Imagine what must go through the minds of America's soldiers as they fight on fronts from Afghanistan to Iraq: the terrors they've seen, the dangers lurking around the corner, their concerns about their families, and so on. The last thing they should have to think about? Whether their home will still be there or, rather, theirs, when they return stateside.
Yet that precise concern came true for at least 23 military service members who were on active duty while their homes were repossessed by Morgan Stanley's Saxon Mortgage Services unit, according to the New York Times. In fact, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division is investigating Saxon and a number of other mortgage servicers for possibly violating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which protects service members from a number of actions by their creditors -- including repossession of their homes without a court's approval -- while they are mobilized.The allegations and Justice Department investigation came to light during the damages phase of a trial in which a federal judge found that Saxon illegally repossessed and sold a serviceman's house in 2005 while he was in Iraq. That case was settled last week, on terms which Morgan Stanley's and the serviceman's representatives said "pleased" them both -- albeit 7 years after the improper foreclosure took place.
In a court filing, Saxon's representatives described the Justice Department probe as "merely a preliminary investigation based on unproven allegations, for which no liability or wrongdoing has been found."
Unfortunately, it seems that this might just be the latest instance in a pattern of misconduct against our nation's defenders. In January, USA Today reported that JP Morgan Chase improperly foreclosed on 14 service members on active duty, and that the bank had issued checks totaling over $2 million to over 4,000 other service members for overcharges and errors made on military members' mortgage accounts over the past five years. The Chase violations were particularly egregious, some say, because Chase had specifically touted itself as a military-friendly institution, offering home loans available only to service members and featuring perks above and beyond the SCRA, like military discounts on closing costs and the ability to defer 100% of mortgage payments for up to 18 months during active duty.
If you or your spouse is a service member and active duty has made it difficult or impossible to make the payments on a mortgage you had prior to active duty, knowing your rights under the SCRA is essential. The Act may give you the right to have your interest rate and payment reduced 6% or less for the entire duration of your active service, if you request the rate reduction in writing. They also must recalculate your payments in accordance with your lower date -- as of the time your active duty began. And your written request cannot just be rejected on your mortgage servicer's whim; your lender has to go to court and prove that your active duty had nothing to do with your mortgage struggles.
All service members have the right to mortgage counseling and mediation with your lender through your branch's family service center or your base's legal or personal finance officer. For help, visit MilitaryOneSource.com or call 800-342-9647.
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