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PCS-headPerfecting your PCS

Periodic moves are a basic fact of military life. The Department of Defense estimates that one-third of all military members make Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves each year. It's not just a one-time thing either. Most service members, while active, average one move every two years. Military life is hectic enough, so it's vital that you prepare yourself to handle the added stress. It's also important that you prepare yourself financially for the wide range of issues that will inevitably arise.

When PCS orders are received, your family is confronted with many significant changes. But proper planning will help avoid costly out-of-pocket expenses.

Before the move

Thirty days in advance is a good time to start preparing your house, family and furnishings for the movers. Be sure to contact the local transportation office if there are any last-minute changes to your orders.

While the carrier is responsible for packing and preparing your property, they must mark each box with a brief description of content and provide you with an accurate, legible inventory of your household goods. It’s also a good idea to do an inventory of your valuable items. You could start a spreadsheet online to catalog everything from jewelry to furniture. For electronics, be sure to record the serial numbers in case anything is lost or stolen. You can even capture it all in video or pictures, just so long as everything is easily identifiable. 

If you have recently purchased anything, be sure to keep the receipt. This could save you leg work if it is lost or damaged. Carry them along with small items and necessities like medical and dental records, pictures, etc.

Prior to the movers arriving, you should also do the following:

  • Unplug all appliances.
  • Have original boxes near the item if available.
  • Dismantle all outdoor equipment.
  • Drain water from fridge, washers and other large appliances.
  • Drain all fluids from lawn equipment.
  • Detach any brackets, curtain rods or storage equipment.
  • Take down pictures.
  • Remove personal property from the attic, crawl space, etc.
  • Remove satellite dish.
  • Unplug all electronics.
  • Secure the items that are not being moved to another room and mark them as such.
  • Keep an eye on all the packing that goes on to ensure nothing is forgotten.

Watch your weight

The military will use an estimated weight of all your possessions (excluding professional materials such as books, papers and equipment for work) to determine its cost. From a fiscal fitness perspective, moving weight that exceeds the authorized allowance can cost you out-of-pocket money. These charges could range from several hundred to several thousand dollars. In addition, the charges could come due months after your move.

If you receive an overweight notification, check to make sure professional items were credited to your total weight allowance. This should be listed as “PBP&E.”

Keep what you can

Check with your local transportation office, but in many cases you can save a little money by watching what you throw out. While aerosol cans and liquids cannot be moved, spices and canned goods can, which can save you upwards of $100. So if weight is not an issue, you may want to move these to your new home and save some money. And for things that cannot be moved, give them to a friend, or donate them to someone in need.

Entitlement programs

Planning for your move also includes a thorough knowledge of the many entitlements that your family may be able to receive. There are several separate relocation entitlements for which a service member may qualify. Some entitlements are applicable only for moves within the U.S., some are for moves outside of the country, and some are for either. While the following can give you an idea of what is available, you should also ask your local finance office for more information.

  • PCS Per Diem Allowance — Paid to reimburse your family for meals and lodging en route to the new duty station, this amount is the sum total paid per day. There are certain amounts for each family member depending on age, and it can be advanced up to 80 percent of the estimated cost.
  • Dislocation Allowance (DLA) — This is intended to help with all of those miscellaneous costs of moving, such as connecting utilities, paying deposits, etc. DLA is not normally paid when you initially move. Instead it is paid when the travel voucher is filed after the move, although you can request an advance.

DLA is only paid once per fiscal year, even if your family moves multiple times. It is also not usually paid on a local move, nor if your spouse is assigned to government quarters at the new duty station and is not accompanied by family members.

  • Monetary Allowance in Lieu of Transportation (MALT) — This is also known as mileage and is intended to offset costs related to driving your vehicle to the new duty station. Paid by travel voucher, MALT may include up to two vehicles, and per mile rates will vary.
  • Mobile Home Transportation — This applies when a commercial transporter moves a mobile home. Reimbursement includes carrier charges, road fares and tolls, permits and charges for the pilot car. If towed by a private transporter, reimbursement is for actual costs. And for self-propelled mobile homes, reimbursement is at the regular mileage rate.
  • Temporary Lodging Expense (TLE) — Only paid for moves within the U.S., TLE is intended to help pay the cost of lodging and meals while the family is staying in temporary housing. The ten-day TLE limit can be divided between the last duty station and the new one.
  • Temporary Lodging Allowance (TLA) — TLA is only paid for moves outside of the U.S., and covers up to 60 days for temporary lodging and meal expenses after arriving at a new overseas location.
  • Move-In Housing Allowance (MIHA) — Only for moves outside of the U.S., MIHA is intended to pay for one-time rent related expenses, modification of homes for security reasons, and the initial cost of making a home habitable. MIHA is only available at certain locations.
  • Advance Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) — Receiving an advance on BAH requires commander approval, and is generally limited to three months within the U.S. and 12 months overseas. Remember that this is not extra money; it is an advance on the normal BAH and will be deducted from monthly pay.
  • Advance Pay — If you absolutely need the money, you can get an interest-free loan for up to 3 months base pay to help with moving. Typically paid back over 12 months, this should only be used in extraordinary circumstances.

It's very important to keep all paperwork pertaining to your move; you may not be eligible for any reimbursements without the proper documentation. To obtain more PCS information, visit: