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Financial problems not only personal, but affect Army’s public image, readiness

Were Here to Help
Email   Print   Share By Lewis Wald, Fort Hood and III Corps Inspector General’s Office
September 3, 2009 | News
Whether you use credit cards, owe money on a loan or are paying off a mortgage, you are a “debtor.” Most Americans use credit cards to make purchases or take out loans for those things that make lives more comfortable. However, with this comes the requirement for Soldiers to manage their personal affairs satisfactorily and pay their debts promptly. Failure to do so not only damages your credit rating, but the Army’s public image as well. What happens when you do not pay your debts and the debt collector comes knocking on your door or calls your commanding officer? What rights do you have and what criteria must the creditor meet before requesting assistance from the Army in collecting the debt?

AR 600-15 (Indebtedness of Military Personnel) prescribes Department of the Army policy, responsibilities and procedures for handling debt claims against Soldiers. This regulation covers your rights and responsibilities, administrative procedures for processing complaints, administrative and punitive actions that can be taken against Soldiers who fail to pay their debts and conditions creditors must meet before requesting assistance from the Army to resolve unpaid debts.

The Army has no legal authority to force Soldiers to pay their debts. In addition, the Army cannot divert any part of a Soldier’s pay even though payment of the debt was decreed by civil court. Only civil authorities can enforce payment of private debts. The Army does not try to judge, settle disputed debts or admit or deny whether claims are valid. The Army will not tell claimants whether any adverse action has been taken against a Soldier as a result of the claim. If a Soldier is not trying to resolve unpaid debts promptly or complaints of repeated failure to pay debts are received, AR 600-15 directs commanders to consider the following actions:

1. Making the failure a matter of personal record.

2. Denial of re-enlistment (enlisted personnel).

3. Administrative separation from service.

4. Punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) under article 92, 123, 133, or 134 of the UCMJ.

When your local Inspector General receives a complaint that a Soldier has failed to pay their debt, we refer the complainant directly to the Soldier’s chain of command for resolution. AR 600-15, paragraph 2-1, lists the actions the commander must take upon receiving a debt complaint. Upon receipt of a debt complaint, the commander will review the case to ensure all of the criteria listed in AR 600-15, paragraph 4-3, have been met by the creditor. Creditors must comply with statutory and other regulatory requirements, to include applicable state laws.

This includes complying with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (section 1692, title 15, United States Code (15 USC 1692) and the Department of Defense Standards of Fairness that define fair and just dealings with Soldiers (AR 600-15, Appendix B). The creditor must also provide a true copy of the signed contract, the general and specific disclosure information given the Soldier before signing the contract, and documentary proof that every effort has been made to get the payment by direct contact with the Soldier.

If the creditor met the requirements as listed in paragraph 4-3, the commander must interview the Soldier. Some of the actions the commander is required to take is to ensure the Soldier is properly advised of his or her rights under the Privacy Act of 1974; notify the Soldier of the debt complaint; inform the Soldier of their legal right and duties, to include the right to free legal assistance; to explain that the Army requires Soldiers pay their debts promptly and failure to resolve unpaid debts might result in administrative or punitive actions; to review all available facts including the Soldier’s defenses, rights and counterclaims; and to help the Soldier in settling or liquidating the debt. Commanders should contact their local Staff Judge Advocate if they have any questions on how to process complaints.

Here are answers to some questions you may have about your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act:

What debts are covered? Personal, family and household debts are covered under the Act. This includes money owed for the purchase of a car, for medical care or for charge accounts.

How can a debt collector contact you? A debt collector may contact you in person, by mail, telephone, or telegram. However, a debt collector might not contact you at inconvenient or unusual times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree. A debt collector might not contact you at work if your commander or supervisor prohibits it.

Can you stop a debt collector from contacting you? You can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collection agency telling them to stop. Once they receive this letter, they may not contact you again except to say there will be no further contact. The debt collector is also allowed to notify you that some type of specific action might be taken against you.

What is the debt collector required to tell you about the debt? Within five days after you are first contacted, the debt collector must send you a written notice telling you the amount of money you owe; the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money; and what to do if you feel you do not owe the money.

Debt collectors may not harass, oppress or abuse any person. For example, debt collectors may not use threats of violence or harm to property or reputation, use obscene or profane language or repeatedly use the telephone to annoy someone. Debt collectors may not use any false statements when collecting a debt. Also, debt collectors may not say that you’ll be arrested if you do not pay your debt. Debt collectors cannot say they will seize, garnish, attach or sell your property or wages, unless the collection agency or the creditor intends to do so, and it is legal. Finally, debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices in attempting to collect a debt. For example, they cannot make you accept collect calls or pay for telegrams, deposit a post dated check before the date on the check, or take or threaten to take your property unless this can be done legally.

In addition to the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, many states have their own debt collection laws. Check with your state Attorney General’s office to determine your rights under state law. Federal agencies rely on consumer complaints to decide which companies to investigate. You can assist these enforcement efforts by contacting the Federal Trade Commission office nearest you. Finally, you should always contact your local Legal Assistance Office if you ever have any questions or need assistance. Remember, here at the “Great Place,” your local Inspector General is always “We are here to Help.”
 
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