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How the Moving Company Sets Your Estimate

Warning: This article uses the word "tariff."
But don't worry, it's not the same tariff that bored you to tears in your junior high history class – it's simply the way moving companies charge you for your move, and it's a key part of understanding your moving estimate.

A tariff is just a menu of services that the mover offers, along with the prices that the mover charges. The mover is required to file its tariff with the U.S. Department of Transportation to ensure a level of uniformity across the moving industry.
Today's tariff is not your father's tariff.

Prior to January 2008, the tariff was an industry-mandated list of charges – everyone had the same tariff. So when you got a quote for a long-distance move, it was based off of the tariff that all other movers used. 

However, in an effort to spur competition, governments allowed companies to ‘discount' the tariff. So in essence, the lowest price was the one with the biggest discount.

As the government aimed to dismantle deregulation in the moving industry even further, it eventually did away entirely with the industry-mandated tariff, requiring individual moving companies to file their own.

The tariff is still an intricate part of the lexicon of getting a moving estimate for your move, and it's important to understand this document and how relates to your estimate.

Tariff Basics:

That estimate will vary depending on the type of move you are doing and the type of moving company you hire.

Local moves (generally under 50 miles) are usually estimated by the number of crew members needed to complete the job at a flat hourly rate per crew (e.g. 3 men at $125 per hour). Long-distance moves are priced by the weight of your shipment, and the types of services you request.

A local move estimate should be fairly straight-forward, but a long-distance estimate is more complicated.

On moves out of state, if you are not sure what you are taking with you and what you are leaving behind, the mover can give you a non-binding estimate with a guaranteed discount.  However, if you know exactly what you are panning to move, ask for a guaranteed price or a "Not-To-Exceed" Price, and make sure you get the moving quote in writing.  (For moves within the state, ask your moving company representative about the rules and regulations in your particular state.  Not all states allow guaranteed prices or discounts.)      
A move from state to state is regulated by the Federal Department of Transportation, Surface Transportation Board. The price of moving interstate is fairly standard and is normally calculated on a combination of the shipment's weight and miles traveled. However, some movers base their charges on the volume or cubic feet the shipment takes up in the moving van. 

There is usually more leeway on price when moving interstate. Movers can discount their rates and/or give you a guaranteed price or "Not-To-Exceed" Price.  Some states require that you be given specific literature pertaining to the rules and regulations for movers within that state.  If you are moving interstate, read the federally mandated publication, "Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move" and the "Ready to Move" brochure.  Movers must give customers copies of these booklets.

Some Charges You Might Encounter on Long-Distance Moves:

Long-distance move estimates should have the charges for each type of service requested clearly broken out on your estimate. Here are how the items are broken out – ask about any item or charge that you don't understand, and remember that most items are negotiable. 

  • Packing charges include carton cost, labor to pack, and unpack. If mattress cartons and certain other large cartons are needed, the estimate will most often include unpacking the boxes – at your new home, the mover will need to set up your beds, and will have to unpack those cartons.
  • Transportation charges include an origin and destination service charge. These charges are determined by the weight of the shipment, and the origin and destination. Labor costs vary in different areas. Because the origin and destination service charge is primarily to help with these costs, they will not be the same in each location.
  • Examples of third party charges are appliance servicing, crating of fine items, disassembly and reassembly of certain exercise equipment, and outdoor play equipment. (These types of services are not generally performed by the mover and an outside company is hired to complete them; these charges are typically just pass-through charges from the third-party company to your movers.
  • Due to the very high cost of fuel, the trucking industry in general has been levying fuel surcharges. It's based on a percentage of your transportation costs and varies from company to company. It's generally not negotiable.
  • Insurance-related surcharges became necessary because of the high costs of trucking insurance. The insurance surcharge on your moving estimate does not offer protection against lost or damaged goods; it allows the carrier to off-set some of the trucking insurance costs that they pay the moving trucks that actually transport your household goods.
  • Valuation charges, or what some might call "moving insurance," are what protect you against lost or damaged goods, and they are based on the dollar amount on your shipment. Moving companies are required by law to have a minimum of valuation protection. The coverage for local moves is commonly 30-60 cents per pound per article but varies state by state; for interstate moves it is 60 cents per pound per article.  So, if you're using a long-distance mover and your 20-pound TV is destroyed in transit, you would be entitled to $12.00 for the replacement of the TV.

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In the Press

A Moving Company's Moving Story
June, 2012

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