civil War. Since then, many new laws have been enacted, all of which protect and provide for our brave servicemembers.
One of the most noteworthy laws currently in effect is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003 (SCRA). The SCRA protects the legal rights of servicemembers in certain civil matters. The legislative intent of the law is primarily to protect the financial interests of servicemembers by postponing or modifying common financial obligations such as mortgage payments, car loan payments, and lease payments. However, the law also addresses coverage issues related to health insurance and voting rights.
Who is Covered?
The SCRA protects the following types of people:
- Members of the Armed Services
- Armed Services Reserves who are on active duty
- Members of the National Guard who are on active duty for at least 30 days pursuant to a federal call to duty or a presidential declaration of a national emergency
- Some portions of the act also cover servicemembers' dependents
Why we need the SCRA
What is covered?
The SCRA protects the legal rights of servicemembers (and in some cases their dependents) in the following matters:
- Residential Leases
- Automobile Leases
- Credit Purchases
- Health Insurance
- Civil Lawsuits
A servicemember facing foreclosure may make a motion to stay all court proceedings while he or she is on active duty or within 90 days of return from active duty. If the court finds that a servicemember’s military service materially affects their ability to meet their mortgage obligations, the court may lower the monthly mortgage payments or adjust the maturity dates to protect the servicember’s interest in the real property.
- A servicemember may terminate a residential lease anytime after he or she enter into service. This includes anyone who is deployed to a new location for at least 90 days or anyone who receives a permanent change of station.
- A servicemember facing eviction may make a motion to stay all court proceedings while he or she is on active duty. Furthermore, the court may stay eviction proceedings or adjust the servicemember’s lease obligations on its own motion.
A landlord is prohibited from evicting a servicemember and his or her dependents for failure to pay rent so long as the monthly rent for the residence does not exceed $2,975.54. This amount is annually adjusted for inflation using the CPI housing component. The maximum rental rate as of 2011 is $2,975.54.
Pre-service Leases (lease executed before the person entered service): A pre-service lease may be terminated if the servicemember has been on active duty for at least 180 days.
Post-service Leases (leases executed after the individual enters service): A post-service may be terminated if the servicemember is deployed to a new location for at least 180 days or if the servicemember receives a permanent change of station that relocates him or her out of the country.
The interest rate on credit purchases made before entering service is capped at 6%. Any interest in excess of 6% is totally forgiven and cannot be collected by a creditor after the servicemember returns from active duty. This interest rate reduction is not automatic however-- servicemembers must make a written request and submit a copy of their military service order to their creditors before the cap applies. More importantly, the cap only applies to debt acquired prior to entering service.
Servicemembers are entitled to have their health insurance reinstated when they return from active duty. A policy reinstatement is not automatic however--servicemembers have 120 days from the day of their release to request a policy reinstatement from their insurer.
Under the SCRA, insurers are generally prohibited from excluding coverage of conditions that arose before or during service. An insurer may only exclude coverage of:
- Conditions that would have been excluded under the original policy (the policy in effect before deployment);and
- Disabilities that the Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs determines were sustained or aggravated while on active duty
If a servicemember has been sued, he or she is entitled to a stay of proceedings while on active duty. The servicemember can make a motion to stay proceedings or the court can do so on its own motion.
If a servicemember has been sued but has made no appearance (no response filed), the absence is excused and the court must appoint an attorney to represent him or her. More importantly, the court may not enter a default judgment against the absent servicemember until it appoints him or her an attorney.
If a servicemember intends to sue another party, any time spent in service is not counted when computing the Statute of Limitations period. A statute of limitations is simply a deadline by which a plaintiff must file suit against another party. For example, if a plaintiff only has 120 days to file suit, a 90-day service deployment would not be counted when computing whether the 120-day deadline has passed.
If a servicemember cannot comply with a court order or judgment, they may receive a stay from having to comply. In some cases, the court may even set aside a judgment entered during a period of service. The court can only set aside a judgment if the servicemember submits an application with the court showing that their militarily service materially affected their ability to properly handle the suit and that some defenses may be applicable in the case.
The information in this article is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this or associated pages, comments, answers, or other communications should be taken as legal advice. The information provided is not intended to create, and viewing of this information does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.
- How to Get Help--Armed Forces Legal Assistance (AFLA)
Use this site to locate active duty legal activities offering general legal services within the continental United States.
- SCRA Article
Overview of the SCRA prepared by the Federal Reserve.
- Consumer Resources for Military Personnel | USA.gov
This page provides resources to help military personnel be smart consumers and protect their financial interests.
- SCRA Pamphlet
Overview of the SCRA prepared by the State Bar of Texas.
- A Judge's Guide to the SCRA
Provides information about the SCRA for judges, legal practitioners, and the general public.