There are many protections for military service members and their spouses, chiefly under the SCRA (Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act), but it’s important that the military personnel who need these benefits take the proper steps to guarantee their rights are protected.
In particular, service members gain special protections while on active duty. They (or their spouses) can’t be evicted, foreclosed upon, or otherwise forced to sell their home. Debt interest rates are capped, and insurance companies aren’t allowed to cancel a policy, and bankruptcy laws are different for active duty military personnel.
To access this relief, military members should be proactive:
- Fill out the right paperwork. Start with the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System.
- Keep your marriage certificate somewhere secure. Have an original copy on-hand, along with birth certificates, social security cards, etc. Include these documents for any children in the family.
- Get a military ID card for each member of the family.
- Make sure your spouse is listed on any insurance policies as the beneficiary.
- Update income tax status to married, and verify the address is current.
- Talk to the Community Service Center about any questions and additional documents that might be needed.
- Place an active duty alert on credit reports https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/deploying-servicemembers-consider-active-duty-alert , and designate your spouse to act on your behalf if you are deployed. You may want to go so far as to grant power of attorney so your spouse can manage student loans for you.
- Keep a copy of any orders calling you up for active duty.
Once all of the proper paperwork is completed, military spouses gain access to many benefits:
- Express Loan Program is offered by the SBA (Small Business Administration) to help military spouses start or expand a business.
- GI Bill education benefits can be shared by the spouse or dependents of qualifying service members.
- The Military Spouse Education and Career Opportunities Program offers development assistance with career exploration, training, readiness and counseling. It also includes scholarship and employment programs.
- Insurance and healthcare options like on-base facilities and access to the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance plan are an added benefit.
- There are many legal protections for service members, so be sure to inform your loan servicer if you are active duty military and they will do what is legally required of them.
- You can get Armed Forces Legal Assistance help you if you run into problems or if any loan servicer denies you your legal rights.
We’ve barely scratched the surface of all of the programs and options available to military service members and their spouses. And in the tragic event that a service member is lost in the line of duty, there are other programs to assist surviving spouses and dependents.
Whatever your situation, there are certified credit and student loan counselors eager to help, and they have studied the many programs available for service members. Be aware that as changes occur at the highest levels of government, funding for military relief programs may change, so old programs may go away and new programs may be created. Get help from a student loan counselor to know what programs are available to you in your current situation.