Summer is prime moving season for members of the U.S. armed forces, heading to new units and assignments before fall comes and the kids head back to school. But when it comes to the costs that crop up when relocating, many servicemembers say they are caught off guard.
While many see the military as among the best when it comes to covering costs of living — from food to base housing to health care — a new survey finds servicemembers still feel they come up short when it comes to finances But those on the move, who plan ahead and learn about all the benefits available to them, can potentially save thousands of dollars, experts say.
The survey conducted last year by Blue Star Families, a group that provides research and career guidance for those in the military, found that frequent moves was the largest single obstacle to financial security among servicemembers, cited by about a third of those participating in the annual study.
Blue Star Families found that 73% of respondents racked up unexpected expenses because of military life. Of that group, 86% said the surprise costs came from moving after they received orders to do so.
Tara and Cory Smith, moved in December from Twentynine Palms, Calif. to Tampa, where Cory, a Marine, would be stationed at MacDill Air Force Base. They received military assistance to pay for short-term lodging and meals, but the couple paid thousands of dollars out of pocket to rent and fuel the moving truck .
“This was my first move with the military,’’ says Tara Smith, 29, adding that the couple wasn’t made aware of all the military moving allowances that were available. “I was only used to doing a civilian move. You pack up your stuff and move yourself.’’
There are many benefits that relocating servicemembers can tap into, financial planning experts say, and it's important that they learn about them before they pack their boxes and head to their next, new home.
“You don’t want to create a situation in which, as a result of a move, you incur some kind of debt that you really had no need to accumulate in the first place,’’ says Carlos Perez, assistant secretary of the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association, a nonprofit that offers financial planning to members of the military.
Those benefits include a "dislocation allowance'' that can be used for deposits to turn on the gas, water or other utilities. An Army staff sergeant with a decade in the service, for example, could get roughly $2,400 through that benefit, Perez says, so "If you don't receive it, you want to ask for it.''
The military will also pay for servicemembers' and their families meals and accommodations while they are traveling to their new home, temporary lodging if their new apartment or house is not immediately available, and the government covers the actual move of the family's personal belongings.
Servicemembers should consider asking for a portion of these special allowances up front, vs. being reimbursed at the end of the move, says Perez. " An advance on one to three months pay can also be requested, in what is basically an interest-free loan that needs to be repaid over a year to 24 months, says Perez.
And to keep it all straight, closely track all of your expenses to help with filing all the necessary forms at the end of the move. "I try to maintain a little journal when I move and every day I document my expenses,'' says Perez who during his 26 years of active duty service in the Army moved nine times.
In addition to talking to officials in the personnel and finance office, there are websites servicemembers can click on for advice, including militaryonesource.mil and gomillie.com.
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