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Understanding the Financial and Emotional Impacts of a PCS Move


According to DoD statistics, more than 400,000 servicemembers and their families move to a new post each year, where they will typically stay for two to four years. That’s a startling statistic when you think of all the logistics involved, and it’s why every military family should understand what a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move means, and how to ease the financial and emotional impact of moving so often.

For servicemembers, PCS moves are a way of life, so the best thing to do is prepare carefully, budget well, and learn to take these frequent moves in stride.

If you’ll be moving this year — either during the typical PCS cycle (May through August) or outside of that cycle — you’ll want to know what to expect. We suggest you download the free AAFMAA Mortgage Services LLC (AMS) Homebuying Guide and read the tips below.

Related: PCS Move Checklist

Financial Considerations

Moving allowances become available once you’ve received PCS orders and file your move. Some funds are available before your move, but most will be reimbursed after you arrive at your next duty station.

Servicemembers should understand the various PCS move entitlements available to them, including Dislocation Allowance, Temporary Lodging Expense, Per Diem, and mileage rates. There are a few more you might be entitled to when you move overseas (OCONUS). For a complete listing and more information, visit the Defense Travel website.

Will You Sell or Rent Your Existing Home?

If you’re already a homeowner and plan to sell your home, you can expect to spend money hiring a real estate agent, making needed repairs, and for various real estate fees. There’s some math to do here. To avoid taking a loss, you’ll need to set your selling price appropriately so that you’ll make back your down payment, closing costs, and the monthly mortgage payments you’ve already made. You’ll also want to make back the property taxes and the mortgage insurance you’ve been covering every month.

From there, you must calculate how much equity you’ve accrued and/or how much of your mortgage’s balance you’ve already paid down. While it will take most homeowners at least two years to reach the break-even point, it’s not impossible in a market where home prices are rising so fast, to get there earlier.

If you’ve only owned the home a few years, you might take a loss selling at times when the market is in flux. If you might return to the area someday, you may consider renting the home out while you’re away instead. To determine a monthly rental price, consider Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), comparable listings, and the housing market in your area. You might want to contact a licensed real estate professional. All the information you gather will help you determine how much you may profit from renting out your home after all other expenses, including your mortgage, are paid.

Related: Preparing to Rent Out Your Home

Will You Buy or Rent in Your New Location?

On the other side of your move, you face the same questions of whether to rent, buy, or even live on base. Buying can be expensive and — depending on the local housing market — challenging.

First, as interest rates and home prices rise, inventory may remain low in some areas. If you decide that you want to buy, you need to consider what your new BAH is, what type of mortgage you want, and ultimately what you can afford. An AMS Military Mortgage Advisor can help you with this decision.

If you think you’ll only be in your new location for a short time, renting may be a better option. And it’s easy: You sign a lease agreement, pay a security deposit, and make the first rent payment. Each subsequent month in the term of your lease, you pay the rent as specified in the lease. Your rent payment is likely fixed for the term and won’t increase without proper notice. Also, you won’t be responsible for any major repairs unless they’re necessary due to your harm or negligence. Plus, if you receive orders to PCS, you’ll have the option to terminate the lease with 30-day notice.

Renting also gives you more time to explore neighborhoods and decide where to buy in the future.

Related: It’s PCS Time. Should We Live On Base? Rent? Or Buy?

Easing the Emotional Impact

While many people focus solely on the financial impact of a PCS move, it is important not to understate the emotional repercussions of the change. Regardless of the circumstances, moving to a new location can be stressful. These stresses are often exacerbated for first-time PCS military members and those in difficult family circumstances.

There are actions you and your family can take to reduce the emotional impact:

  • CommunicateTalk to your kids and your spouse regularly and ask about their uncertainties, worries, and fears. Getting these things out in the open can reduce the emotional impact.
  • Meet with the Movers — Having a personal relationship with the moving company and its workers can set your mind at ease. You can discuss what you can have moved, and what you’ll need to take on your own or leave behind.
  • Pack a First-Day Box — This is the box you need on your first day at your new place. Include toilet paper, paper towels, a shower curtain and toys for the kids. All the essentials for night one in your new house.
  • Open One Box at a Time — Only open one box at a time. Once you open a box, empty it completely and break down the box. Then, you can move on to the next box. Otherwise, you will have a bunch of half-open boxes and nowhere to put things.
  • Research Your New Location — There’s probably a lot to like about your new location — schools, restaurants, the culture, and your new neighbors. If you’re living near a base, there’s probably a network of families there already. Check out Facebook groups to try and locate some of your new neighbors who, in addition to social opportunities, could be a wealth of knowledge on dentists, doctors, veterinarians, etc. Share your research with your family so everyone gets excited about exploring new places and meeting new friends.
  • Label Everything — In the wake of a PCS move, all boxes look alike. Make sure everything being packed is carefully labeled with both room name and contents.

We’re Here to Help

Whether you’re thinking about buying, ready to start home-shopping in earnest, or considering a refinance, an AMS Military Mortgage Advisor will be happy to provide you with an honest and fair comparison of your mortgage options, including a wide range of affordable mortgages designed to meet your needs. Ensuring AAFMAA Members obtain the best mortgage possible is our mission. Get your free mortgage assessment today or give us a call at 844-422-3622!

Want to take your financial goals to the next level? The Relationship Managers at AAFMAA Wealth Management & Trust (AWM&T) are ready to work with you to plan your financial future. We offer a variety of services to help you budget, save, and invest more efficiently in order to achieve your short- and long-term financial goals. Call 910-307-3500 or contact us online today.