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Military Pay and Allowances Explained

Military Pay and Allowances Explained

To understand military pay and allowances,  you must first understand Basic Pay. Military members are offered Basic Pay for their time served, this is the salary for those in uniform.

Most other payments above and beyond Basic Pay are either “special pay”, allowances, “incentive pay” or similar. Basic Pay does not look like much for junior enlisted troops, but when you factor in all the other pay options (see below) those numbers add up quickly.

Two basic things determine your Basic Pay; your rank and time spent serving.  The longer you serve, the higher your basic pay can go, up to an established cap for each rank. Basic Pay is calculated every month, it is taxable and payable twice per month.

How Much Basic Pay Do I Get?

To learn what your current military pay might be as a new recruit, a mid-career service member, or someone about to reenlist for the final time, you’ll need to consult a military basic pay chart (see below) which shows the pay rates for each rank on a sliding scale from new recruit to those who are about to retire.

For example, a recruit who hasn’t served a day will earn just above $2 thousand a month at the time of this writing, and E-9 at the top of the enlisted ranks with 20 years of service earns over $7 thousand per month at press time.

Read more: Military Basic Pay Chart 

Military Benefits: Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)

Basic Allowance for Housing or BAH is offered when you are stationed at a military base but do not live in on-base housing.

  • In some cases, you may live on-post or on-base and are paid BAH anyway; this is typically due to the nature of the public-private military housing arrangements made at each base, where those arrangements include paying rent for the on-base properties.
  • BAH is not intended to offset your housing costs fully, but it can help with a large portion of the expense depending on your location.
  • BAH is established for each housing market based on various factors including, but not limited to, costs of the local rental market, your rank, family size, and inflation.

Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA)

BAH is a stateside benefit; a similar allowance is paid to those stationed overseas. Known as the Overseas Housing Allowance or OHA, it is paid to military members assigned overseas who do not live in on-base or government housing.

Applying for a Housing Allowance

When reporting to a stateside military assignment, contact the base housing office as soon as possible to learn your rights and responsibilities and how to apply for BAH at that base.

  • Often, this information is provided during your in-processing appointments, but many bases require you to report to the housing office as early as possible, regardless.
  • If you are assigned to an overseas base, apply with the gaining base housing office with DD Form 2367, Individual Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA) Report.
  • Most bases have a rule that you should check in with the housing office before committing to any lease or other legally binding agreement, whether stateside or overseas.

Read more: Military Housing Allowances

Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS)

This tax-free benefit is paid to troops both stateside and overseas and is meant to offset the cost of food while serving. At one time, you had to receive authorization from your gaining command to be paid BAS, but since 2002, all service members have received it. At press time, the BAS rates are:

  • Enlisted service members: $452.56/month
  • Officers: $311.68/month

The numbers above are subject to change at any time due to legislation, changes in federal policy, or other factors. They are provided here as a reference only.

Basic Needs Allowance (BNA)

This is a taxable benefit paid to active-duty service members with dependents. Your gross household income must be under 130% of federal poverty guidelines to qualify. This allowance is optional and service members can turn it down even if the chain of command identifies them as eligible for BNA.

Family Supplemental Subsistence Allowance (FSSA)

This Defense Department program is designed to offset food costs in situations where the service member’s household income is 130% of federal poverty guidelines. FSSA is available for those with one or more dependents living in their households while serving overseas.

Cost of Living Allowance (COLA)

The Department of Defense explains COLA as “a taxable, supplemental allowance designed to help offset expenses for Service members assigned to expensive CONUS areas.” A high-cost area, for this benefit, is one where the cost of living exceeds 108% of the national average.

There is a similar version for overseas locations, not surprisingly known as Overseas COLA or OCOLA.

However, unlike the stateside version, OCOLA is not taxable. According to the DoD, it is “designed to offset higher prices of non-housing goods and services OCONUS and equalize purchasing power with members stationed in CONUS.”

This benefit is not a fixed amount; it changes with the exchange rate and may be applied differently based on the exchange rate from one payday to the next.

Other Military Allowances

  • A Military Clothing Allowance is offered to help offset the initial purchase and replacement purchase of uniforms and accessories.
  • Troops relocating to a new military assignment may qualify for a Dislocation Allowance reimbursement of some PCS and moving expenses.
  • Some assigned to unaccompanied tours may qualify for a Family Separation Allowance if they have a spouse and/or dependent children who cannot accompany them on the military assignment.

Military Special Pay, Incentive Pay

There are various Special Pay and Incentive Pay options for some who serve.

  • Hardship Duty Pay is offered to those performing military duty where “the standard of living is significantly below that of CONUS,” according to the DoD.
  • Language Proficiency Pay may be offered to those with duty-related foreign language skills. This pay is not automatic, you must pass a proficiency test and be approved by your command to receive it.
  • Hostile Fire Pay/Imminent Danger Pay is offered to those in combat zones or designated areas with elevated risk.
  • Assignment Incentive Pay is offered to encourage troops to accept extended tours or “unusual assignments.”
  • Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay may be offered to those in career fields with elevated risk; if you must parachute or perform work on an active flight deck (or similar,) you may qualify.

About the author

Editor-in-Chief | + posts

Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.