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Avoid costly PCS mistakes


Summertime brings Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves for many military families. AAFMAA Assistant Secretary Carlos Perez shared factors to consider when moving in a recent U.S. News and World Report article, “7 Ways Military Members Can Save Money When Moving."

The government provides several tax advantaged allowances for servicemembers moving under Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders. Understanding those allowances and how to file for them when they apply to you can save you money. In addition, servicemembers should document PCS-related expenses to simplify claims filing upon completion of move.

Understand your allowances

Every PCSing servicemember should first familiarize themselves with the different allowances for PCSing.  These include Dislocation Allowance, to partially reimburse a member for the expenses incurred in relocating the household; per diem allowances; temporary lodging expense; dependent travel, and more.  For a complete listing and more information, visit the Defense Travel website.  Some of these allowances can be fairly significant amounts and, by understanding what they are, servicemembers can ensure that they receive those that apply to them.

Consider advance payments or advance pay

Servicemembers can receive an advance payment for many travel related expenses during a PCS move.  DFAS states that “the purpose is to assist with the out-of-pocket expenses, not typical of day-to-day military living that precedes reimbursements in a member's change of duty locations.” The amount of the advance depends on a number of factors, such as distance between the old and new permanent duty stations, weight of household goods, servicemember's rank, whether the servicemember uses their government travel card on their PCS, etc. 

Additionally, servicemembers may receive advance payment of their military pay.  According to DFAS, “the purpose of this advance payment is to provide a member with funds to meet extraordinary expenses incident to a government-ordered relocation. It is intended to assist with the out-of-pocket expenses that exceed or precede reimbursements incurred in a duty location change, and are expenses not typical of day-to-day military living.” While potentially very helpful, servicemembers must repay this advance, which also reduces monthly income over the repayment period.

See the DFAS website for more information on advances.

Weigh the pros and cons of on-post vs. off-post housing

The U.S News and World Report article discusses this in some detail.  Living off post provides benefits such as housing allowance, choice of schools and neighborhoods and more. And, servicemembers can retain any savings when costs come in under the housing allowance. In contrast, when living on post one loses the housing allowance, but receives a housing assignment based on their family size. So, a servicemember may get “more house” than they could get with the housing allowance in the housing market off base depending on their family’s size. Additionally, there may be other savings such as utilities and commuting expenses plus access to facilities such as commissary and exchange.

Track your expenses and maintaining receipts

All of the benefits associated with a move require supporting documentation when filing for them. Maintaining a travel journal or filling out vouchers during your travel will make the request for reimbursement much more hassle free.

Use great resources available to help with planning your move

Like other significant events in life, planning goes a long way towards helping things go smoothly.  While the military departments offer some resources for planning moves, servicemembers should also check out sites such as Millie (http://www.gomillie.com). An innovative company, Millie  consolidates the disparate aspects of planning a military move into one place.  Not only does it provide original, independent overviews of military communities, but it also aggregates content from different sources, into one place.  In addition, Millie allows you to connect with a “Scout,” a member of a military family already living in the area, to provide real-time, on-the-ground information to the moving family. According to Millie, “Scouts are all active duty [spouses], Gold Star Spouses or newly retired military spouses who have many years of experience PCSing, buying homes, renting homes, deployments, community involvement and volunteering.”  They can provide services ranging from house and neighborhood reviews to actual walk-throughs and photo shoots.

PCSing marks the beginning of new opportunities at a new duty station.  By researching information prior to your move and becoming informed about the benefits the government provides to ease the financial aspects of that move, servicemembers can ease their transition to a new duty home and place of work.