ASK KIM


Missing Payments While on Military Deployment

Kimberly Lankford

Many companies have special rules that let members of the military suspend payments without penalty.



Last year my unit was on a 15-month deployment to Iraq. I had contacted T-Mobile before I left and was assured that there would be no problems with my account while I was deployed. But then I learned that an unpaid charge for an early-termination fee of $218 had gone to collection, causing my credit score to drop 75 points. A T-Mobile representative asked me to pay the bill, which I did, and then figure it out from there. But now a representative from the collection agency says that I should make another payment through her. The whole point of having a "military suspension" is to avoid problems like this. Can you do anything to help?

We contacted T-Mobile, and the company credited the disputed amount to your account and removed the collection account from your credit report. A T-Mobile spokesperson said the company "regrets this isolated incident," but declined to comment further on your account due to customer privacy concerns.

Many companies, including T-Mobile, have military-suspension policies -- special payment rules for members of the military who are deployed. Customers in the military who are sent to an area not served by T-Mobile can suspend their service for up to 18 months, with no suspension fee, and have their cell-phone number and rate plan reinstated when they return.

Under the Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act -- a 1940 law that was updated in 2003 -- military personnel who are deployed have additional rights.

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For instance, you have the right to terminate an apartment lease if you have a permanent order for a change of station or are deployed to a new location for 90 days or more. You can terminate a car lease without an early-termination fee if you are deployed for 180 days or longer. And in some situations, the interest rate on a mortgage, credit card, car loan or other debt can be capped at 6% if military service affects your ability to pay (this rule applies only to debt incurred prior to military service).

For more information about special legal rights for members of the military and veterans, go to the U.S. Department of Justice's Safeguarding the Rights of Servicemembers and Veterans page. For information about preparing for deployment, see Military.com's Deployment Center. And for special personal-finance advice for military families, see Assets Deployed and At Your Service.

Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.




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