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When moving long distance or across state lines, moving companies will either offer a non-binding or binding estimate on move day.

In short, a non-binding estimate is what your mover believes the cost of your move without guaranteeing a price. Your actual move cost will be determined on the actual services provided, not necessarily what the estimate says. A binding estimate means that whatever the estimate says, you pay. No matter if the service charges fall under or go over the total cost, that’s what you’ll pay.

While this is simply the shortened version of the differences between binding and non-binding estimates, if you keep reading, we’ll cover in more detail what each one means and the rights you have as a consumer.

Non-Binding Estimates

Non Binding Estimates

Non-binding estimates are the most common type of estimates when moving long distance or across state lines. When moving across state lines, your estimate will be based on the weight of your goods along with the services provided by the moving company.

A non-binding estimate is what your mover believes the cost of your move without guaranteeing a price. Non-binding estimates are not a bid or contract, and your mover is not bound by the estimated cost.

This means the actual cost of the move will likely change on the day of your move.

The actual cost will be calculated based on your mover’s tariff (A tariff is a document that contains all of a moving company’s rates, charges, and service terms for moving a customer’s household possessions).

Federal law requires your mover to collect the charges based on its tariffs, regardless of what your mover writes in its non-binding estimates.

If you order additional services from your mover after your goods are in transit, the mover will collect the charges for those additional services when your shipment is delivered. You may also have to pay additional charges at delivery for impracticable operations performed by your mover.

Non-binding estimates must be in writing and clearly describe the shipment and all services provided. Any time a mover provides such an estimate, the amount of the charges estimated must be on the order for service and bill of lading related to your shipment.

When you are given a non-binding estimate, do not sign or accept the order for service or bill of lading unless the mover enters the amount estimated on each form it prepares.

Additional Requirements of Non-Binding Estimates

These requirements for non-binding estimates are directly from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Website on Estimating Charges

  1. Your mover is not permitted to charge you for giving a non-binding estimate.
  2. Your mover must provide reasonably accurate non-binding estimates based upon the estimated weight of the shipment and services required.
  3. Your mover must explain to you that all charges on shipments moved under non-binding estimates will be those appearing in your mover’s tariffs applicable to the transportation. If your mover provides a non-binding estimate of approximate costs, your mover is not bound by such an estimate.
  4. Your mover must furnish non-binding estimates without charge and in writing to you.
  5. Your mover must retain a copy of each non-binding estimate as an attachment to the bill of lading.
  6. Your mover must clearly indicate on the face of a non-binding estimate that the estimate is not binding upon your mover and the charges shown are the approximate charges to be assessed for the services identified in the estimate.
  7. Your mover must clearly describe on the face of a non-binding estimate the entire shipment and all services to be provided.
  8. If, before loading your shipment, your mover believes you are tendering additional household goods or requiring additional services not identified in the non-binding estimate, and you and your mover cannot reach an agreement, your mover may refuse to service the shipment. If your mover agrees to service the shipment, your mover must provide one of the following two estimates:
    1. Re-affirm the non-binding estimate.
    2. Negotiate a revised written non-binding estimate listing the additional household goods or services.
  9. Once your mover loads your shipment, your mover’s failure to execute a new estimate signifies it has reaffirmed the original non-binding estimate. Your mover may not collect more than 110 percent of the amount of this estimate at the destination for the services and quantities shown on the estimate.
  10. If you request additional services after the bill of lading is executed, your mover will collect the charges for these additional services when your shipment is delivered.
  11. If your mover must perform impracticable operations, as defined in its tariff, to accomplish the delivery of your shipment, your mover will collect the charges for these services when your shipment is delivered. However, charges for impracticable operations collected at delivery must not exceed 15 percent of all other charges due at delivery. Any remaining impracticable operations charges must be paid within 30 days after you receive the mover’s freight bill.

If your mover furnishes a non-binding estimate, your mover must enter the estimated charges upon the order for service and upon the bill of lading. Your mover must retain a record of all estimates of charges for each move performed for at least one year from the date your mover made the estimate.

How A Moving Company Can Scam You With A Non-Binding Estimate

The most common way a dishonorable moving company can scam you when moving across state lines with a non-binding estimate is this:

  1. The moving company purposefully under prices your move in order to get your business.
  2. As soon as your mover loads your items, they slap you with a new estimate with the “actual” weight of your goods that is much higher than the original estimate.
  3. The moving company holds your goods hostage unless you pay the new estimate.

Yes, if you read above, moving companies are legally allowed to hold your items until you pay for your move. Make sure you understand above what they can and can’t do.

If you feel like you may have been scammed, head over to:

How To Avoid This Common Moving Scam

  1. Get at least 3 quotes from other movers and compare estimates.
  2. Consider hiring with one of the major van lines (Atlas, Mayflower, Bekins, United, etc.)
  3. Research reputations online – If it’s obscure online of who the moving company is, don’t use them.
  4. If they seem a bit shady or unprofessional and attract you with a low price, don’t hire them.
  5. Fully understand the requirements above on Non-Binding Estimates.

It is very important when hiring a moving company, to choose a moving company who is licensed and has a good reputation online for moving long distance.

Make sure when checking reviews online, the moving company shows strength in moving long distance specifically.

Binding Estimates

Binding Estimates

Binding estimates are not as common as non-binding estimates. When moving across state lines, your estimate will be based on the weight of your goods along with the services provided by the moving company.

A binding agreement is a written agreement made in advance with your moving company which guarantees the total cost of the move based upon the quantities, conditions, and services shown on the estimate.

Your mover is allowed to charge you for providing a binding estimate. The binding estimate must clearly describe what’s being shipped and all the services provided.

With a binding estimate, you only pay the estimated amount at delivery. You cannot be required to pay any more or any less.

If you had the mover provide more services than stated in the estimate, your mover will collect the charges for those services when your shipment is delivered.

A binding estimate must be in writing, and a copy must be provided to you before you move.

If you agree to a binding estimate, you are responsible for paying the charges due by cash, certified check, money order, or cashier’s check.

The charges are due to your mover at the time of delivery unless your mover agrees, before you move, to extend credit or to accept payment by credit card.

If you fail to pay when your shipment is delivered, the moving company may hold onto your items and/or place your items in storage at your expense until the charges are paid for.

These requirements for non-binding estimates are directly from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Website on Estimating Charges

  1. Your mover must retain a copy of each binding estimate as an attachment to the bill of lading.
  2. Your mover must clearly indicate upon each binding estimate’s face that the estimate is binding upon you and your mover. Each binding estimate must also clearly indicate on its face that the charges shown are the charges to be assessed for only those services specifically identified in the estimate.
  3. Your mover must clearly describe binding estimate shipments and all services to be provided.
  4. If, before loading your shipment, your mover believes you are tendering additional household goods or are requiring additional services not identified in the binding estimate, and you and your mover cannot reach an agreement, your mover may refuse to service the shipment. If your mover agrees to service the shipment, your mover must do one of the following three things:
    1. Reaffirm the binding estimate.
    2. Negotiate a revised written binding estimate listing the additional household goods or services.
    3. Add an attachment to the contract, in writing, stating you both will consider the original binding estimate as a non-binding estimate. You should read more below. This may seriously affect how much you may pay for the entire move.
  5. Once your mover loads your shipment, your mover’s failure to execute a new binding estimate or to agree with you to treat the original estimate as a non-binding estimate signifies it has reaffirmed the original binding estimate. Your mover may not collect more than the amount of the original binding estimate, except as provided in the next two paragraphs.
  6. If you request additional services after the bill of lading is executed, your mover will collect the charges for these additional services when your shipment is delivered.
  7. If your mover must perform impracticable operations, as defined in its tariff, to accomplish the delivery of your shipment, your mover will collect the charges for these services when your shipment is delivered. However, charges for impracticable operations collected at delivery must not exceed 15 percent of all other charges due at delivery. Any remaining impracticable operations charges must be paid within 30 days after you receive the mover’s freight bill.
  8. Failure of your mover to relinquish possession of a shipment upon your offer to pay the binding estimate amount plus the cost of any additional services that you requested after the contract was executed, and the charges for impracticable operations, not to exceed 15 percent of all other charges due at delivery, constitutes failure to transport a shipment with “reasonable dispatch” and subjects your mover to cargo delay claims pursuant to 49 CFR part 370.