The Costs of Geo-Baching & BAH Payments: 4 Considerations About Voluntary Separations For Military Households
Frequent moves and the possibility of separation are facts of life for military families. Oftentimes, military relocation is involuntary. For instance, when the service member is sent to an overseas location where families aren't allowed. There are times, however, when service families choose to live apart when the service member goes to the new assignment, but the family chooses to stay behind. This practice is known as geo-baching. While geo-baching can reduce housing allowance amounts, it can also provide increased stability for the entire household. Learn more about the pros and cons of geo-baching to decide if it's the right choice for your military household.
What Is Geo-Baching?
Geo-baching happens when a service member receives PCS orders that include an accompanying family, but the rest of the household decides to remain near the old base. It's not the same as PCS orders to an unaccompanied location.
With unaccompanied PCS orders, the military made the decision for the service member to independently relocate, usually for a short-term assignment. The family will continue to receive BAH where they live, and the service member will receive military quarters. With geo-baching, which is a voluntary choice by the service member, the situation is more complicated.
To geo-bach, the service member must request geo-bach status by filling out a form (the form title varies per military branch). The PCS orders need to be updated to indicate that the member is geo-baching. This allows the dependents to continue receiving medical care and child care at the old base.
Most families consider it a hardship to be apart. Voluntary separation can be a challenging decision that military homes make for a variety of potential benefits. The reasons might include:
- Allowing children to stay in the same school.
- Allowing the spouse to continue in a career at the old location.
- For assignments of a year or less, avoiding an extra move.
- For homeowners, avoiding a forced home sale. Qualifying for a VA loan often requires service members to stay at the property for a year.
- For OCONUS assignments, avoiding the difficulty of taking small children overseas.
- Receiving on-going family health care at the current location.
Geo-Baching and BAH
There are changes in the BAH for spouse when geographically separated. In geo-baching, the normal BAH scenario is for the service member to receive BAH at the rate for the new location. The main reason for this policy is to prevent families from choosing their location based on how much BAH they'll get. They receive the BAH of the new assignment, even if the old one was a high cost of living in a high BAH state such as California. However, the changes are less significant for households with dual military BAH.
Sometimes the geo-baching service member can live in base housing and either forego BAH or pay a fee to live there. Policy varies, but some bases are phasing out these options, so most geo-bachelors should be prepared to arrange off-base housing.
While BAH of the new location is the default, the service member can fill out a waiver form requesting an exemption so they can receive BAH at the family's location. Exemptions are at the discretion of the military and are not automatic. A common reason for an approved exemption is for the family to access medical care. Another is where the service member will soon be forward deployed or will be spending a lot of time away from the new location.
Other Costs of Geo-Baching
Even if the BAH is as high or higher at the new location, geo-baching is a choice that generally costs money. It's a lot like having a second home. There are two mortgage or rental payments. There are two sets of furniture, two sets of household supplies and two sets of utility bills. There's the cost of travel for visits. One BAH isn't likely to cover all those costs, and the military doesn't provide any extra funding to help with the expenses of maintaining a second household.
Can Geo-Baching Be Worth It?
Geo-baching is generally hard on a family, and not only because of the changes to BAH for spouses when separated. There's also the difficulty of being apart and having the military spouse manage the household alone. Nonetheless, the short-term challenges of voluntary separation can sometimes be outweighed by the long-term benefits.