If you’re considering a military career, you’re probably wondering how much you can earn in the armed forces. The annual National Defense Authorization Act defines basic pay for service members. Military pay charts set a pay scale based on rank and years of service.
This guide will tell you how much you can expect to earn at each step of your military career, what the various pay grades mean, and how they differ across branches of the armed services. We’ll also cover allowances and other special pay for active-duty military personnel.
How Does Military Pay Compare to Private Sector Wages?
Military compensation is designed to keep pace with private-sector wages to ensure that recruitment goals are met.
Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal government compiles the Employment Cost Index annually. It adjusts military pay charts based on compensation in the private sector for jobs with comparable skills, education, and experience.
Just looking at a military pay chart, it may not seem like military personnel make much money compared to workers in the private sector.
After factoring in cost-of-living adjustments and housing allowances, military pay is competitive. Still, base pay only accounts for about three-fourths of total military income.
According to the job site Glassdoor, the average enlisted military member makes $60,266, including $44,000 basic pay and $16,000 additional pay in the form of allowances for housing, subsistence, and special duty. That’s substantially higher than the median salary of $54,000.
2022 Military Pay Chart
Military pay has been trending upward in recent years. Last year, the National Defense Authorization Act included a pay raise of 2.7 percent for active duty service members. Congress is proposing an additional 4.6 pay raise in 2023.
Below is the 2022 military pay chart showing monthly basic pay amounts broken down by pay grade and years of service:
Military Pay Grades
Service members are assigned a pay grade based on their rank. There are broad pay grade categories: Enlisted, Warrant Officer, and Commissioned Officer.
This format can be confusing because the same rank name may correspond to a different pay grade and role depending on the branch of service.
For example, a Lieutenant in the Navy holds the same rank and pay grade (O-3) as a Captain in the Army. A Navy or Coast Guard Captain is the same pay grade (O-6) as a Colonel in the Army or Marine Corps.
Enlisted Grades (E)
Enlisted service members are rank-and-file members of the armed services who went through basic training. They are responsible for carrying out combat and support functions of the military. Enlisted members make up about 80 percent of the armed forces.
An enlisted member can be promoted to a command position called a non-commissioned officer. Most enlisted grades stop increasing based on years of service after a given number of years because it is expected that the enlisted member will be promoted to a higher rank by that time.
Warrant Officer Grades (W)
Warrant officers are specialists with advanced training in a specific area of expertise, like intelligence or maintenance. Warrant officers make up a tiny portion of the armed forces but play an outsized role.
Concerning military pay grade, warrant officers occupy positions beneath commission officers and above non-commissioned officers.
Officer Grades (O)
Commissioned officers are military staff trained to lead in military academies, officer candidate schools, and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs at higher education institutions. Sometimes credentialed professionals like doctors and attorneys are directly commissioned from the private sector.
At the highest levels, officers in the military can earn incomes comparable to upper-level management and senior executives at private companies. The O grade corresponds to the executive civil service pay (EX) schedule.
Military pay charts don’t provide a complete picture of total military pay. On top of basic income, active-duty military personnel receives special pay, including allowances for food, housing, and other essential needs. Most allowances are non-taxable.
Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)
The federal government provides a monthly non-taxable allowance designed to offset housing expenses for active-duty military members not living in government housing. It’s based on primary pay grade, number of dependents, and the cost of civilian housing in the location of military service.
For example, a Rear Admiral with the US Coast Guard stationed in Santa Clara County, an expensive housing market in California, would receive a housing allowance of $5,928 per month. An army officer at the same pay grade stationed in Arkansas would only receive $1848.
Sample housing allowances can be found using the BAH calculator on the Department of Defense’s website.
Overseas Cost of Living Allowance (COLA)
The military provides an additional allowance to military members stationed overseas in places like Western Europe, where the cost of living is significantly higher than that of the United States. This allowance ensures a service member’s basic pay can purchase the same goods and services as it would in the continental US despite higher overseas prices.
The overseas COLA isn’t fixed. It’s routinely adjusted based on two surveys. The Living Pattern Survey captures how the average service member spends money, including the total expenditures of military families. The Retail Price Schedule indexes the price of 120 non-housing goods and services.
Those stationed in a high-cost area within the continental United States may also receive a taxable cost of living allowance. This only applies to military personnel living in an area that exceeds the average national cost of living by 8 percent.
Housing and related costs are excluded, but COLA indexes are calculated based on Military Housing Areas. About 6,000 military personnel in 21 Military Housing Areas are eligible for a COLA.
Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS)
Historically, the military has provided food for military members through rations in the field or commissaries on bases. In that tradition, the armed forces offer a modest allowance to offset the cost of food. This is only intended to cover the food costs of a service member, not their spouse or dependents.
The 2022 BAS rate is $407 per month for enlisted members and $280 for officers. Some members may receive double the standard BAS rate (BAS II) if they are stationed at a facility without adequate facilities to prepare food or a government mess. The current BAS II rate is $814 per month.
Family Separation Allowance (FSA)
Suppose a service member has to serve a tour of duty lasting longer than 30 days on a ship or at a station where family relocation isn’t authorized. In that case, they are entitled to a family separation allowance of $250 per month. They are not entitled to this if family relocation is authorized at government expense, but they decline to bring their family.
Family Supplemental Subsistence Allowance (FSSA)
If a service member struggles to support a large family on their basic pay and allowances, they can apply for FSSA assistance. Eligibility and allowance levels are determined by total household income and family size.
Special and Incentive Pay (S&I)
To maintain adequate staffing levels, the military provides special pay on top of basic pay for certain kinds of duty or extensions of a member’s deployment, known as S&I pay.
Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay (HDIP)
The Army offers a bonus of $150 per month on top of basic pay for certain types of duty regarded as more dangerous than others, including:
- Parachute jumping
- Handling explosives or other hazardous materials
- Servicing aircraft or missiles that contain toxic propellants
- Working around infectious diseases
A bonus of $250 per month is paid to soldiers who:
- Serve flight duty as aircrew members, or “flight pay.”
- Perform high-altitude jumps with low-opening parachutes.
Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay
All military members receive $225 monthly for each month they are stationed in a place where they risk coming under attack. The Department of Defense defines roughly 40 countries as IDP Areas. A commander can award imminent danger pay outside an IDP area if military members are exposed to or injured by hostile fire.
Assignment Incentive Pay
The military provides additional incentive pay when a member’s deployment is extended involuntarily. The amount may vary depending on the length of the extension. For example, a 12-month extension might be rewarded with an additional $900 per month, but a six-month extension may only amount to $600 monthly.
Personnel with particular language or intelligence skills might receive additional incentive pay. The cap on incentive payment is $3,000 a month, and it’s typically taxable income unless a person is deployed in an active combat zone.
Hardship Duty Pay (HDP)
Suppose a service member is assigned to a location with a substantially lower quality of life than that offered in the continental United States. In that case, they may be eligible for hardship duty pay. This may include poor access to services and amenities commonly available in the United States or unhealthy conditions.
Hardship pay is available in increments of $50, $100, or $150 per month, depending on the level of hardship. A more detailed explanation can be found in the Department of Defense Financial Management Regulations here.
Military pay can be confusing. While the military pay scale is a reasonably straightforward grid based on rank and years of service, the basic pay rate is only a portion of total military compensation. Basic allowances for housing, food, and living expenses are not listed on the pay charts and vary greatly depending on the service location.
In addition to the 2022 military pay charts, you should also take advantage of allowance calculators available on defense department websites to estimate your total compensation.
Overall, the pay and benefits of military service exceed those offered by the private sector, including free education through the GI Bill and health care through Veterans Affairs.