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Military Finance: Advance Pay, Special Pay & Bonuses

Military Finance: Advance Pay, Special Pay & Bonuses

Written by Veteran.com Team

When it comes to military finance, there are several different ways to get paid as a uniformed service member. You’ll receive your basic pay–the very minimum you earn while serving–but also you will be eligible throughout your military career for advance pay, special pay, and bonuses.

While many service members may draw all of the above, many have unique combinations of these bonuses and other offerings. Some qualify for more money because they must perform hazardous duty, others qualify for certain bonuses because they are professionally fluent in more than one language.

Still others may qualify for special pay because their jobs are in high demand–pilots are just one group of military people compensated more because of special skills.

Find the current 2023 military pay rates here.

» MORE: Veterans can buy a home with $0 down

Advance Pay

The first thing we’re examining here is also one of the most common types of military pay above and beyond your basic pay not associated with housing, separate rations, or other entitlements officially known as “allowances”. Allowances are not like special pay and bonuses (see below) in that they are not subject to federal taxes.

Advance pay is not an allowance, but nor is it “special pay” with specific criteria requiring certain conditions to be met such as a re-enlistment, remaining in a specific short-handed career field, etc. Instead, advance pay is something all service members may be entitled to apply for in connection with a permanent change of station move.

Essentially an interest-free loan on your paycheck, you are required to repay the loan with a series of automatically deducted payments (the DoD takes the funds out of your paycheck before you get it) that can stretch over a full year.

Some people believe advance pay is a bad idea, noting that the amount you must pay per month over the repayment year will reduce your monthly cash flow.

Think It Over First

Those already on tight budgets may need to consider that detail before making the plunge. But it’s not always a bad move to take advance pay–an interest-free loan is cost effective if you plan on using the money you are borrowing from yourself wisely.

One such use? Offsetting the expense of relocating to another assignment, especially if you have to move family members.

Some troops are assigned from cities with a typical cost-of-living into a more expensive region. Imagine being reassigned from an Air Force Base in the midwest to one in Southern California. Advance pay could be a big help in making purchases associated with the relocation, getting a vehicle up to emissions standards in the new state, etc.

Advance pay is best when you have a plan and a financial goal to inform your decision to borrow from your own paycheck.

Advance Travel Pay  

One type of advance pay is specifically limited to official travel. According to the Department of Defense, advance travel pay is authorized for those who do not yet have a government travel card . Advance travel payments may be authorized for certain allowances including per diem, and the Dislocation Allowance.

This is applicable, “if the Member is not a Government Travel Charge Card (GTCC) holder or an advance is not specifically prohibited in the orders.” Those who do have a government travel card are NOT authorized for such advance travel pay.

If a member is a card holder, the GTCC must be used for PCS travel and advances are not authorized.

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Special Pay

Aside from your basic pay and advance pay, many in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Space Force and Coast Guard may qualify for special pay offered by their branch of service as a retention and recruiting incentive.

For example, troops who pull “hardship duty” may be authorized Hardship Duty Pay , typically offered to those who are assigned overseas in “hardship locations” which, according to the Defense Finance And Accounting Service official site, where living conditions are “substantially below the standard most members in the continental United States would generally experience.”

The DoD has a set of criteria for special pay and there are often minimum time-on-station requirements. For example, for Hardship Duty Pay, the qualifying criteria includes:

  • Serving on PCS in a designated area, or serving in a temporary duty or deployed status for over 30 consecutive days in a designated area
  • Those who relocate to a designated area as part of a permanent change of station move are eligible from the day of arrival
  • Troops who are TDY in such areas are not eligible during the first 30 days of consecutive service at the designated location

Not all special pay has those specific instructions, but it’s easy to see that the DoD prefers specific qualifying duty, dates, and other conditions in order to draw some special pay. Not all special pay is hardship-related. Some is offered for hazardous duty, and some may be offered as an incentive to accept a specific military assignment.

» MORE: See how your military service can get you into a home for $0 down

Recruiting and retention is very important in the military, and that is one reason why the DoD offers bonuses to those enlisting or commissioning into critical career fields, and to those who are currently serving with hard-to-replace skills.

When it comes to recruiting bonuses, a new enlistee may earn a bonus for signing up for a specific career field or MOS , but there are also “quick ship” bonuses paid to those who are willing to go to basic training fairly quickly after making the commitment. The U.S. Army Recruiting official site offers qualifying new recruits as much as $12,000 “just for shipping to training within 30 days of enlistment.”

And then there are the “retention bonuses” aimed at those who are already serving with an eye toward keeping them motivated to re-enlist and/or remain in the career field. These service members include pilots, military doctors, linguists, explosive ordnance disposal techs, and many others qualify for these incentives every year.

Qualifying Service Or Service Commitments Required

These bonuses are usually quite specific and don’t apply in an “open/general” way. A good example? You may be allowed to receive a Foreign Language Proficiency Bonus for example, but in most cases you may have to take a test showing your capacity to use other languages professionally.

Others may qualify for a Selective Retention Bonus which is paid to those who agree to re-enlist for a specific qualifying amount of time. These bonuses are usually paid to those in career fields that are difficult to maintain staffing levels for; a good example of this type of pay is offered to Army soldiers in hard-to-fill MOS slots who agree to re-enlist for a minimum of three years.

Such bonuses may be paid in flat-rate, lump sum payments and it’s important to remember that military bonuses are considered income by the IRS and are subject to taxation.

» MORE: Check official requirements for a VA loan

Where To Get Information About Advance Pay, Special Pay, And Bonuses

In some cases, if you qualify for a bonus or for special pay, you’ll be informed by your command support staff–especially if you must test for proficiency pay. The tests required are not optional, and scheduling will be something you’ll need to arrange with your orderly room or the organization responsible for scheduling and processing such tests.

In most cases, the base Finance Office will have all the information you need, but at a higher level the Defense Accounting and Finance Service official site has a wealth of general information about all forms of military pay and the requirements for drawing it.

About The Author

Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News

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Veteran.com is a property of Three Creeks Media. Neither Veteran.com nor Three Creeks Media are associated with or endorsed by the U.S. Departments of Defense or Veterans Affairs. The content on Veteran.com is produced by Three Creeks Media, its partners, affiliates and contractors, any opinions or statements on Veteran.com should not be attributed to the Dept. of Veterans Affairs , the Dept. of Defense or any governmental entity. If you have questions about Veteran programs offered through or by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, please visit their website at va.gov. The content offered on Veteran.com is for general informational purposes only and may not be relevant to any consumer’s specific situation, this content should not be construed as legal or financial advice. If you have questions of a specific nature consider consulting a financial professional, accountant or attorney to discuss. References to third-party products, rates and offers may change without notice.

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Military Pay Calculator

Military.com | By Tiffini Theisen

The Military Pay Calculator is the perfect tool to help you figure out how much you make as a U.S. military service member. While knowing your basic military pay rate may be simple enough, it can be more challenging to understand how certain allowances, including Basic Allowance for Housing ( BAH ), affect what you take home each month.

About the Military Pay Calculator

With a few taps or clicks, the Military.com Military Pay Calculator can help you easily determine how much you will earn before taxes, now and in the future. Getting ready to move? Factor in the BAH for your new ZIP code. Getting promoted or deployed ? Adjust your information, and learn what you'll take home.

To begin using the Military Pay Calculator, first choose your status: whether Active Duty, National Guard or Reserve. Then scroll down to find your current pay grade: E1-9, W1-5, or O1-10. "E" stands for enlisted, "W" for warrant officer and "O" for commissioned officer. Finally, indicate your number of years of service in the dropdown menu.

Tap "Next: Allowances" and enter your ZIP code at the top. Then, check the boxes to choose Housing Allowance (BAH), short for Basic Allowance for Housing. This monthly allowance may be in place when military housing is not provided, depending on geographic duty location and other factors.

The next box, COLA (CONUS), stands for Continental United States Cost-of-Living Allowance and applies to locations where the cost of living is 8% or more higher than average. If your location isn't one of these areas, you may check the box, but the amount will remain at 0.

Check the Dependents box if you have any, and the calculator will adjust your pay to reflect this.

Next, if you receive any of the following, check the boxes for: Clothing Allowance, Family Separation Pay and Subsistence Allowance (BAS) which is short for Basic Allowance for Subsistence. BAS offsets the cost of food and is paid to service members who aren't provided regular meals or whose housing lacks access to adequate kitchen facilities. Remember: even if you regularly receive BAS under normal circumstances, it may not be a part of your final paycheck if you are deployed or on a training rotation away from home.

The final box in this section allows you to manually input any other allowance you receive.

Special Pay

Some military members who face unusual duty conditions, including service that may be particularly difficult or dangerous, may qualify for special pays on top of their basic pay. This is an additional monthly or annual sum added to your compensation.

For example, extra money is added to the paychecks of military members who are on diving or parachute duty; assigned to a flight deck; or on assignments designated as hazardous or a hardship, or simply outside the scope of normal duty.

You can also earn extra money for serving in a medical capacity or​​ brushing up on a foreign language, among other incentive categories.

In this section of the calculator, first select your service from the dropdown menu, and then check any of the boxes that apply to you.

Finally, tap View Summary to get an overview of all your calculator selections. You will also see all your totals in the light blue box.

How Much Does the Military Pay?

The best way to figure out how much the military pays is to use the military pay calculator or check military pay charts . If you're not yet in the service, start by looking at E-1, which will show the amount you might be paid during Basic Training, depending on your circumstances.

How much you get paid over time will change based on your rank, location, job and other factors.

Related : Military Ranks: Everything You Need to Know

About Military Pay

Service members receive a base salary set by law. Each year, Congress approves a military pay raise to account for inflation -- typically between 1% and 3%. The amount is tied to each person's rank, or "pay grade," and is the minimum amount a service member can expect to receive before taxes and any other deductions.

Troops also typically receive a variety of allowances on top of their military pay. Those can include Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) based on location, a clothing allowance and more.

Military members may also receive other special pay amounts tied to their specific military jobs or deployment . For example, troops might receive Hazardous Duty Pay, Imminent Danger Pay and Jump Pay.

The military pay calculator factors in all of those pays in one easy-to-use place.

Which Military Branch Pays the Most?

Basic military pay amounts are set by law and are the same for each branch of the military. Pay amounts are tied to pay grade. While the different services often customize the names of their ranks, all of those ranks are tied to that same pay grade chart.

Service members do, however, receive fluctuating pay based on their location, special skills, family size or risk associated with their job. For example, a deployed Special Forces soldier with a family stationed in a high cost-of-living area will bring home a lot more pay in the form of allowances and special pays than an unmarried soldier of the same rank with a desk job in Oklahoma. Both, however, will have the same base pay.

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