In Preparing to Leave Germany Part 1, I discussed a few options that spouses can do to assist with the PCS process. In response, Amy – one of our blog followers and former Schweinfurt spouse – shared some great advice. While I find each suggestion to be helpful, one tip in particular stuck out like a sore thumb – CONTRACTS.
As a military spouse, building a home and adapting to a new community has become second nature. Just like you, I am constantly being asked to pack. Then unpack. Move in. Move out. Say hello. Say goodbye. I have become accustom to knowing who our utility providers are, where to get a mobile plan, how to turn on and off our cable/internet and who to talk to about signing or terminating a lease. Simply put, being a military spouse requires me to be independent and resourceful when it comes to establishing the lifestyle we want to live. And thus far, I have done pretty well.
But now, I live in Germany and the rules have changed. Based on Amy’s great advice, I took it upon myself to do some investigative research. After consulting with the experts, here are some things I thought you should know…
As soon as you have orders, schedule an appointment with housing. Whether you reside in Army housing, government leased or private rental the housing department will become your best advocate. It is important to note that every contract is different and is linked to your personal lease. This is especially important for private renters who have a German contract. Housing will provide a termination notice to your landlord, explain your clear-out standards (ex: cleaning, paint, etc..), and help you decipher the utilities listed in your contract. If you need assistance, they will help you cancel your utilities and determine when your final bills are due. Last, but not least, they will help negotiate any unexpected issues that may arise with your landlord. Bottom line, housing exists to assist you. Take advantage of their services and use them accordingly!
This is where things get tricky and where people have gotten burned. According to the Schweinfurt Law Center, the same scenario occurs over and over…
A Soldier calls or visits their cell phone/internet provider to cancel their contract. Negotiations through broken English occur and they are told they are good to go. Or they PCS/ETS out of Schweinfurt and let their contract run out on the date it is set to expire without giving a termination notice. In both cases, the Soldier thought they were A-OK. However, a few months pass and the bills start to pile up. All of a sudden the Soldier is getting notice that their account has been turned over to collections and they have incurred a major hit on their credit report.
Don’t let this happen to you! It can be avoided.
- Check your contract now to see when it expires. In Germany you must give 90 days’ notice – in writing – of termination. If you do not meet this standard, the contract will automatically renew for one year. This is non-negotiable and you will be held responsible for payment whether you live in Germany or not.
- You can cancel your contract before the 90 day expiration date. Just note that you are still responsible for the remaining contract term. Canceling early ONLY guarantees that the contract will not be renewed after the termination date. Many Soldiers and family members have been duped into believing that a PCS, ETS or deployment will get you out of a contract. This is not true. Don’t fall victim to this line.
Every provider is different and I certainly don’t claim to know the intricacies of German contracts. But I can say with certainty that my husband and I got burned by our cell phone provider – located downtown – and had to learn the hard way. So to avoid being a victim, you might want to consider this small piece of advice.
If you are looking to terminate a mobile contract, you might want to start with the SIGAtelecome provider located in the PX. They do not offer landlines or internet contracts, but they do partner with all German mobile phone providers – Vodafone, T-Moble, Telecom and O2 – and their terms and conditions are in English. The best news is that SIGA can help you even if you already hold a contract is with a provider downtown. All associates are bi-lingual, so if you bring them your German contract they will help you translate your terms and conditions. In addition, they will write and send your termination letter for you and provide you with on-spot conformation. Recently, my husband and I have worked with them directly and have been very pleased.
You can also print out this handy flyer that ACS’s financial Readiness Program put together to help guide you through the process.
This information is dependent upon which banking facility you use. First step, schedule an appointment with your bank’s customer service liaison. Whether you bank locally at Andrews Federal Credit Union or Community Bank, both have representatives willing to assist.
Here are a few things you should know before walking through the door.
- If you purchased a car while living in Germany and it currently has lien on it (aka a loan through a stateside or German bank), you will need to request a “Permission to Ship” letter before coordinating with transportation to send your car stateside. Most of the time, this letter can be issued the same day as requested. Requests can be made by phone, email or in-person. To avoid any delays or issues, it is recommended that you request a letter as soon as you have orders. Having this letter in-hand when working with transportation will save you time and hassle in the long run.
- After you have canceled your utilities – power, water, trash, phone, internet, etc – you will need to coordinate with the bank to cancel your bills and direct deposits. Bring a list of your utilities so you can work directly with your customer service liaison to develop a termination plan in sync with all final bills. A minimum of two weeks’ notice is recommended. Be careful not to cancel any allotments that are linked to open loans. Be warned that unpaid bills will be considered delinquent and will impact your credit negatively.
- Ask your customer service liaison to check your account to ensure you don’t have any overdrafts or delinquencies. If you do, ensure that you clear these up before you leave the country. According to the Schweinfurt Legal Center, these penalties will follow you back to the States and debt collectors will track you down.
- Our local banking facilities have different requirements for members PCSing. Community Bank does require you to close your account before you PCS and Andrews Federal Credit Union does not.
In a nutshell, this is the important info you should know about your German contracts. The key takeaway here is to start early. Get your ducks in a row now so when it’s time to leave you don’t have any unexpected surprises. Make it your goal to leave Germany with a clean slate and clear conscience.
If you do encounter problems, try to schedule an appointment with the Schweinfurt Legal Office before you leave town. They have a full-time German legal assistance attorney who specialize in German law and is an expert in advocating for Soldiers and family members. Schedule an appointment and bring your contracts with you.
Amy – from someone who has been there done that – thanks for your great advice! Hopefully with this information our Soldiers and families will be able to avoid one less headache as they prepare for the big move.