Seeing the world is something the military is known for. How do Servicemembers see the world? By moving ... a lot. Each summer begins “the moving season” in military communities across the globe.
As a result of a Permanent Change of Station (PCS), neighborhood streets are either clogged with moving trucks or empty boxes for recycling pickup. It’s not an easy life, but it’s the military way of life.
Military relocation creates a combination of stressors for Servicemembers and their families. According to Blue Star Families 2018 Military Family Life Survey, financial stress is the #1 stressor, while relocation stress is the #3 stressor for military members and their spouses.
Going into PCS moves prepared not only helps reduce stress for you (and you’re spouse if you’re married), but can also help you avoid costly mistakes. It requires preparation to understand the whole PCS process and planning that works with your budget and family.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you prepare. Read on to learn the ins-and-outs of PCS moves, as well as what benefits you’re entitled to along the way.
PCS is military jargon for job relocation that means you’ll be moving to a new permanent duty station for a long period of time. It’s different from TDY or TDA which stands for temporary duty or assignment, meaning you’ll only be there for a little while.
But it’s important to keep “a long time” in perspective, since it’s really just relatively speaking. A PCS could be six months, or it could be five years – it just depends on your career, the job and the military’s needs.
Whether or not you receive a PCS and where you’re sent for it depends on several factors, including:
There are two main PCS seasons. By far, the most considerable PCS timeframe includes the summer months when school is out. The second would be between December and January when many schools are on winter break.
The DoD does try to make it easier for families to move by making the transition when children are between school years.
Official notification of a PCS comes by receiving “orders” to move. Most of the time, PCS orders are produced by the headquarters for your branch of service by your current command.
If you’re in the Army, for example, you would receive orders to move from the Department of the Army and the command you currently serve under. The orders let you know where you are moving to and when.
Sometimes you hear from word of mouth that you may receive orders, but nothing is set until you receive the official orders.
There are two types of relocations. The first type is within the Continental United States (CONUS), which includes the lower 48 states. The second type is Outside the Contintenal United States (OCONUS), which includes a move to Alaska, Hawaii, an overseas location or any country other than the U.S.
Now that you have some background on PCS moves, it’s time to make your plan for going through with one. Educating yourself on the options available to you as a Servicemember and coupling that with a plan can help the whole process go more smoothly.
Here’s what you need to know if you’re preparing for a PCS move...
First, it’s important to understand the DoD will pay to move you and your household goods. If you fly, they’ll cover the cost of the airfare, and if you drive, they’ll reimburse you by paying mileage.
The amount or weight of household goods the military will move for you depends on your rank and number of dependents. The shipping of vehicles or storage of goods depends on the orders you receive.
Bottom line, the military will pay up to a certain amount for you to move, but unless you have the budget to spare, you need to ensure you stay within that limit so you don’t incur out-of-pocket expenses.
Once you receive orders, your first course of action should be to learn about the ins-and-outs of moving. The best place to get “schooled up” is right at the source – the Transportation Office.
The Transportation Office has a different name depending on your branch of service. It can also be called the Traffic Management Office or the Personal Property Shipping Office.
Each time you PCS, you should visit your installation offices. Even if you’ve made ten moves with the military, things change. Or you may find out a piece of critical info that your last transportation office didn’t relay correctly.
Contact your Transportation or Traffic Management Office to sign up for a PCS briefing to ensure you understand the process. Knowing how a PCS works can help you avoid costly mistakes.
For example, being over your household goods weight allowance can get expensive!
Just like the transportation office, your installation Finance Office will have the latest information and policies for PCS-ing when it comes to money. You want to understand what your allowances are, how to get them and the documentation you need, to keep your out-of-pocket moving costs as low as possible.
Before you move, you need to know how much the government will pay for the whole moving process. Knowing how much they’ll cover helps you plan your finances so they won’t be disrupted by the change in your duty location.
Here’s what the DoD covers for all moves:
Now let’s look a little closer into each of these.
This allowance reimburses Servicemembers for moving expenses they incur, including PCS travel expenses. Note that, if you’re a Government Travel Credit Card holder (GTCC), you should put DLA expenses on the card.
The MALT is the amount paid to the Servicemember for driving a personal vehicle to their next new post or base. At the time of this article publication, you can get reimbursed $.20 per/mile for up to two authorized vehicles.
Remember, the military will only reimburse you for travel between your old and new locations, as set by the government.
Your per diem is your daily allowance for out-of-pocket food, lodging and incidental expenses. Just remember, the DoD doesn’t pay for fine dining, so make sure you know your per diem before you start spending.
Both your TLA and TLE are used to pay for lodging and meal expenses that are higher than usual while you’re in temporary lodging. TLA is used mainly for an OCONUS PCS while TLE is used for CONUS moves. The amount you receive depends on your number of dependents and duty location.
If you’re not a GTCC holder, you may be allowed to take a zero-interest loan of up to three months of your basic pay known as Advance Basic Pay. But be careful and remember it’s a loan, it’s not free money from Uncle Sam! You’re required to pay it back. Typically, the loan is repaid in 12 equal payments from your monthly pay.
In some branches, you’re also able to get an advance on your Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to cover the first and last month’s rent. But the same warning on Advance Basic Pay applies here – It’s a loan, not free money.
If you do have to take advance pay or BAH, remember to include it as debt payments in your budget.
While the military helps support you and your dependents during a move, it does not allow you to take everything but the kitchen sink. There are restrictions on moving some items.
It’s better to know them in advance in case you need to pay out of pocket. For example, if you have a boat, you’ll be financially responsible for special packing and crating for a move. You’ll also be responsible for paying extra shipment costs if you go over your maximum weight allowance. It’s better to know these things in advance to help prepare and plan.
While understanding the services and entitlements available to you during a PCS move is important, there are some guidelines for moving in general that can help too. Below are just a few suggestions.
Unless you’ve got plenty of money to spare, you won’t have a blank check for your move. In my experience, overspending is the quickest way to have PCS regret when you get settled.
To avoid this regret, consider creating a special budget for your relocation that includes your regular monthly bills, savings and moving expenses. Don’t forget to add the cost of replacing items that aren’t allowed in a move, like condiments such as ketchup or cleaning products like bleach.
Make your budget easy to access for reference, and consider keeping it online in a Google sheet or drive so it doesn’t get lost in your move.
When you’re moving, perhaps one of the hardest – and most important – things to do is to stay organized. Try to keep all your important papers such as order, receipts and bills in one place for the move. Have a designated folder or file you keep in a particular spot during your PCS.
You don’t want your essential docs to get lost along the way. Once you arrive, it will be easy to file your travel voucher to get paid if you have all the information in one spot!
There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to a PCS. Because of that, there are opportunities for things to slip through the cracks. But don’t let them. Set your bills on auto-pay to make sure everything gets paid on time during the transition. You may also want to give your bank a heads up that you’re moving.
If you don’t have one already, begin making a list of all your bills, magazines and other subscription services. As soon as you have your new address, update your accounts to ensure you receive your statements and subscriptions at your new place. You can also add a forwarding mailing address at the U.S. post office, to help catch any accounts you may have overlooked.
Remember, saying you didn’t get the bill is not an excuse for not paying.
And don’t forget to update your address when shopping online. I have made this mistake more times then I would care to admit. I’ve had make-up and clothing sent to my old address because I didn’t update my personal profile.
While a couple companies were kind enough to resend, for others I had to pay twice to have the items sent! So if you don’t want someone else enjoying your goods on your dime, update your address.
Since PCS moves will forever be a part of military life, it’s important to take the time to prepare for them. Educating yourself on the military moving process and following a few money tips can go a long way to keeping your finances in line during PCS moves!
Lacey Langford is an Accredited Financial Counselor® and a candidate for CFP® certification with over ten years experience in financial counseling and coaching. She served four years in the U.S. Air Force and holds a B.S. in Business Administration with a concentration in finance as well as an Executive Certificate in Financial Planning from Duke University.