Thousands of military reservists are being called back for the Iraq War. But I really didn’t expect my friend, Andy, age 58, to get the call.

Much has been written about how the war is altering relationships and marriages, but we hardly ever hear about a spouse being called into military duty after 30 years of marriage – and a long-term mortgage about ready to be extinguished.

The announcement drove me to check out what domestic help Andy could expect while he’s away. While some employers make up the difference between civilian and military pay – especially in the case where reservists have to leave unexpectedly – all military personnel on active duty are eligible for help with their mortgage and other debt under the 1940 Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act (SSCRA).

The act allows Reserve and National Guard members and other military personnel whose mortgage obligations pre-date the start of their active duty to cap their mortgage rates at 6 percent while they are on active duty. Other benefits of the act include a prohibition on lenders foreclosing against affected military personnel during, and three months after, their tour of active duty.

Since home-loan rates have hovered around 6 percent for several months, one of the most significant provisions of the act includes consumer debt. It limits the amount of interest that may be collected on all debts – not just mortgages – of persons in military service to 6 percent per year during the period of military service. This provision applies to debts incurred prior to the commencement of active duty and includes interest on credit-card debt, car loans and other debts.

The Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness emphasized that the provision applies to pre-service debts, and the interest-rate reduction doesn’t occur automatically – service members must request it.

In addition to the mortgage-rate reduction and expanded foreclosure protection, federal officials have encouraged mortgage lenders to postpone principal payments for all servicemen and women during their activation and three months thereafter.

HUD has activated a toll-free number, (888) 297-8685, for service personnel who have questions about their mortgages.

Reservists who were called up to active duty after August 1990 and served 90 days continuously on active recall are eligible for VA loans and other benefits. This provision was inserted to help the thousands of men and women who were pressed into service during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Once a service member requests the rate reduction, the creditor must either comply or apply for court relief. The SSCRA puts the burden on the creditor to show that military service has not “materially affected” a member’s ability to repay the debt. The court generally grants relief if the creditor can make his/her case.

Another significant protection under the act relates to civil proceedings. Service members involved in civil litigation can request a delay in proceedings if they can show their military responsibilities preclude their proper representation in court. Service members who are on an extended deployment or stationed overseas most often invoke this provision.

Another key provision under the SSCRA protects dependents from being evicted while service members are serving. If a service member rents a house or apartment that is occupied for dwelling purposes and the rent does not exceed $1,200 per month, the landlord must obtain a court order authorizing eviction. This provision applies regardless of whether quarters were rented before or after entry into military service.

In cases of eviction from dwelling quarters, courts may grant a stay of up to three months or enter any other “order as may be just” if military service materially affects the service member’s ability to pay the rent. This provision is not intended to allow military members to avoid paying rent, but rather to protect families when they cannot pay the rent because military service has affected their ability to do so.

I doubt if Andy would need much, if any, of the benefits outlined by SSCRA. His wife has a great job and they are in no jeopardy of losing the house. Clearly, the law was written for younger folks. You don’t often have to target a homeowner who is 58.

Tom Kelly’s book “How a Second Home Can Be Your Best Investment” (McGraw-Hill) was written with John Tuccillo, former chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, and is available in local libraries and bookstores. Tom can be reached at news@tomkelly.com.

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