Put Servicemember on Documents

A recent comment reminded me of an important personal rule, one that I don’t think I’ve written about.  MKS writes:

What about if a dependent enters an auto lease without the service member cosigning and the service member gets orders to PCS out of the CONUS? Can the dependent break the lease under the SCRA? The SCRA says ‘Servicemembers may terminate motor vehicle leases when: lease should be for the servicemember or the member’s dependents for personal or business transportation.” Just wondering if the dependent could break the auto lease since their name would be on the PCS orders. Thanks!

This comment is a perfect example of why I feel that military families should (almost) always include the military servicemember’s name on any leases, contracts, and legal arrangements, including auto registrations.  While the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) does a great job of protecting servicemembers from financial difficulty due to deployment or PCS moves, it offers no protection for military dependents unless the servicemember’s name is on the contract, lease, or legal document.

As a result, military dependents should include the servicemember in their contracts, leases, and other financial arrangements as often as possible.  In particular, you absolutely want to have the servicemember’s name included on all real estate leases and automotive leases.  While it will sometimes require the extra steps of getting a Power of Attorney, the resulting protections can save a lot of heartache and money.

While car registrations are not covered under the SCRA, they fall under the same general rule.  Each state has different rules for car registrations and military families.  The most generous rules are always provided to the actual servicemember.  As a result, I haven’t had a car registered in my name since we got married.  It used to bother me a little, but I’ve gotten over it.

As a female who sometimes felt that she gave up everything when she married into the military, I understand the desire to have some stuff that it is only in your name.  However, rental agreements and car leases are not the place to make this happen.

As I mentioned before, there are a few times when keeping your financial affairs separate makes sense.  First, I always recommend that married couples keep separate credit card accounts.  Second, business accounts should probably be kept separate unless the servicemember is actively involved in the business.  Third, there will be unusual situations where an individual couple has good reasons to keep their finances completely separate:  former spouses, potential lawsuits, severe financial difficulties, and other odd cases.  However, the “put the servicemember on everything” rule should apply in any cases where you can’t make a good argument for keeping the servicemember off the document.

I encourage you to become familiar with the provisions of the SCRA.  Understanding it is the best way to make sure you can use its protections.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.