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Financial Tips for Your Next PCS Move

American soldier & Wife Moving into New Home  ©

Active duty military personnel make PCS moves about every two to four years. PCS expenses—such as the high cost of temporary lodging and meals, vehicle maintenance costs, fees for boarding pets and housing turnover fees—can eat into tight budgets.

To prepare for a life of moves, you need to know what to expect both before and after a move. That means asking a lot of questions and doing some research. Then, you make a PCS plan, and set aside funds specifically for making a move. Couples should discuss well in advance of moving day how they steer around the financial pitfalls that can trap the unprepared. It’s a good idea to start planning for the next move shortly after you’ve unpacked from the last one. This can help you prevent PCS surprises.

The following tips can help you plan financially for your next move.

  • Get on the same page. Start by talking with your spouse about your family's finances. These steps can help you initiate a discussion that is productive and may help prevent potential financial difficulties.
  • Close out and transfer accounts. Make a list of all your financial accounts. Note which accounts can be transferred and ones that need to be closed and reopened in your new location. Take advantage of the move as a way to shop for lower rates on some financial products (e.g., homeowners' or renters' insurance).
  • Pay all your current bills. To avoid negative impact on your credit, be sure to pay all close-out bills such as electricity, water, etc., before leaving. Provide all organizations with a forwarding address as there may be unpaid bills that will follow you.
  • Compare the value of your housing allowance. The majority of military personnel live off-base. As you create a budget detailing expected income and expenses at your new duty station, be sure to compare current and future Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to determine how much house you can afford. Use the BAH Calculator from the Defense Travel Management Office to find out your specific allowance.
  • Save those receipts! Be sure to keep all your receipts and put them in a central place—including expenses that don't qualify for reimbursement—because they may qualify as tax deductions. Pay off your bills immediately.
  • Get answers to your questions. As you plan your move, financial questions may arise, such as whether to buy or rent a home. The Foundation's Making the Most of Your Military Money: Moving Guide for Military Personnel and Families publication includes information dedicated to PCS moves, complete with resources, worksheets and checklists to help you plan.

Unemployment Compensation for Spouses

The loss of a military spouse's employment is also frequently part of the PCS reality. Many military spouses report that they lose significant family income when moving from state to state. Unemployment compensation can be an important part of the solution for military families who cannot afford to lose income following a military move. 

Most states and the District of Columbia provide eligibility for unemployment compensation to military spouses who are "trailing" their service member on a PCS to a new state. This is most commonly done by providing an exemption to the general rule that you cannot receive unemployment compensation if you voluntarily quit a job. Most states recognize that when a military family moves for duty, quitting is not “voluntary” and therefore allow the trailing military spouse to receive unemployment compensation. 

Unemployment compensation claims should be made to the state in which employment was held, not in the new duty station state. 

Many occupations require a state license, often with state-specific conditions and processes. Military spouses who work in fields that require such licensing might experience lengthy reemployment delays when moving between states. Because of these delays and the expense involved in re-licensure, some spouses decide not to practice in their professions. This can be a difficult financial and career choice for military members and their spouses. One way to avoid this situation is to set aside some money to pay for a new state license and, as appropriate, to cover the cost of maintaining your existing state license through fees and continuing professional education. This should be a key part of your family's relocation plan. 

You can also ask your new state to support your effort to obtain its license by: 

  • Accommodating a gap in employment for military spouses with active licenses from another state;
  • Providing a temporary license to allow a military spouse with a current license in another state to secure employment while completing state requirements or while awaiting verification for an endorsement;
  • Expediting procedures for regulatory departments or board approval to provide opportunity for spouses to obtain an endorsed to temporary license.