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Finance is Fun

A few years ago when we PCSed to Germany, our flight was scheduled for the first of the month.  As we were preparing to leave, we decided to print out our LES since we didn't know when we'd have computer access once we arrived in Germany.  We logged in to MyPay and pulled up the last LES before we were moving to a different country.

It was straight zeroes across the page.

Apparently there's this thing in Finance called T-status, or "falling out of the system."  It is not a fun thing.  My husband was recruiting for six months, TDY for six months and then took 30 days of leave before moving to Germany, and apparently the military can stop your pay in those circumstances to make sure you actually sign in at your next duty station.  It's something of a safety feature to prevent AWOL people from still getting paid, but it can also happen to regular folks who haven't inprocessed into to a "real" unit in a while.  Straight zeroes.  No pay.

Which turned into no pay for two and a half months.

You know how they say that you should have money saved for emergencies?  This was one of those good times to have emergency funds.  We also learned about Casual Pay, an advance that Finance can give you on your next paycheck.  And we learned the hard way how Army Emergency Relief works.  It's a great service that can give you an interest-free loan, but the loan has to be for something specific.  You see, after we made three car payments, three insurance payments, three student loan payments, and all our other moving expenses, things were looking grim for buying groceries.  And remember, we just moved there; we didn't have a single thing in the fridge yet.  Sadly, we learned that AER would've paid our car payment or any other bill if we took the bill to them, but they couldn't just give us money for groceries.  Ouch, hard lesson.

In the end, Finance got their act together and finally submitted the paperwork correctly.  There's nothing that soothes the soul like seeing all your back pay, six months of BAH, and that mysterious "Advance Debt" (you know, the money the military overpays you for some reason, knowing full well they'll just take it back later) added up in the Entitlements column.  An $11,000 LES is a sight to behold.

In case you ever find yourself in this situation, here's my advice: 

--> Settle your travel as quickly as possible: inprocessing at the next duty station is the only thing that can "find you in the system" again.  And be the Squeaky Wheel in the Finance office, or else you're never going to get the grease.  (My husband worked in Finance, so I'm not just ripping on them here.  All they deal with all day long is problems and people screaming in their face, and they grow immune to it.  Be polite but insistant, and make sure that you're keeping track of what's happening with your pay.  The second they file your paperwork, they're on to the next soldier's problem, and they don't always remember to follow up and make sure everything went through for you; consider that your job, and you'll avoid sitting around for weeks and weeks with no change to your status.)

--> And have money saved up for emergencies, just in case.  I also know people who PCSed and got entered into the system as the wrong rank, which can mean a substantial difference in what you're expecting to get. 

--> Also it helps to have your emergency money readily accessible: ours was in a brand new stateside account for which we hadn't yet gotten an ATM card, so we stupidly had to pay for a wire transfer. 

--> I also think it can't hurt to know how your Army Emergency Relief system works (I'm sure the other branches have something similar with a different name.)  If we had known they'd pay our bills but not our groceries, we would've made different financial decisions those three months.  We thought we were being responsible by continuing to pay for major things that would affect our credit score, but those are the things we could've gotten help with.

Finance headaches can be major woes, but a little bit of knowledge helps.  We had no idea there was such a thing as "falling out of the system," and I hope none of you ever have to deal with this.  But if you do, maybe my experience can help you be more prepared.

Now go hug your local Finance people and let them know that we understand they do things right 99 times out of a hundred.  They only ever hear about the one time they don't...

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