After spending a year or more on permanent duty in Europe or the Pacific, receiving permanent change of station orders sending you back to the United States may have you counting the days until your welcome-home party.
But since costs for excess shipping, temporary housing and utility installation fees can become overwhelming for the unprepared, it pays to plan carefully before relocating. While life eventually returns to normal after a move, bank account balances may not.
As you prepare to PCS back to the States, keep in mind the following tips, which can help control moving expenses and keep you on the path to financial security.
Research the area to which you’ll be moving to determine how the new location will affect you financially.
Check the cost of living in your new area to find out how far your salary will stretch. Military community and family support centers provide information about most installations and the surrounding communities. And Web sites such as www.salary.com or www.homefair.com also can be helpful resources.
Contact your insurance company to determine how your rates might change in your new location. There are a number of factors that can affect how much you’ll pay. Insurance is often more expensive in areas prone to severe weather and natural disasters, and in major metropolitan areas where accidents and crime are more common.
Crunch the numbers
Start planning and preparing your finances as soon as possible.
Find out how much of your move will be covered by the military, which will depend on your rank and where you’ll be moving. While the government may provide additional moving allowances for overseas moves, many personnel still find that it’s not enough to cover all of the miscellaneous expenses that arise during the relocation process.
Take inventory of the items you plan to move and what you can sell for extra cash. Also make a list of what you’ll have to buy when you get to your new home. Be aware that U.S. Customs may restrict the import of certain goods you’ve acquired while living overseas, such as some foreign-made electronics bearing American trademarks. A military customs inspector should provide guidelines before your move. If you’re planning to mail some items back to the States, be sure to request instructions for duty-free entry.
Calculate a moving budget outlining your anticipated expenses, and initiate a savings plan to contribute toward that amount with each paycheck.
Protect your property
Ensure that your household belongings are protected during the move. Transferring household goods from overseas requires even more precaution than a PCS within the United States.
Find out how much of your personal property will be insured by government movers, and keep a record of all items entrusted to them. Some insurers may provide protection that supplements the movers insurance, so it’s a good idea to ask your insurance company what moving-related claims will be covered under your current renters or homeowners policy.
For example, a basic renters insurance policy can be a convenient and inexpensive way to protect your belongings if lost or stolen in transit, but keep in mind that certain types of damage, such as breaking, marring or scratching, may not be covered. Also, be aware that for a new policy to cover your items during the move, most companies will require you to obtain the policy prior to shipping your belongings.
If transferring a vehicle, review your auto insurance policy to determine if moving-related damages are covered during an overseas move.
If you’re considering canceling your current insurance coverage, ask your insurance company if it would be best to keep your current policy in force until after all of your goods have arrived at their destination and any claims have been settled.
Keep in touch
Look to your financial service providers to help you through the turbulent pre- and post-moving months.
Work with your bank to update any automatic funds transfer arrangements, as your bills or investment contributions may need to change when you move. And if you keep items in a safe deposit box, arrange to have those items transferred securely to your new location.
Ask your insurance company if any appropriate adjustments to your coverage, such as raising your deductible, could lower your premiums, and if special discounts may apply after you relocate.
As soon as possible, update all of your providers with your new address and contact information to avoid confusion with your accounts.
Prepare to deduct
Remember that many moving expenses are tax-deductible, such as expenses incurred through travel, a spouse’s job-hunting costs, mortgage points and more.
Create a file in which to keep all records and receipts from moving expenses and start-up costs in your new home. You’ll need them when it’s time to prepare your tax return next year.
If you have any money left from government moving allowances, note that those dollars are taxed as income if not used for moving-related expenses.
Review the Armed Forces Tax Guide Publication 3 for complete details on how your taxes will be affected by a PCS.
For most servicemembers, returning to the States after a tour abroad is a time of celebration with family and friends. And by taking the time to make smart decisions before the move, you can spend less time balancing your checkbook and more time with loved ones upon your arrival.
— Mitch Swanda is a salaried certified financial planner practitioner with USAA Financial Planning Services, one of the USAA family of companies that has served the military community since 1922. Swanda also served six years on active duty in the U.S. Navy.