If a long-distance moving company will only give you a non-binding estimate for your move, you should be wary. Some unscrupulous long-distance moving companies make extra money by quoting you a low, non-binding price for your move and then charging extra when you arrive at your destination and pick up your items. A mover service that offers a binding estimate is a safer choice because they guarantee the price of your move. To help you avoid surprises on moving day, here's a guide to what a binding estimate is and why you should select long-distance movers that offer them.

Non-Binding Estimates Can Lead to Surprise Charges

When long-distance movers give you a non-binding estimate, it's typically based on a rough assessment of the weight of your items and the distance the moving truck needs to travel in order to get to your destination. If your items weigh more than expected or if the moving truck has to take a circuitous route to your destination due to circuitous weather, you'll end up owing more money to the moving company than you expected — this can land you in serious trouble if you're moving on a tight budget.

Because of the risk that you'll be charged extra for your move, it's not recommended to use long-distance movers that only offer non-binding estimates.

Binding Estimates Guarantee a Price, but Only for Items Listed in Your Contract

Binding estimates guarantee the price of your move — you simply pay the amount on the contract when you arrive at your destination and retrieve your items. However, there is a caveat: a binding estimate is only guaranteed as long as you don't try to ship items that weren't part of the estimate. Ask your long-distance movers to provide you with a ledger of all the items included in your move — you need to double-check that all of your belongings are on the list before you agree to the estimate.

Double-checking the list of items to be move is vitally important when you receive a binding estimate. If you try to add additional items to your shipment or if the moving company forgot to list some of your belongings in the estimate, your binding estimate is no longer guaranteed. When the move occurs, the moving company will likely convert your moving fee to a non-binding estimate and charge you based on weight and distance instead, which can cause an unexpected increase in your moving costs.

Not-to-Exceed Estimates Set a Maximum Price for Your Move

Some long-distance movers offer an additional type of estimate called a binding not-to-exceed estimate. This is the maximum price you'll pay for your move. If either the weight of your items or the distance the moving truck travels in order to get to your destination is less than estimated, you'll pay a lower price based on the actual weight and distance.

While this can save you a bit of money if your items weigh less than estimated, it's not too different from a regular binding estimate in practice — long-distance movers are very good at judging the weight of items, so you are unlikely to see substantial savings. Additionally, these estimates have the same caveat as normal binding estimates. If you ship items that aren't part of your moving contract, then the estimate is no longer a guaranteed maximum price.

When you're looking for long-distance movers, select a company that offers binding or binding not-to-exceed estimates. You'll avoid unexpected charges and keep your move comfortably within your budget. Remember to double check your moving contract to ensure that all of your items are listed, and don't try to add any additional items on moving day. If you have unexpected additions, call the long-distance moving company and negotiate a new binding estimate for the extra items in order to avoid your estimate being converted to a non-binding estimate on moving day.