In mid-March, the DoD put all permanent change of station (PCS) and temporary duty moves on hold due to the Coronavirus pandemic, leaving hundreds of thousands of military families in various stages of preparation for the annual PCS season in limbo until further notice. If you’re facing a delayed PCS, you’re likely also facing some personal finance questions related to your move. The good news is, there are many resources and tips available for families facing these unprecedented circumstances and the military community is always ready to support one another.
Your Move: Progress and Benefits
How far into the PCS process were you when the Stop Movement order was issued? This is a key question that must be addressed to prioritize your money moves. If your move was stopped in the final stages, your first step should be to contact your command and other appropriate offices to check on the status of property and recurring expenses to identify what financial assistance you might qualify for. Below is a list of common challenges that
you may experience:
- If your PCS shipment is already submitted to the Personal Property Office (PPO), call them immediately to find out where your request is in the processing system. In some cases, your shipment will be given a delayed pickup date. In other cases, where a moving company has been assigned to your belongings, you’ll want confirmation from the PPO that no further action will be taken until the Stop Movement order is lifted or you receive an exemption to the policy.
- If you find yourself in temporary housing between moves, ask your command about an extension on your temporary lodging expense (TLE) or dislocation allowance.
- You might qualify for additional allowances to cover both daily and long-term costs associated with a delayed PCS due to the Stop Movement order. This includes hardship duty pay, family separation allowance, as well as per diem to cover meals and incidentals. While not all of these will apply, it’s important to approach your command and any supporting organizations you reach out to with full details of your family’s progress and financial circumstances.
- If the Stop Movement order is preventing you from moving into a new residence but you’re still facing rent or mortgage payments, contact your loan provider to explain your situation and understand what options are available for payment. Some might be offering low or no interest rates, while others might allow
you to shift your bill’s due date or split up monthly payments into smaller amounts.
Budget More Carefully
Military families know all about bolstering and maintaining savings accounts and “rainy day funds” to stay ahead of unexpected expenses that arise. With a delayed PCS on your plate, now might be an appropriate time to dip into these funds. But before doing so, reassess your budget, as you would before a deployment or typical PCS.
Start with fixed spending: daily and monthly expenses such as groceries, clothing and entertainment (we might need those Netflix subscriptions more than ever!) On the flipside, don’t forget to account for recurring payments that are either suspended during the pandemic or not getting carried over to your new home, once you’ve moved. This includes things like paused gym memberships but also utility bills and other service payments that might have shifted or stopped if you moved into temporary housing.
Identify recurring expenses that are likely to change or already have changed, including rent or mortgage, and other loan payments. When looking at income, identify any potential changes to your average household earnings during this time including unemployment benefits or furlough wages, if applicable. Don’t forget to account for distributions provided to your family by the CARES Act, if you qualified.
A clearer picture of your budget helps you determine if you need to tap into your savings to cover any short or long-term discrepancies in your expenses. If you find yourself needing a bit more assistance while you wait for updates on PCS orders, another option is to research grants and low-interest loans, particularly those offered exclusively to military families. Many military relief organizations have established specialized COVID-19 funds. Don’t be afraid to look into these if your family has been severely impacted.
Lastly, don’t fall away from the good financial habits you’ve developed, even when times are tough. This means no panic buying or rash decision-making, if you can avoid it. You’ll hopefully find that, even if you need to cut back on some frivolous expenses due to your circumstances, you can still keep family traditions alive in new and unique ways.
Do Your Research and Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
While reaching out to your command and other organizations to ask for help can be daunting, it’s crucial to be an advocate for yourself and your family during these times. When you work to make sense of how a delayed PCS will impact your family’s financial future, take time to familiarize yourself with what resources and forms of assistance,
including those mentioned above, are available. Jot down concerns and observations during your research, this will make it easier to reach out to your command, relief organizations or even financial advisors with more informed and organized questions. While these organizations are likely overrun with requests from families like yours, it’s their mission to provide reliable guidance and now is the time to take initiative and ask! In addition to seeking professional help, don’t forget to stay in touch with the military spouse community to share tips or even vent about your situation, it always helps to connect with others who are also trying to figure it all out!
Any seasoned military spouse will tell you that every PCS season comes with unique challenges, whether they are personal to your family or stem from broader trends and world events. This year’s season definitely takes the cake, as the global COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented changes military families must grapple with. However, military families thrive during times of hardship. While you research assistance options and adjust your budget and lifestyle to fit the “new normal,” don’t lose sight of what’s most important: keeping every member of your family safe, healthy and happy.
Charlene Wilde is a veteran, military spouse and Assistant Secretary of AAFMAA, our nation’s
longest standing military financial services non-profit organization.