Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 14 years. She currently serves as an advisor for the Military Family Advisory Network.
Written by Shelley Kimball
Four years after a move, Cheryl Smith and her family received a bill from the Coast Guard for $2,000 in household good overage charges. The bill arrived in May, just before they were getting ready to transfer to their next duty station in Kodiak, Alaska.
The bill said they were over their weight allotment in 2011. Smith said they can’t find documentation from the Coast Guard or the Department of Defense showing the weight of the shipped goods. So they are disputing the charges.
“We are fighting the bill, there’s no proof of our weigh ticket on file with them or the moving companies,” Smith said. “They have been telling us to just pay it since May, when we got the bill. We said we simply want proof of our overweight.”
Throughout the summer, several families have taken to social media to decry similar bills. They were wary about sharing their stories on the record with From the Homefront.
A spouse of a senior officer asked that her name be withheld, but she shared her experience. She said she and her husband were billed $5,000 for overages during two moves in the past five years.
“We were shocked,” she said. “Shocked.”
These families are part of an estimated 500 to 600 member of the Coast Guard, active duty and retired, who received bills for household goods weight overages for moves during the years of 2009 to 2014.
The bills started going out this past spring, and they are for household goods overages that amounted to about $920,000 in total. The average bill has amounted to about $1,764.
The senior officer’s spouse said that they fought their bill, and it was decreased. They paid it off, but they will never move the same way again, she said. She cautions families to be highly vigilant of two things: the paperwork that is tied to a move and the weigh station tickets from moving vans.
She said she will save every scrap of paperwork tied to a move for at least 10 years to show the weight of HHGs. Additionally, she said, she will ensure that the moving truck be weighed at a weigh station before it is filled with her family’s belongings. Then, she will go to the weight station with the truck to ensure that the weight count is accurate. And then, she said, she will find out how much gas is in the truck when it is weighed to be sure that her family is not charged for the weight of additional gas.
“Perhaps I’m going overboard,” she said, “but I don’t want to pay them $3,500 again.”
Capt. Erich Klein inherited the billing issue when he took over as the commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Financial Center in July. He said he is sympathetic to the fact that it is frustrating to receive a bill after so much time has passed. But the Coast Guard can’t be responsible for paying for the overages, he said.
“Nobody likes getting a bill from the government,” Klein said. “I understand that.”
He said that the bills are the result of a glitch in the Department of Defense’s billing system. The norm was for active duty members to receive bills immediately for the excess household goods. However, for about five years, from 2009 to 2014, after the Department of Defense had switched over to a new system, the costs of the overages were not being tracked, he said. Instead, the branches, including the Coast Guard, were footing the bills to the moving companies for the overages. Now the bills have come due.
Klein said that in the process of the PCSs, the members received counseling about the PCS process, including information about HHG overages. The average overage was 1,840 pounds. The problem was that the bills never went out, Klein said.
“They were counseled ahead of time,” Klein. “The issue here is there was no timely notification.”
During that five-year period, it was possible for families to have moved twice. If both moves had HHG overages, then they could be billed for both of them.
“Quite a few people were on the list twice,” Klein said.
Upon receiving a bill, the active duty member can pay it immediately by credit card or call the Pay and Personnel Center to request a collection schedule based on hardship. Otherwise, the PPC may collect up to 15 percent of the member’s disposable income per month. Payments begin after 30 days from the date of the billing notice.
However, for those disputing the bill, the clock stops during the negotiation process. It will restart when a new bill for the adjusted figure goes out.
“I’ve seen a number of letters in my time that we resend when the number is lowered, based on the information that is provided,” Klein said.
So far, 38 families had their debts reduced, and 46 have had their debts canceled by showing documentation, Klein said.
Information about how to dispute the bills is at the bottom of the letter active duty members receive. In a nutshell, they should call FINCEN customer service at (757) 523-6940 or 1-800-564-5504, or email FINCEN Customer Service. They should have documentation supporting their claims. Information about HHG weights can be found on the original moving paperwork or through the Defense Personal Property System account. Klein said members can go into that account to access information about previous moves and see the weight of shipped goods.
A little background on HHG weight limits. They are allotted by rank.
Some adjustments apply to HHG weights: both active duty members and spouses are allowed a weight deduction due to professional gear. The gear, which cannot be more than 2,000 pounds, must be set aside and marked as such – it can’t be claimed after the move. There is a 10 percent deduction to the weight of the full lot of HHG for the paper and boxes used.
And according to ALCOAST 089/15, families can request that HHG be reweighed. The active duty member must request this before household goods are delivered.
For those worried that a bill may be forthcoming, the same DPS account can be accessed to see if there were overages on a move during the years 2009 to 2014.
“You can go back and see how much weight you shipped,” Klein said.
Klein said he sees the issue from both sides – from the black-and-white accounting perspective, it is his responsibility to get the money owed the Coast Guard. But from the families’ perspective of getting a bill from a move a few years ago, he said he understands that it feels frustrating.
“I can understand the heartburn for that,” he said.
Check out the resources below if you have household goods overages, or you worry that you might.
To dispute a claim: Call FINCEN customer service at (757) 523-6940 or 1-800-564-5504, or email Fin-SMB-CustomerService@uscg.mil. Be sure to have documentation to support your position. You can find that documentation in the original moving documents, or go to your Defense Personal Property System account.
ALCOAST 089/15 : This message details some of the finer points of the weights of household goods and filing damage claims.
HHG weight estimator: The Department of Defense’s moving site has a variety of resources to make the PCS process more efficient. One resource is a downloadable Excel spreadsheet to help families estimate the weight of the household goods. To download it, choose the “Before you Move,” tab at the top of the page. Then, on the left side of the page, choose the “Weight Allowance” menu item. Within that section, choose “Weight Estimator.”
Weight allowances, by rank : A table of weight allowances, organized by rank is available at the Department of Defense’s official moving website.
Household Goods Claims : The Coast Guard Financial Center has a section of its website devoted to issues with household goods throughout the moving process.
It’s Your Move : A document for all branches of service provides information on allowances and responsibilities in connection with the shipment and storage of household goods.
Do you have advice for those experiencing overages or did you receive a bill? Share your experiences in the comments below.
The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.