Do you need to learn how to fix credit issues related to your deployment? There are resources available that can help, but the first thing to do is to learn the most common financial pitfalls associated with a military deployment and make a plan to avoid them.
You can’t dodge every financial bullet that comes along, and eventually you may need to take action to fix a deployment-related credit problem. But you can anticipate the most common issues.
Make A Checklist
Military pilots do not fly missions without a checklist that starts with a simple walkaround of the aircraft to visually inspect it. You can do a version of this with your credit. Make a checklist of all your monthly payments and other financial obligations, and go down the list to identify which of your debts can be paid automatically, which cannot, and decide how to deal with those that must be paid “manually.”
Make A Plan
If you have a trusted friend or family member, or if you have a spouse, consider adding one of these trusted people to your “team” of financial helpers via a power of attorney or by adding the spouse or other person(s) to your bank accounts for deployment purposes.
This should never be done lightly, but for those in a position to do so, the extra help in a time of financial or personal emergency can be invaluable.
The arrangements you make to handle manual payments and deal with related issues during a deployment are only part of the deployment plan you should be making. Most service members have vehicles, apartments, or homes, many own pets…all of these issues require attention during the deployment.
No, most of these are not related to credit issues…at first. Does your apartment, condo, or home require certain things from you such as lawn maintenance, snow shoveling, or other care?
What happens if those things are not done, delayed in completion, or otherwise not accomplished on time? Some Homeowners Associations (HOA) may feature fines or other consequences for not honoring the terms of your HOA agreement.
That’s where your plan comes in–having a friend or representative for you (single service members have it harder in this respect) to manage such things and avoid any penalties associated with non-compliance. Not all service members have the benefit of a military-friendly landlord or homeowner’s association.
The basic notion here is to anticipate the kinds of trouble you could experience while being away for an extended period of time.
Anticipate Credit Problems Before You Go
One great step to take before you deploy–contact ALL creditors and tell them you are entering a deployed status. Be prepared to submit proof in the form of official orders or other documentation, but letting your creditors know in advance is a very good idea.
It may even bring some additional help your way if your creditors are willing to work with you to suspend payments for a time, or anticipate delays related to deploying.
When you contact your creditors you should ALSO inform them you are claiming your protections under the SCRA (see below).
Invoking The SCRA
A federal law called the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) offers financial protection for you including suspending, reducing, or eliminating certain financial obligations depending on circumstances. You can get help with certain financial issues that get complicated because of active duty commitments such as a deployment.
However, SCRA protections are not automatic, and must be claimed or applied for individually. SCRA laws can help service members in a variety of areas:
- Maximum interest rates on “Pre-service obligations”
- Installment contracts (rentals and purchases)
- Trust deeds
- Residential leases
- Motor vehicle leases
- Telephone service contracts
- Storage liens
You must claim and request these protections with each and every creditor you want to exercise your SCRA rights with; in cases that have gone to court you may need legal counsel to fully assert your rights.
You can learn how to get started claiming your SCRA protections by contacting your base legal office, Judge Advocate office, Family Support Center, etc.
It is best to be proactive and do these things before deploying. If nothing else, pursue these options once you return from your deployment, though some SCRA options may be time-sensitive. Know BEFORE you go for best results.
The American Bar Association reminds servicemembers and their families that in some cases legal counsel may be needed to fully assert SCRA protections if a creditor takes a military member to court.
Set Up Credit Monitoring Before You Go
One of the best ways to anticipate credit problems during your deployment is to subscribe to a credit monitoring service. Many people have been offered FREE credit monitoring through a credit card company or other corporation due to security breaches at so many large companies INCLUDING credit reporting agencies. Set up credit alerts before you go whether you have to pay for them or not if you are worried you won’t be able to keep track of things while deployed.
What To Do If You Have Credit Problems During Your Deployment
The first and most important step to limit the damage to your credit if you have problems during a deployment? Contact the creditors as soon as possible to make payment arrangements. Do so even if you CANNOT pay at the current time–forbearance or other arrangements may be possible. But the longer you wait, the fewer your options become.
Fixing credit issues is a matter of determining whether:
- The consumer is at fault
- The creditor is at fault
- A third party is to blame (identity theft, etc.)
- A credit reporting agency is at fault (erroneous information, outdated information, etc)
In ANY case, you will need to actively dispute credit problems that are the creditor’s fault, third party problems like identity theft, or credit reporting agency errors.
To successfully dispute credit problems that are not your fault, you will need to gather as much documentation as possible, file police reports in the case of identity theft, file disputes with each major credit agency (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) in the case of identity theft OR credit report errors.
Disputes–especially those that require police reports–will take more time than you realize, so be prepared for that. You will need to ask each agency or company what their unique procedures are for filing a dispute or a complaint–no two submission policies are exactly alike.
What To Do If You Are At Fault
The sooner you contact a creditor to make payment arrangements or otherwise manage your credit issue, the better. Some types of lending reduce your options for help the longer you miss payments. For example, a home loan can be modified if a borrower misses a payment, but the more payments you miss, the fewer options you have. Refinancing a loan may require you to catch up your missing payments–how many can you afford to pay all at once?
That’s why acting early is so very important; miss a single payment and you may be able to have that amount forgiven, have a delay in repaying that missed payment to give you time to catch up, you could restructure your mortgage to have missed payments added to the back end of the mortgage (depending on the loan and the lender, your experience may vary) and other options.
But what do all these have in common? Borrowers who act fast when they get into trouble get the most help.
If you are deployed and can’t seem to get any progress in contacting your creditors, or if you are about to deploy and anticipate having such problems, it’s a very good idea to consider using a power of attorney to allow someone stateside to assist you in getting your creditors contacted and arrangements made.
This process is more complicated if you are doing it from your deployment; make these arrangements as far in advance as possible for best results.
It’s best to expect financial trouble of some kind while you are deployed and plan accordingly. Here are some resources you can turn to while planning that can help:
Military legal assistance office
If it is determined (by you on your own or after visiting a legal assistance office) that you may need the services of a lawyer you can use online search tools such as the Air Force’s Legal Services Locator to find the nearest office with a legal assistance attorney.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News