What are the Hidden Costs of PCS Moves?

A military family moves into their new home after a PCS move.

An infographic showing the hidden costs of PCS moves.

Permanent changes of station, or PCS moves, are something that many military families are familiar with. These relocation assignments can occur every 2-3 years or more, depending on special assignments and other factors. Any type of move can present challenges, but PCS moves are often uniquely stressful.

At Armed Forces Bank, we were interested in learning about how military families cope with PCS moves from a financial perspective and whether they experienced any hidden costs associated with PCS moves. Here’s what we found out.

About Our Survey Respondents’ PCS Moves

Each year, more than 400,000 service members make a PCS move (MilitaryOneSource).

Our questionnaire surveyed 148 respondents who had experienced at least one PCS move for the U.S. military. The average military family making a PCS move had two adults, one child (1.47), and one pet (1.1).

More than 80% of our survey respondents had experienced 2 or more PCS moves, with just over 20% having experienced 5 or more PCS moves. When answering questions for our survey, we asked respondents who had experienced two or more moves to respond based on their very first PCS move.

About 34% of respondents moved 1,000 miles or less from their previous station, and 39% moved between 1,001-3,000 miles. Less common, but still making up about 27% of the overall data, were the moves of 3,001 miles or more: 13.5% of respondents moved between 3,001-5,000 miles, and 13.5% moved 5,001 miles or more.

When a military family is assigned a PCS, there are two different move types: government-procured moves (GPM) and personally procured moves (PPM, formerly DITY).

A GPM involves the government arranging and paying for the move, which can provide convenience and professional handling at no out-of-pocket cost, but typically offers the military family less control over the process. A PPM, on the other hand, allows service members to handle their own move, but they must submit expenses for reimbursement, requiring more effort in exchange for increased control.

Of our survey respondents, about 66% experienced GPM while the remaining 34% were PPM.

PCS Moves and Homeownership

While owning a home often represents a significant part of the American Dream, it can be a polarizing topic for military families -- especially those who know a PCS move may be on the horizon. About 45% percent of our survey respondents owned a home prior to their PCS move, while 55% did not.

Of those who owned a home, just over 73% utilized a VA Loan for the purchase of their home. VA Loans are a specific type of mortgage supported by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs designed to make home buying more accessible for veterans, active-duty service members, and military families.

Depending on whether the service member is a homeowner or a renter, the types of expenses associated with a PCS move could be different. For example, a homeowner may need to consider continued mortgage payments and utilities if the home doesn’t sell immediately. A renter, on the other hand, may need to pay a lease termination fee if they are breaking their rental contract.

PCS Move Expenses: Expectations vs. Reality

Those in military families know to expect the unexpected, so the vast majority knew what they were getting into with their first PCS move: Less than 20% of respondents stated that they did not anticipate all potential expenses associated with relocation.

However, most respondents still felt that there were certain areas in which they experienced unexpected expenses:

  • Housing (e.g., cleaning costs, home repairs, security deposits, utility setup fees): 50.7%
  • Transportation (e.g., vehicle registration, tolls, fuel expenses): 46.2%
  • Temporary lodging (e.g., hotel stays, rental deposits): 35.1%
  • Moving personal belongings (e.g., packing supplies, storage fees, additional insurance coverage): 33.1%
  • New location logistics (e.g., local taxes, permits, record transfer, licenses): 31.8%
  • Childcare or pet care: 21%
  • Paperwork and administrative tasks (e.g., notary fees, document processing): 18.9%

These results reflect the percentage of respondents who selected each option, as they were invited to select all that applied to their situation, leading to a cumulative total exceeding 100%. Only 20.3% of respondents selected the option, “I did not experience any unexpected expenses related to my PCS move.”

More than half of respondents (52.7%) felt that the costs associated with a PCS move were somewhat more expensive than they had expected, and an additional 29% felt the costs were “much more expensive.”

PCS Moves and Financial Stress

Moving is never cheap, and PCS moves are no exception. Even with the potential for reimbursement on the horizon, there’s the matter of making any necessary payments upfront.

Nearly 67% of our survey respondents stated that they experienced financial stress while waiting for dislocation allowance (DLA) or reimbursement for their PCS move.

In the meantime, here is how our respondents paid for the majority of PCS-move-related items prior to reimbursement:

  • Credit card: 36.5%
  • Checking account: 29.7%
  • Savings (e.g. emergency fund): 21.6%
  • Personal loan: 6.8%
  • Borrowed from family members/friends: 5.4%

In a situation where military families are paying for PCS moves out of pocket, at least initially, additional hidden costs should also be considered for each payment type.

For example, credit cards typically have high interest rates, which means the true cost of any given expense may be higher if it’s not paid off completely by the next month. A personal loan typically offers a lower interest rate and may be a better option in many situations if the borrower can commit to fixed monthly payments.

With a checking account, there’s the potential for overdraft fees and the lack of earning rewards (unless it’s a rewards checking account). Dipping into a savings account typically means a limited number of transactions per month. And while borrowing from family and friends could be interest-free, it can strain relationships and lead to potential conflicts over repayment terms or financial obligations.

eWhen it came time for reimbursement, less than 7% of respondents felt that they ultimately were compensated for 100% of their PCS move expenses. More than half of respondents (57%) felt that they were reimbursed for 60% or less, which illustrates the lasting impact of out-of-pocket expenses during PCS moves.

Attitudes Toward PCS Moves and Hidden Costs

Finally, we asked our respondents to sum up their feelings about PCS moves and any hidden costs by answering this question:

Would you generally agree or disagree with this statement? “There are many hidden costs/expenses associated with PCS moves.”

We looked at the answers to this question from an overarching perspective, as well as breaking it down by whether the respondent’s family had experienced a PPM or GPM. And the results were fairly consistent: About 57% agree that there are many hidden expenses associated with PCS moves, though those who experienced a PPM were slightly more likely to agree than those who made a GPM.

All respondents

Agree: 57.4%

Disagree 42.6%


Agree: 56.7%

Disagree 43.3%


Agree: 58.8%

Disagree: 41.2%

With these survey results in mind, Armed Forces Bank is committed to continuing to serve military families throughout all stages of life. We recognize the complexities of PCS moves and the financial challenges that can follow, and our aim is to offer banking solutions and financial advice, no matter where you are in the world. This is who we are.

What’s next?

Get a VA Home Loan

Advice: PCS Moves with VA Home Loans

Get a Military Personal Loan

Advice: PCS Moves with Military Personal Loans

Tips for a Smooth PCS Move

Advice: PCS Moves and Digital Banking

PCS Move Checklist

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