We Pay So Little For Those Who Stake Their Lives For Us
Our nation's service members risk their lives for our safety, but their compensation is barely minimum wage to start.
“How much does military service pay?” Such a simple question, and yet so complicated. And often the question really means, “Will I make enough money to do what I want?”
Military pay is made up of a variety of pay and allowances. New military members usually receive only the most common pays and allowances. This always includes base pay and Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS) and may include Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)
Junior military pay is enough to survive, but there’s not a lot left over. Bethany Pettus, a military spouse, describes it like this: “A young couple living on a junior service member’s income can afford all their needs and a few wants.”
Everyone in the military receives base pay determined by their rank and amount of time they have been in the military. There are two tiers of military pay: enlisted and officer.
A brand new enlistee is an E-1, and an E-1 with less than four months of service earns $1449.00 (2016) per month. This amount increases with promotions and years in service, with an average enlisted service member attaining the rank of E-3 and monthly base pay of $1837.00 (2016) after one year of service.
New officers are O-1, and the monthly pay for an O-1 is $2972.40 (2016). Most officers remain at that rate of pay until they reach 2 years of service.
Military pay is public record, voted each year by Congress, and published extensively. The most “official” place to see the yearly pay charts is at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). The DFAS is like the military’s payroll department.
Basic Allowance for Subsistence
Everyone in the military receives Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS). This is designed to offset some of the costs of feeding the military member. For those who are in training or doing a job where meals are provided, BAS may be deducted from the military member’s pay to pay for their meals.
BAS is $368.29 per month (2016) for enlisted members and $253.63 per month (2016) for officers.
Members with Dependents
New military members who already have dependents may be eligible for Basic Allowance for Housing. During basic military training, BAH is paid at an amount based upon the family’s location. Once the service member has finished training and is authorized to move his or her family, BAH is paid at an amount based upon the service member’s location. (There are odd exceptions, but this is the general rule.) After training, service members receiving BAH are responsible for their own housing expenses.
Because military pay is low for younger service members, BAH can be a large portion of their total compensation. Careful budgeting is essential to making it work.
The BAH rate varies based upon location and rank.
How Much Will Take-Home Pay Be
Every service member will have deductions for Social Security and Medicare taxes, plus federal income tax withholding, which will vary. Other deductions may include state taxes, Service members Group Life Insurance (SGLI), family dental premiums, Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) contributions, or a variety of other items.
For this reason, it is impossible to pinpoint how much pay a new service member will bring home in their twice-monthly paycheck.
It’s true that new military members do not make a lot of money.
However, their basic needs are met through housing and the subsistence allowance or meals as provided.
Once out of training, single members typically have adequate income to pay for some of their wants.But they still need to think carefully before spending. Big purchases, such as cars, can mess up a small budget.
Married Members Face Different Challenges
When Bethany Pettus married her husband, she moved to his location and struggled to find work. She says, “In our first, tiny, one bedroom apartment our only furniture was a box spring and mattress, a folding table and chairs, and a couple of shelves. We gradually added to this as we found good deals. We almost never went out to eat and I rarely did any shopping that wasn’t absolutely necessary.”
After all, sacrifice too is a big part of serving in the military.