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 15 years. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Military Family Advisory Network.
Written by Shelley Kimball
Moving is hard enough without receiving a bill after the boxes and papers are cleared away.
One of the many details to watch during a move is the weight of the household goods. Shipping goods that weigh more than a family’s allotment will likely result in charges for going over the maximum allowable weight.
This isn’t a new issue, but it is certainly timely. This week marks the beginning of the usual moving season for most Coast Guard families, which runs from the second week of May to the second week of July.
In the past, families were being billed for overages from moves during the previous five years. That billing is going to continue.
The old bills were the result of a computer glitch in the computer system that identified excess weight charges in moves. When the error was discovered, hundreds of families received bills into the thousands of dollars for overages to recoup the costs for transporting and storing the excess goods.
“Keep in mind though, failure of the mechanism used to identify excess weight shipments only delayed notifications, it had no bearing on the actual weights,” said Chief Warrant Officer Randy Jeffery, the household goods program manager for the Coast Guard.
The average amount families had over the maximum allowable weight during the past five years was 2,017 pounds, according to data from the Coast Guard Finance Center. That translated into an average bill of $2,073. The highest weight over the maximum was 17, 431 pounds, and the highest debt for excess costs was $23,572.
The finance center is currently sending out bills for overages from 2014 and 2015. Billing is taking too long to get to families after they move, according to Capt. Erich Klein, the commanding officer of the Coast Guard Financial Center.
“The large amount of time we are experiencing between the HHG shipment and notification of a debt is still far short of our goal of notifying individuals in a timely manner,” Klein said.
Part of the problem is that when the financial center determines that a family’s move may have exceeded the maximum allowable weight, it has to go through a 40-step checklist to validate it. The financial center will try to cut down some of the delay by sending letters to families as soon as they begin the checklist, but because there is already a lag in the time between when the goods are delivered and when the financial center receives a bill, there will always be some delay in notification to families, Klein said.
So, to start, weight allowances are determined by rank and number of dependents. You can also find a HHG weight estimator at the Move.mil website. Everyone should receive an estimate of the HHG weights during the pre-move survey. Then, to get the actual weight, active duty members can contact the origin Personal Property Shipping Office.
To dispute the official recorded weight of the goods after they have been loaded on the moving truck, active duty members can ask for a reweigh of the goods, but it has to be done before the goods are delivered. For help, contact the HHG transportation officer within the personnel support department at the servicing base. That contact information is on the Coast Guard portal (meaning the active duty member will have to access it).
If you are over the allowable weight, and you received a bill from the financial center that you don’t plan to dispute, the bill will explain the debt and how to go about repaying it.
If the goods have already been delivered, and you want to dispute the bill for the overage, then you would first respond to the letter received from the financial center. That office will then send the dispute on to the compensation division for review.
During the review, the compensation division will look at the weight tickets and compare them to the inventory sheets. It will try to reconstruct the weight based on estimated weights of the items listed on the inventory sheets. If that reconstructed weight comes up lower than the actual weight, then the compensation division will contact the carrier to see if there is an explanation for the discrepancy.
To avoid the whole issue, be aware of your allotted weight, and try to get rid of stuff that might put you over. Easier said than done, I know. The weight estimator may help in that decision – is it valuable enough to you and your family to move something of that weight?
If there are items that you really want to move, but you are near your weight limit, moving those items yourself may be the answer. Jeffrey said that the partially-personally-procured move, formerly known as the do-it-yourself DITY move, can mitigate the weight overage issue. Beware, though, there are rules and regulations to be followed for that, too. Follow this checklist to make sure you are doing everything and in order.
Jeffrey also recommended that families provide specific feedback on their experiences on the mandatory customer satisfaction surveys at the end of the process. It can make changes to improve moving for everyone.
“If the carrier is great, then complete the survey and say so. This will ensure the carrier can provide their superior services to more military families,” he said. “If they are not so great, then the survey will prevent them from receiving as many military shipments.”
Not every family will exceed the maximum allowable weight for a move, and there are ways to try to avoid it before it happens. In fact, most families don’t have to deal with bills for overages.
“Less than one percent of the Coast Guard members’ HHG shipments fall in the excess weight category,” Klein said. “But for those that get a bill, it can be a significant emotional event.”
Moving tips from the Coast Guard : Step-by-step information from the Coast Guard about some of the essential information necessary during a move.
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.
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.
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.