The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is a federal statute that affords certain protections and benefits to active-duty service members.

This article highlights several key benefits of the SCRA, and briefly explains how to invoke them.

6 PERCENT CAP ON PRE-SERVICE DEBT
The SCRA requires lenders to reduce interest rates on pre-service debt to 6 percent upon notification by the service member. This cap applies to all types of loans, including student loans, as long as they were incurred before the Soldier began active-duty service.

In addition to lowering the interest rate, a lender must also refund any interest in excess of 6 percent you were charged after joining active-duty service. To request an interest rate deduction, send a letter to your creditor referencing SCRA and attach a copy of your initial active-duty orders. The Vicenza Legal Assistance Office can provide a template letter for your convenience.

STAY OF PROCEEDINGS
A service member who is party to a civil or administrative proceeding in state or federal court can obtain a 90-day "stay" (postponement) of proceedings by notifying the court of his or her active duty service. Service members must submit the following two letters in order to request a stay: 1) a letter explaining how military service materially affects your ability to appear in court and providing a future date when you could appear; and 2) a letter from your commander confirming your inability to appear at the scheduled court date. The Legal Assistance Office can assist in drafting the required letters.

DEFAULT JUDGMENTS
A default judgment is a ruling against a party who failed to appear or defend against a claim in civil court. The SCRA bars default judgments against service members in order to ensure that mission requirements do not prevent a Soldier from presenting their case in court. If you receive notice that a default judgment was entered against you, the Legal Assistance Office can assist in drafting a petition to rescind the judgment.

TERMINATION OF RESIDENTIAL LEASES
The SCRA allows service members entering active-duty service, deploying or moving on permanent change of station (PCS) orders, to lawfully terminate a U.S. lease without repercussions. If a U.S. landlord imposes penalties (e.g., withholds a security deposit or insists on additional rent), the Legal Assistance Office can assist you. Though only U.S. landlords are bound by the SCRA, leases with local Italian landlords approved by the military housing office typically contain similar protections.

TERMINATION OF CELL PHONE CONTRACTS
The SCRA allows a service member to terminate a cell phone contract without early termination charges as long as it was executed prior to receiving overseas PCS or deployment orders. Because the SCRA only applies to U.S. companies, this protection does not extend to contracts with providers in Europe.

For assistance or more information on these and other legal protections under the SCRA, contact the Vicenza Legal Assistance Office at DSN 637-8834 or visit Building 166 on Caserma Ederle.