It's enough that soldiers at war have to worry about losing their lives. They shouldn't have to worry about whether their families will be evicted from their homes because their military allotment checks won't cover the rent or mortgage payments.
This was the reasoning behind the passage of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940, a federal law that provides avenues of financial relief for draftees or reservists called to active duty who, in many instances, earn much less than they did as civilians.Under the Soldiers' and Sailors' Act, foreclosures and evictions may be halted and creditors must lower interest rates to 6 percent upon request.
But housing counselors and bank officials say reservists or National Guard members who decide to invoke the act during their gulf military stints may actually worsen their overall financial situations.Irene Elam, a housing and financial counselor with the Salt Lake-area Community Action program, said an increasing number of local reservists' families are coming to her office for housing counseling.
Nine families have come to her under threatened mortgage foreclosures since the start of the Persian Gulf war, she said.
Of those, three are in a bind because their military allotment checks are smaller than their civilian paychecks, and two are in trouble because the checks aren't coming at all.
But the other four families had trouble before the reservists were called up and are under the mistaken impression that because the family breadwinner is on active duty in the gulf war, their financial obligations have been forgiven.
They've heard about the Soldiers' and Sailors' Act, but misunderstand it, said Sharon Abbeglen, Elam's assistant. "They think this is a green light not to pay their bills," Abbeglen said. "It's not. In reality, you can end up in a worse position."
The act, Elam said, "is a relief measure. It extends the time you have to catch up. But the (financial) obligation is still in place."
For example, she said, people with a 10 percent mortgage on a $50,000 home would make $500 monthly payments. Dropping the interest rate to 6 percent lowers the monthly payment to $470.
But the drop would only be temporary.
Over a year, the deferred debt would add up to $360, which Elam said under HUD rules would generally have to be paid off within three years from the time the reservist came home. In this instance, monthly mortgage payments would go up to $510.
"So are you really helping by lowering the interest rate if when they come back they pay more?" Elam said. "If you have credit cards, a car loan and house payments and you lower the interest to 6 percent, you better get a second job to pay it all back when you get home."
Reservists and their families aren't the only ones who might feel the pinch of wartime's attenuated paychecks and the provisions of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Act.
The act prohibits evictions for three months if the nonpayment is linked to military service, but landlords must still make their mortgage payments.
"Banks will lose money on 6 percent interest," said a spokesman for First Security Bank.
Most banks are willing to work out a way to restructure a homeowner's debt because banks don't make money foreclosing on houses, he said.
But the restructuring usually takes one of two forms: Either extend the loan or raise monthly payments to make up for missed installments.
"No matter what you do, it's not going to be pleasant," said the spokesman, who asked that his name not be used.
A fundamental problem, he said, is that the act was written in response to military call-ups and the draft during World War II. But in those days, houses cost $3,000, and people didn't get 30-year financing.
"It's a whole new ballgame," the spokesman said. "We're just feeling our way.."
Elam suggested that families with service-related financial difficulties first call the family assistance sections of their military service branch. She also said families should go to their mortgage companies or landlords to discuss their situations before taking advantage of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Act.