The Washington Timeswww.washingtontimes.com
Despite law, banks foreclose on soldiers
When Army Reservist Steve Welter was called up for active duty in Iraq last August, his wife never thought she would face her own fight to save the family's home from foreclosure.
A 65-year-old federal law, which Congress expanded last year, provides protections for activated reservists and for Guard members called up by the Pentagon.
Those protections include a 6 percent cap, under certain circumstances, on consumer and mortgage interest rate debt incurred before activation; protection from eviction or foreclosure; payment deferral for federal taxes; and a stay on civil proceedings, including divorce and bankruptcy.
Keira Welter knew the law was supposed to protect a soldier's property from creditors during active military service. But for months, she said, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Co. did not seem to care about the law, no matter how many times she explained her case.
"We had worked so hard to own our own home, and while my husband was over there serving our country it was going to be taken away," said Mrs. Welter, 31, of Osawatomie, Kan.
After Wells Fargo started foreclosure proceedings in February, Mrs. Welter contacted the state attorney general's office and members of Congress. It was not until a local television station aired her story and Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, intervened that the company finally backed off.
The Welters are not the only ones who faced hurdles seeking protection under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
Lt. Col. Bruce Woolpert, a legal adviser to the Kansas National Guard in Topeka, said he fields desperate calls every week from soldiers and their families trying to understand their rights.
"We had a foreclosure that was actually going to occur the next day," Col. Woolpert said. "It was going to happen until we could generate the letters and get them to the company and say, 'Please stop this, it's not a valid foreclosure.' Wisdom prevailed and it was stopped."
Kevin Waetke, a spokesman for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Co. in Des Moines, Iowa, said the company has apologized to Mrs. Welter and dismissed the foreclosure action.
Mr. Roberts, outraged by Mrs. Welter's story, took the issue to the Senate.
"I remain concerned that those responsible for complying with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act are not fully educated about their obligations and that the problem is nationwide," he said.
The senator has asked the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates national banks, to post the law on its Web site and include it in any publications it sends to banks.