Understanding Your Military Pay

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Congratulations on your enlistment or commissioning! Or, if you’ve been in for a while, thank you for your service! As a young officer myself, I know the pride and satisfaction I get from doing the mission and serving my country every day. It’s a very unique career field you’re in, so enjoy it and live it up while you can!

As part of your service to your country, Uncle Sam sees fit to send you some of the taxpayers’ hard earned money twice a month in the form of a direct deposit paycheck. This paycheck, from the Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS), arrives on the 1st and 15th of every month. If the 1st or 15th falls on a weekend or public holiday, you’ll be paid the first business day prior. If you bank with a military friendly bank, chances are you'll be paid the day prior to the scheduled payday.

Components of Military Pay

mypay-dfas-logoMilitary pay and benefits is made up of two major components and then many smaller entitlements. The biggest one is usually your basic pay, sometimes to referred to as base pay. According to militarypay.defense.gov,

Basic pay is the fundamental component of military pay. All members receive it and typically it is the largest component of a member's pay. A member's grade (usually the same as rank) and years of service determines the amount of basic pay received.

Basic pay is also usually the largest taxable component of your pay. That means that even though you're being paid with taxpayer money, you still have to pay taxes. Bummer.

The second largest component of your military pay is usually your Basic Allowance for Housing, or BAH. Whether you receive BAH or not depends on whether you live on base, off base, or in on base privatized housing. If you live off base or in on base privatized housing, you will usually receive BAH. If you live in government quarters, such a dorms, you will not receive BAH. BAH can often be up to 40% of a servicemember’s take home pay. An additional benefit of BAH is that it’s not taxed.

There are many other allowances that members may receive. An extremely common allowance is Basic Allowance for Subsistence, or BAS. This is meant to offset the cost of food for the servicemember and his/her family. militarypay.defense.gov says that:

Because BAS is intended to provide meals for the service member, its level is linked to the price of food. Therefore, each year it is adjusted based upon the increase of the price of food as measured by the USDA food cost index. This is why the increase to BAS will not necessarily be the same percentage as that applied to the increase in the pay table, as annual pay raises are linked to the increase of private sector wages.

Finally, there are Special and Incentive Pays. These are designed to improve recruiting and retention as well as compensate servicemembers for hazardous or difficult tasks and assignments. Some of these include Flight Pay (for pilots and aircrew), Hostile Fire Pay/Imminent Danger Pay (for those serving in a combat zone), and many others. You can find a complete list here: http://militarypay.defense.gov/pay/SI/

Your military pay is recorded on a paystub known as a Leave and Earnings Statement, or LES. An LES is issued every month and shows you how much money you’re being paid and how much is coming out for taxes and other deductions. You can access your most recent 12 LESs on myPay.

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