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Consumer Watch: Financial planning can help smooth a PCS

Jun. 11, 2009 - 10:58AM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 11, 2009 - 10:58AM  |  
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If you're moving to a new duty station this year, consider saving yourself a lot of stress by picking up some good financial habits along the way.

Just ask Tara Sanders, case work coordinator in the Norfolk, Va., office of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. With her experience helping relief-society clients, and as a Navy wife who has moved 11 times in 15 years of marriage, she has a well-rounded perspective.

She is also one of the first spouses to receive a Military Spouse Fellowship for financial counseling from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

The problem she sees most often, she says, is that military families let their debts rise to meet two incomes.

"When you get orders, the spouse has to leave that job," she said. "Even if you have a job with a nationwide company, you don't always get a job at the new location."

The lifestyle that many military families set up for themselves —car loans, credit card balances, expenses for homes greater than the housing allowance that the service member receives — is often dependent on the spouse's second income, she said.

When you're in the mobile military community, that's risky even in good economic times, Sanders said. When the economy is in the tank, it's even riskier.

She said she and her husband have always tried to focus on living on his income, "knowing my job wouldn't always be there."

Other tips she offers:

• Make sure you're aware of your entitlements when you move.

Government-paid moves and travel allowances often fall short of reimbursing the actual cost of a move to a new duty station, so make sure you apply for entitlements such as the dislocation allowance.

For 2009, the allowance, based on rank and whether a service member has dependents, ranges from $814.81 to $4,084.83. This allowance covers some of the extra expenses of moving.

Some service members don't know that they can apply for an advance on BAH and basic pay, which can help with setup costs at your new place, Sanders says.

That's a no-interest loan that you pay back in 12 monthly increments — as long as you keep your spending in line so that you don't get into a financial bind as you pay the advances back.

To get approval for advance BAH, you must have a pre-lease agreement that shows your costs. Check with your local finance office.

• Get organized and stay organized.

Sanders suggests going to Military OneSource and Military Homefront's Plan My Move, which offer tips and resources for moving, including information about what paperwork you need, and when, for the personal property office; planners for your move; and other resources such as checklists and customized calendars. To find "Plan My Move," go to http://www.militaryhomefront.dod.mil/">www.militaryhomefront.dod.mil and click on "Troops & Families," then "Moving and Relocation," and "Plan My Move."

FINRA's "Money and Mobility" is also a resource. Go to the http://www.saveandinvest.org/index.htm">SaveAndInvest.org home page, click the "For Military" icon and then "Deployment and PCS."

• Check your homeowner's or renter's insurance.

Make sure it will help cover losses or damage in household goods that aren't covered by the government. Too often, renters don't realize that their landlord doesn't insure their belongings. Get renter's insurance, Sanders says.

She and her husband learned the hard way about 14 years ago when they moved to Charleston, S.C. Anything of any value had been stolen out of their shipment.

They submitted a claim for $8,000 — and received $633. "From that point on, we have had renter's insurance," she said.

The government has begun providing full-replacement-value coverage for service members' household goods, but it's still a good idea to make sure you have that renter's insurance.

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