It’s well known that making a permanent change-of-station move can cost military families, even though the government reimburses many expenses. Families who find the ends don’t quite meet can rely on military relief societies to fill the gap.

“We’re always there as a safety net,” said retired Army Col. Eldon Mullis, deputy director and chief operating officer of Army Emergency Relief. The military relief societies (which also include Air Force Aid Society and Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society) can provide interest-free loans — and in some cases, grants — for financial emergencies.

Moving costs don’t stop when the boxes are unpacked. Spouses often find it takes longer to get a comparable job — or any job — in the new location. Troops may get sticker shock moving from a low-cost area to a high-cost area. Expenses add up as families replace items discarded or used up during a move, such as cleaning supplies.

Frequent moves are among the top financial obstacles for 31 percent of military spouses and 27 percent of troops who responded to Blue Star Families’ 2017 Military Family Lifestyle Survey.

AER helps soldiers with emergency needs such as food, fuel and temporary lodging. While the government generally reimburses those expenses during PCS moves, Mullis said, “what we see most often are cars breaking down during a PCS, or having to stay longer than expected” in temporary lodging.

Sometimes there are delays in processing their requests for reimbursement of PCS expenses. “These are areas where we’re happy to help out,” Mullis said.

Another trend relates to soldiers moving from a low-cost area to a high-cost area, such as from North Carolina’s Fort Bragg to Washington, D.C.

“Maybe their [basic allowance for allowance] doesn’t kick in when they think it will,” Mullis said. “They’re counting on the additional income from the BAH.”

In one case, a soldier moving to Fort Hamilton, New York, had to scrape together $11,000 in advance payments for initial rent deposit and other fees, said Tracey Anbiya, a retired command sergeant major who is emergency financial administrator for Army Emergency Relief. “In those high-cost areas, if you haven’t planned for that, we’re really the only help they can get with that.”

And if the soldiers have credit problems, she said, they may have to put down deposits for utilities.

“We should be the first choice” for emergency financial assistance, Mullis said, noting that AER can provide loans at zero percent interest. “Come see us before you go anywhere else.”

Some AER suggestions for your move:

  • If you know you’re going to PCS within the next six months or so, start setting aside extra money to ease the financial burden. Consider that the spouse may not be able to find a job right away.
  • When the service member goes to a PCS briefing, take the spouse.
  • Take advantage of financial readiness programs at installations, and through Military OneSource.
  • Save all your receipts related to your PCS move.

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.

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