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Navy to Require Sailors to Use Travel Card for PCS Expenses

Government issued travel card
Government issued travel card

The Navy will soon start requiring sailors to use the government travel credit card for military move expenses instead of receiving move-related pay advances.

The final policy is still under development, Naval Supply Systems Command officials said.

"We aim to implement the policy ... in the fall of 2016," said Ben Benson, a spokesman for the command. "The Navy is still formulating the program, and the draft policy is not yet signed."

Currently, sailors who have a government travel credit card are required to use it only for TDY assignments. The card is deactivated when a sailor leaves his unit and then reissued, if needed, by his next unit. Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move costs are typically paid for by a combination of travel advance pay and reimbursements and allotments received after the move is completed.

Under the new system, officials said, all sailors who qualify for the card will instead be required to receive one and use it to pay for their reimbursable military travel costs, such as gas and lodging. The card's balance will then be paid directly through the "split disbursement" process when the sailor submits a travel reimbursement claim on DD Form 1351-2 after the move, according to Defense Department policy.

Despite running a small pilot program on the change in October 2013, the Navy is the last service to implement a government travel card policy for relocating troops.

Sailors using the card instead of their personal credit accounts also benefits the government, which receives cash rebates for money spent on the cards.

Officials with both the Air Force and Marine Corps said they require troops to receive a travel card prior to a move. The Army requires only those who currently hold a card to use it, rather than requiring all relocating soldiers to apply for it.

Military financial experts warn that if the service's finance office does not pay the card in a timely manner or the allotments don't cover the charges put on the card, the service member is still responsible for the balance. Not paying it, they said, could result in a negative credit score.

"If the process works right, the Navy should direct reimbursements directly to the [card]," said Kate Horrell, longtime author of Military.com's Paycheck Chronicles blog. "Sometimes that doesn't happen, and either the claim gets delayed or the Navy issues payment directly to the sailor. It is then the responsibility of the sailor to ensure that the balance is paid in a timely fashion. It is possible that unpaid balances could negatively impact a sailor's credit report, even if the error is the fault of the Navy."

When used while under PCS status, troops are given extra time to pay the card.

Service members who do not qualify for the card because of bad personal credit scores will still be issued travel advances and permitted to PCS without the card.

What should and should not be charged to the travel card is governed by the DoD's government travel card regulation. Using the card for unauthorized items, such as personal expenses like clothing, could result in disciplinary action, the regulation says.

Both the Army and Air Force require travel cards for their members to remain active after a PCS, while the Marine Corps deactivates its cards when each move is completed, and reactivates them again before the next relocation. It is unclear which method the Navy will use since the policy is still under development, officials said.

Travel card limits for the Air Force and Army are based on the DoD regulation. The Marine Corps sets each Marine's limit based on anticipated moving allotments.

Navy officials said its policy on limits is still under development.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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Navy PCS