Laws such as the Military Lending Act are intended to reduce service members’ likelihood of ending up in debt to predatory creditors by capping interest rates on loans at 36%; prohibiting “roll over” loans where the borrower pays off an existing debt with another loan (usually with less favorable terms); eliminating forced arbitration with creditors; banning creditors from requiring that they carve out an automatic amount of money from their paycheck to pay back your loan; and forbidding prepayment penalties for borrowers who pay back some or all of the loan early.
These rules, which protect our military are not just about doing something nice for our soldiers, it is an issue of national security. While it is unfortunate for any consumer to end up with revolving debt, there are particular concerns when the borrower is a service member. Someone looking for unauthorized access to military information or assets may be able to leverage that debt in their favor. This is why service members with significant debt on their credit reports may end up having their security clearance lowered or taken away. Some debt collectors are using this as leverage when trying to get service members to pay up, threatening to reveal their financial situation in a way that will negatively impact their position in the military.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, some debt collectors have even threatened to tell the soldier’s superiors about the debt and when their status comes up for review. Such contact is illegal as outlined in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Even if a soldier’s security clearance is damaged by debt, they can appeal their case to an Administrative Judge of the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals, where they will be given a chance to explain how they ended up in debt and what they are doing to address the problem. This can include the soldier showing that they are currently living within their means; that they are making a good faith effort to resolve the unpaid debts; disputing debts that are not theirs, etc.
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