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Choosing Your Movers

The amount of stuff you have and the distance of the move are determining factors for deciding whether or not you hire moving services. If your move is fairly small and not too far away, it might make more sense to handle it yourself.

Also, consider the timing involved: Moving during peak times—the usual school breaks—costs more, and homes with minimal access or apartments with lots of steps will add to the final cost.

Try to make your moving schedule flexible, so you don't end up rushing around before you pack a single box. Hire a moving company or contract to rent a moving truck at least eight weeks before your planned moving date. If you're planning a summertime move, you may have to move during the week. Weekends are the busiest times for moving, and the equipment you need may not be available.

Hiring Professional Movers

The simplest way to move is to hire professional moving companies to pack up your household and drive it away. If you do this, have several moving companies to come to your home and give you cost estimates. The estimates are generally not binding, but some movers will give binding estimates guaranteed to be your final cost. Although you will know exactly what your moving costs will be, the binding estimate could actually be higher than the cost based on the weight of your possessions. If, however, your goods end up weighing more than the mover estimates, the mover cannot charge you more.

Packing materials can add quite a bit to the cost of moving. Whether the movers are doing your packing or you are doing it yourself, try to get used boxes from the moving company—they should cost you about half as much as new. Or visit your local grocery store, department store or liquor store—it may have free boxes for the taking.

Although cost estimates are important, consider the reputation of the mover. Check with local consumer protection groups if you're making a short move. These agencies keep records of complaints that are filed against businesses. The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) regulates moves from one state to another. The agency can provide a summary of the most recent performance reports of the largest moving companies.

If you're moving to another state, the ICC requires the moving company to give you a document entitled "Summary of Information for Shippers of Household Goods." It details your rights and how to protect them. If you're moving within the state, check with the state attorney general for any regulations affecting the move.

Even when you use a professional mover, there are simple ways to cut costs. If possible, avoid the peak summer season. Minimize accessory charges—hooking up appliances and moving heavy furniture up more than one flight of stairs. Also, do as much of the packing as you can (leave expensive and fragile items to the movers for insurance reasons) and don't take nonessential items.

Moving Yourself

If you pack your possessions and move in a rented truck, you'll probably cut your moving bill in half. But the money you save does come with a price…more work.

Another downside is that you can only insure up to $25,000 for personal property, and claims are valid only for major damages (fire, accident, etc.). If your antique cut-glass bowl gets broken because you have to slam on the brakes, that's a packing problem not covered by most companies.

The day you reserve a moving truck is a good time to review your homeowner's insurance policy to see if it covers your possessions during a move. If not, you can buy cargo insurance through the truck-rental firm. Cargo insurance protects against accidental loss or damage to your possessions while in the rental truck.

Whichever method you choose, be sure to save receipts. If you are moving because of a new job, you may be able to write off all moving expenses at tax time. Check with your accountant.

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