8 steps to prepare for your next military move
A permanent change of station can be an exciting opportunity—and a logistical headache. Here are ways to be financially ready.
Read, 4 minutes
To active-duty service members, frequent moves are simply part of military life. In fact, roughly 400,000 service members make a permanent change of station (PCS) move every year, with the average military member receiving a new assignment every two to three years.
A PCS move can be exciting—it’s an opportunity to advance your career or experience other parts of the world. But it can also be overwhelming and costly. In addition to packing and finding a new place to live, there are a number of factors that could have an impact on your finances. While the allowance offered by the Department of Defense (DoD) covers most expenses, you could still be on the hook for some moving-associated costs such as temporary lodging for you or your pets, or vehicle shipping. Here’s how to make sure you’re financially prepared, both before and after your military move.
What to do before your PCS
Step 1: Boost your savings
While the military takes care of many basic moving expenses, don’t expect that your relocation allowance will cover every cost. So that you’re fully prepared, create a budget that provides a realistic picture of your household income and expenses. (Remember to account for any potential changes to your spouse’s earnings.) Having these numbers in hand can help you determine how much to set aside for future moves or unexpected emergencies. A good rule of thumb is to have between three and six months of living expenses saved in an emergency fund.
Step 2: Find out which moving expenses are covered—and which ones aren’t
To get a feel for how much you may need to save, dig into the fine print of military dislocation allowance to see which expenses are typically reimbursed (your branch, rank and family status typically affect the amount). You can use the DoD’s Plan My Move tool to create a personalized checklist. Here are a few out-of-pocket expenses you might need to consider:
Will you use packers and movers who maintain a contract with the DoD, or hire your own? With the latter, you can still be reimbursed for up to 95 percent of your expenses, but you’ll need to keep excellent records of those expenses.
Will your family’s temporary lodging, meals, mileage and gas be fully covered by the DoD’s per diem, or will you need to go into your own pocket to supplement the costs?
If you’re moving abroad, will you be able to cover any foreign currency conversion fees or the loss of funds due to a lower conversion rate?
Step 3: Know your SCRA rights
As part of adjusting your household budget, consider applying for benefits under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), a federal law that offers active-duty members a number of legal and financial protections. Benefits include interest rate reductions on credit cards and home and auto loans, protections against foreclosure and repossession, and no-fee lease termination.
Step 4: Compile a list of accounts and important documents
A financial to-do list can help keep you on top of the many details that will certainly come up. It should include notifying your creditors that you’ll be moving, and providing your new address to ensure that you don’t miss any bills. You’ll also want to decide which accounts to close—and which services will require you to open a new account. Finally, it’s a good idea to make sure all your legal documents such as wills and insurance policies are handy, and that your premiums and beneficiaries are up to date.
Step 5: Decide whether you will buy or rent
If, after exploring the real estate market in your new location, you decide to buy, make sure you get pre-qualified or pre-approved for a home loan—it will speed up the process once you arrive.
If you opt to rent instead, make sure you can cover first and last month’s rent, security deposit and any application fees. It’s also a good idea to visit the DoD housing website or the Automated Housing Referral Network for listings of available rentals or privatized on-post housing options.
And if you’re selling your current home before the big move, seek out a military-friendly real estate agent who understands the PCS process.
What to do after your PCS
Step 6: Continue paying your bills
To make sure you don’t overlook any payments—both in your previous location and your new one—enroll in automatic bill pay. If you’re relocating overseas and plan to put your spouse or family member in charge of expenses, make sure they’re listed as a joint account holder and have all the pertinent account information.
Step 7: Review your credit
Request a copy of your free credit report to check for errors, such as incorrect personal information, accounts belonging to someone with a similar name or the same debt listed more than once. You can also protect your credit by checking in with creditors to ensure they’ve received your payments during the move. You may also want to set up active-duty alerts on your credit report to reduce the threat of identity theft during your relocation—when a business sees an active-duty alert on your credit report, it must take extra steps to verify your identity before issuing you credit.
Step 8: Shop around for lower rates and military discounts
Moving to a new location can affect your auto and home insurance rates, so as you’re looking into new policies, comparison shop so that you’re updating your coverage in the most cost-effective way. Similarly, in setting up and furnishing your new home, seek out retailers that offer military discounts.