About six years ago, the United States Air Force overpaid nearly 1,300 airmen stationed at Spangdahlem and Ramstein air bases in Germany after overseas housing allowance (OHA) miscalculations, Stars and Stripes reported at the time.
The overpayments ranged between $29,800 and $8 at Spangdahlem. Officials reportedly told the publication that most of the errors occurred because utilities were counted twice.
The Air Force ultimately pursued debt forgiveness for the entire group. Had the government suspected intentional fraud, the airmen could have been court-martialed, fined or imprisoned – so don’t take the airmen’s fortune here as inspiration to future shenanigans.
An extra $29,000 sounds like an eye-popping sum to overlook, but that’s only about $375 extra per paycheck. If you’re not checking your earning statements frequently, it’s easy for those overpayments to start adding up.
So how can you do your part to keep your OHA calculations accurate?
Here’s some tips for anticipating, tracking and submitting your expenses for OHA coverage.
Research Your Duty Station Ahead of Time
Once you know where you’ll be stationed, you can anticipate some of your expenses and begin researching what OHA may cover. Take some time to familiarize yourself with labor costs for home maintenance and remodeling, which may not be reimbursed.
The Department of Defense provides detailed lists of eligible expenses showing how to apply for reimbursement.
Know What You’re Eligible For and Follow the Ground Rules
OHA can include a monthly housing allowance, a monthly utility and maintenance allowance and a move-in housing allowance (MIHA).
Eligibility requirements for each are listed in the DoD’s Financial Management Regulation.
Here are some basics.
- Eligibility: To be eligible for OHA, you need an approved Form DD-2367, plus a lease or purchase document for the home. This residence should be the starting point of your daily commute to work, according to the Department of Defense. Your pay grade and location etermine how much your OHA payments might be, but you’ll only receive back either as much as you’re paying or as much as the maximum allowance for your grade and location.
- Owners: If you bought the property, you can estimate your total “rent” by dividing the purchase price of the property plus any repair loans or neighborhood fees by 120. The amount doesn’t include closing costs or personal expenses.
- Renters: You can claim the monthly housing allowance if you buy or rent property. Boats and trailers count as residential property. You can receive an allowance to offset the dock rental or berthing fees. If you are sharing a rental property, your total allowance is divided by the number of people sharing expenses, whether or not the housemates are service members.
- Exceptions: OHA won’t cover situations where your landlord intends to reimburse you when you move out, or if you’re living with family members or friends. You can’t use it for an investment property or to modify a secondary home. If you buy a whole apartment complex, you can only use it for the part you live in.
- Caveats: Consult your chain of command if you are renting for a fixed currency-exchange rate. Let them know if you need to pay advance rent or have a security deposit, a French habitation tax or a Danish mandatory refurbishment fee.
- Relocation: You have to be eligible for OHA to receive utility assistance or a MIHA. MIHA will cover some of the cost of moving into a new home, but not moving out of it. In most cases, the allowance will only cover one residence at each duty station. DoD conducts a survey of overseas moving expenses each year to determine reimbursement amounts. Additional moving assistance can cover rentals, security expenses in areas at high risk for terrorist activity, materials to prevent mosquito-borne illness and adding appliances or utilities to a rental home.
Hold On to Your Receipts
Keeping your moving and home expense receipts and invoices to simplify the OHA process. Make sure your receipts cover both utilities and repairs, as well as any approved relocation expenses.
Check Your Pay Stubs
Remember to check your leave and earnings statements frequently. Consult your chain of command as soon as possible if your OHA allowance looks higher or lower than expected.