How Much Does a Military Officer Make? Real World Example 2019

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How much does a military officer really make? Can you make six figures in the military?

In 2018 I earned $94,185.28 as a captain (pay grade O-3) with 8 years of active duty service.

I paid $4,445.63 in Social Security taxes and $1,039.70 in Medicare tax. I paid no federal income tax due to being in a combat zone. $0.

I am a tax resident of Texas and have been since I entered active duty there in 2010. No state income tax for me.

In 2018 I was a captain (O-3) in the US Air Force. I entered active duty in June 2010, so I got a pay rise in June 2018 from a 6 year time in service captain to an 8 year captain.

I contributed $18,500 to my Roth TSP and received $3,295.54 in matching contributions from the government into my TSP under the Blended Retirement System (BRS).

How Much Money Do Military Servicemembers Make?

Here is a few month by month breakdowns of how much I made in 2018 as a captain in the US military. I won't go through all 12 months because it doesn't vary that much.

Pay can vary wildly even within the same branch of the military due to duty location.

BAH, or Basic Allowance for Housing, is an untaxed entitlement paid based on your duty location. It can range from $4000 per month in Hawaii to $900 per month in Oklahoma for the same pay grade.

I also was in a Combat Zone Tax Exclusion (CZTE) area for the entire year of 2018. That meant I paid no federal income taxes on my military income for all of 2018.

January Military Pay

BASE PAY5793FICA-SOC SECURITY-359.17
BAS254.39FICA-MEDICARE-84
HDP LOCATION150SGLI-29
COLA1490.07SGLI FAM/SPOUSE-5
REFUND DEBT29ROTH TSP-1622.04
MEAL COLLECTION-65.6
Total Income7716.46Deductions-2164.81

A couple of notes on January's pay. It was a pretty standard month. The base pay was for a 6 year time in service O-3. The BAS, or Basic Allowance for Subsistence, was a standard officer rate.

HDP, or Hardship Duty Pay, was based on my “deployed” location in the United Arab Emirates.

The refund debt line at $29 was due to my CZTE location. SGLI, or Servicemembers Group Life Insurance, offers $400,000 for $28 per month plus a $1 per month Traumatic Injury Protection coverage, for

I also have my wife's Tricare Dental insurance deducted automatically from the paycheck. Saves me having to pay one more bill. It's $11.10 per month until April 2018 it went up to $11.38 per month. That's $135.45 for all of 2018.

COLA, or Cost of Living Allowance, is paid daily and recalculated monthly. This rate was based on an O-3 not living in the dorms with 1 dependent in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

February Military Pay

BASE PAY5793FICA-SOC SECURITY359.17
BAS254.39FICA-MEDICARE84
HDP LOCATION150SGLI29
COLA1345.87SGLI FAM/SPOUSE5
REFUND DEBT29ROTH TSP1622.04
TOTAL INCOME7572.26TOTAL DEDUCTIONS2099.21

COLA was down this month because it's paid daily. February is the shortest month of the year so you should expect a lower COLA.

I guess the DFAC forgot to collect meals? No deduction for that this month.

March Military Pay

BASE PAY5793FICA-SOC SECURITY359.17
BAS254.39FICA-MEDICARE84
HDP LOCATION150SGLI29
COLA1490.07SGLI FAM/SPOUSE5
REFUND DEBT29ROTH TSP1622.04
MEAL COLLECTION68.95
Total Income7716.46Total Deductions2099.21

Meal collection back on. In the notes it has two meal collection lines so I think they found the missing February data and deducted it.

COLA back up to January levels.

Time-in-Service Increase LES

My time in service or longevity updated in May 2018. My years of service ticked over from 7 to 8.

My base pay for May was slightly higher than April thanks to the longevity update. The full base pay of an 8 year O-3 didn't kick in until June 2018.

Here is was my June 2018 paycheck looked like:

BASE PAY6083.40SOC SEC377.17
BAS254.39MEDICARE88.21
HDP LOCATION150SGLI29
COLA1442SGLI FAM5
REFUND DEBT29ROTH TSP1703.35
TOTAL ENTITLEMENTS7958.79TOTAL DEDUCTIONS2202.73

Total Compensation for a Military Officer

So on Dec 31, 2018, here was my total compensation as an 8 year captain the US Air Force:

  • Total Entitlement: $94,185.28
  • Total Tax (FICA Social Security + Medicare) Paid: $5,485.33
  • Total BRS Matching (5% per month): $3295.54
  • Entitlement + BRS Matching = $97,480.82
  • Entitlement + BRS matching – Total Tax = $5,485.33

So actual take home pay was $91,995.49 as an 8 year captain in the US military.

How Much Does a Military Officer Make an Hour?

Because we are salaried employees, calculating an hourly wage can be depressing. Also, work hours in a week can vary wildly, depending on whether you are deployed, in garrison, or TDY.

If you are working 12 hour shifts 7 days a week, that's 84 hours per week of work. If you are in garrison and working 0730-1630 Monday-Friday, you're only working 45 hours per week (40 hours if you take an hour for lunch every day).

But assuming an average of 2000 hours worked in a year, as an 8 year military officer in 2018 I made $45.50 per hour.

Save PDF Copies of Your LES

One tip I recommend for all military servicemembers, enlisted or officer, is to download a PDF copy of your Leave and Earnings Statement (LES) every month from MyPay and save it in Google Drive, Dropbox, or some other cloud storage solution.

By doing this, I can check for errors and keep records of all my military pay checks.

The military is notorious for withholding pay or deducting pay due to clerical/administrative errors. I keep a copy of all my LESs in PDF form so I have a record of what they have and have not paid me.

It has saved me a few times when I have been accused of being overpaid or underpaid.

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