Many military members and families soon will face a move to a new duty station, and part of the preparation should be looking at financial aspects of relocation, in addition to logistics.
That preparation involves understanding the entitlements the military offers for those making permanent change-of-station moves, being aware of some out-of-pocket costs, and avoiding pitfalls that could start you off on the wrong foot financially at your new duty station.
"One of the most important things you can do is connect with your installation personal financial readiness program manager to see what's available," said Gerri Walsh, president of FINRA Investor Education Foundation.
A key element is knowing what the military pays for, including the maximum weight of your household-goods shipment, Walsh said. If you're close to that limit, it's time to sort through your belongings and get rid of things you no longer want or need.
A yard sale might bring in extra cash to help fund a financial cushion during the move. If you donate items, save receipts for a possible tax deduction.
Getting official information about military benefits is critical, but those advisers also can delve into your personal financial needs – helping craft a family spending plan, for instance.
In the Marine Corps, these experts help Marines compare their expenses at their current duty station with projected expenses at their new duty station, said Jessica Perdew, program manager for personal financial readiness, Marine and Family Programs Division, at Marine Corps headquarters.
For the mobile military family, a spouse's income may be lost entirely because of a move, or at least temporarily as the spouse seeks new employment at the next duty station. When the family depends on the spouse's income to help make payments on car loans, furniture loans, credit cards and other debt, there must be a discussion about how to manage these expenses.
Ideally, that discussion would happen before those loans are obtained, looking into future possibilities of an income drop. To help spouses with career needs, family center spouse employment specialists at current and future duty stations, and the Defense Department's Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program can serve as resources.
One possible income boost: Some spouses may be eligible for unemployment compensation from their previous state if they must leave their job because of family military orders. Not every state offers the benefit, but it's worth the time required to file a claim and request benefits, Perdew said.
Many factors go into choosing where to live at your new duty station. Beyond the basic research into what you'll receive as a housing allowance, look into the financial ramifications beyond rent or mortgage payments, and utility bills.
"In many locations housing is less costly as you move away from population centers, but the housing savings are frequently replaced by increased transportation expenses," Perdew said.
Each family will have unique, unforeseen circumstances. One Navy ensign found out after he and his wife had rented a home in the expensive Washington, D.C., metropolitan area that his command wanted him to split his time between two installations that are 20 minutes apart. That meant he wouldn’t be able to take public transportation to work, and they had to buy another vehicle.
Some families are in situations where the service member moves to a new duty station and the family stays behind – perhaps because of the child's school, the spouse's job, medical concerns, or because the service member may be moving overseas on an unaccompanied tour. In such cases, the family needs to figure out their expenses in operating two households – for example, how they'd cover costs if service member isn't able to live in quarters on the installation.
Living expenses such as car insurance and utility costs can vary widely from one place to another. Perdew advises checking with insurance companies for quotes on rates for car insurance in the new location. Some insurance companies offer policies nationwide, but the rates often vary because of state and company requirements. Some utility companies allow waivers of utility deposits for service members.
Walsh urges service members to be aware of their rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. For example, those who receive orders to a new duty station have the right to terminate their lease on their car or home. You also have the right to terminate a cellphone plan if you're moving to an area where your current provider doesn't provide service. For legal advice on how to properly invoke those rights, check with your legal assistance office on base.
Need more advice? There are installation personal financial managers, generally at family centers, who provide workshops and individual counseling, and resources at MilitaryOneSource.mil, including personal financial counseling in person, by phone or video chat. Banks and credit unions on military installations are also required to provide financial education and resources.
"My primary advice would be to keep family finances in a high state of readiness at all times, not just when a move or deployment is on the horizon," Perdew said.
Karen Jowers covers consumer issues and quality of life for Military Times. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.