Dean bill aims to curb aggressive debt collection tactics targeting military service members

  • Ximena Conde/WHYY

(Abington Township) — Congressional lawmakers have introduced scores of bills this legislative session to help veterans across the country, including one to end the so-called widow’s tax and another to extend pensions to Medal of Honor recipients’ families.

Speaking at the dedication of a new war memorial park in Abington Township Sunday afternoon, Congresswoman Madeleine Dean (D-PA) said these bills aim to protect people who have served their country.

“Because America doesn’t just need your service abroad. We also need your leadership, your civic-mindedness, and your contribution to the community here, and we need to make sure we take care of you here,” she said.

With that in mind, Dean wants to address a growing complaint among service members through legislation that would protect them from aggressive debt collectors.

If a service member owes a debt, creditors will sometimes go to extreme lengths to collect.

Typically, creditors can only contact a soldier’s chain of command if they’re looking for a service member’s current location and they’re not allowed to disclose the outstanding debt.

Still, soldiers have reported clauses in the loan contracts that allow debt collectors to circumvent that rule.

Another tactic creditors use is the threat of punishment through the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, only the military can prosecute soldiers under the UCMJ, and service members can’t be prosecuted for a debt that’s disputed — but the threats come anyway.

Service members are in a field where a negative credit report can hurt their chances of keeping their security clearances and they say collectors use that knowledge as leverage.

In the CFPB’s 2018 snapshot of complaints submitted by service members, veterans, and their families, the agency reported issues related to debt collection made up more than a quarter of complaints.

Almost 3,500 complaints were about debts service members said they didn’t even owe.

Dean said her legislation aims to protect an already vulnerable population from harassment.

“What we know is veterans are experiencing high rates of suicide,” Dean said. “They’re experiencing homelessness at records that are unprecedented and connected to that is their financial situation.”

Dean said she plans to rally bipartisan support for the bill when she goes back to Washington on Tuesday.

 

WHYY is the leading public media station serving the Philadelphia region, including Delaware, South Jersey and Pennsylvania. This story originally appeared on WHYY.org.

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