Military Connection: Military Money Pits: By Debbie Gregory

There are individuals, groups and even legitimate companies that seek to make a profit at the expense of military service members. While there are laws to protect members of the military from bad business practices, primarily the federal Service members Civil Relief Act (SCRA), there are still service members who are duped into bad deals, often times by less than scrupulous people and businesses that find loopholes in the law.

One of the current strategies is to offer service members financing for goods, such as appliances, furniture, and electronics, and then, when the service members fall behind on their loans, sue them in courts in locations where they aren’t able to represent themselves. This sounds dirty– but it’s legal.

The SCRA is intended to give members of the military every opportunity to defend themselves against lawsuits. But there is a loophole in the law. The SCRA doesn’t address where plaintiffs can sue. This loophole has allowed companies to sue a service member from states other than where the service member is located, so long as some portion of the business was conducted in that state.

When service members don’t show up to these out of state courts,  they receive a court-appointed lawyer to represent them. These lawyers have been less than effective in winning cases on service members’ behalves, and there are no clear-cut standards of what these lawyers are required to do.

Companies have been successful in 89% of their cases against service members. After they win their lawsuits, these companies have been able to garnish the service members’ wages, and freeze their credit union accounts.

In the past ten years, USA Discounters, Freedom Furniture and Electronics, and Military Credit Services have filed 35,000 actions against service members. And while these companies and others are acting within the law, their exploitation of the loophole in the SCRA isn’t going unnoticed.

Service members need to be more cautious consumers. Most of these companies are already offering financing on goods that cause the service member to pay many more times over what the original item is worth. Inexperienced service members have paid more than $2,000 for laptops that would cost less than $800 at the Base Exchange.

The best advice for any inexperience consumer, especially those in uniform, is to save your money and pay for an item outright. If you have to finance an item, only use your credit union ***or*** bank issued credit card. And even then, use it responsibly. Otherwise, you could be headed for a financial money pit that could impact your military career.

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Military Connection: Military Money Pits:  By Debbie Gregory