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Military Pay Ranks and Pay Grade Information

If you are going through a divorce or other family law matter and you are dealing with issues of military pay (either for yourself or with a servicemember spouse), it is crucial that you understand how the military pays its members. Of course, if you don’t have a full grasp on this, it is important that you work with a family law attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced in military family law issues.

The first issue to know and consider is the military servicemember’s rank. The second important thing to understand is the important interplay between military rank and pay grade. Military rank has privileges. A military servicemember increases his or her rank as his or her level of responsibility increases, and thus, the servicemember’s amount of pay. Each branch of military service has their own rank structure based on the branch’s history of traditions. For purposes of looking at this in a uniform way, generally each rank in each branch provides a standardized pay grade. 

Enlisted members of the military generally have nine (9) pay grades, each with an E (for enlisted) in front of the pay grade, going from E-1, up to E-9. In the army, for example, a newly enlisted private is an E-1, while the highest enlisted rank, sergeant major is an E-9. 

Warrant officers have five pay grades, from WO-1 to WO-5. These are skilled, specialty officers who rank about the most senior enlisted rink but below the most junior commissioned officer rank. The air force has discontinued the use of warrant officers.

Commissioned officers have 10 pay grades, each with an O (for officer) in front of their pay grade, the lowest being an O-1, all the way up to O-10 (generally a four-star general or admiral). 

Leave and Earning Statements (LES)

A military member’s leave and earning statement (LES) contains a lot of important information, including the servicemember’s pay grade, their years of service in the military, their gross pay and other allowances/entitlements. 

Most military servicemembers’ gross pay includes their basic pay, their basic allowance for housing (BAH), and their basic allowance for subsistence (BAS). All servicemembers receive basic pay. All military members will also receive BAH or government provided housing. Additionally, military members will either receive BAS or government provided meals. Some military servicemembers also receive special allows. 

Basic Pay

Every military member receives basic pay with the amount that they receive dependent upon the military member’s pay grade, and then within the pay grade amount, the length of service that the member has served the military. Every time the military member puts in two additional years of service, he or she receives a longevity increase with a cap of pay based on a rank. The military pay chart can be found online and outlines the basic pay for every pay grade and years of service.

Basic pay is also granted an annual pay adjustment (also known as a cost of living increase, or COLA) which is linked to private sector wages and determined by the Employment Cost Index (ECI). These are across-the-board raises in January of each year, even if the military service member is not granted a promotion or put in an additional two years of service to earn a longevity increase.

Basic pay is shown and reflected in the military member’s Leave and Earnings Statement (LES) and it is taxable unless the military member is deployed, thus, this amount is generally reflected on a military member’s W-2 and tax return. 

Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)

This is an allowance granted to military servicemembers pursuant to 37 U.S. Code Section 403, when military members do not elect to live in government-furnished house quarters. This is designed to compensate military servicemembers for the cost of obtaining housing at their assigned duty station.

The amount of calculated BAH varies based on the duty station (i.e. the area’s cost of living), pay grade, whether the military servicemember has dependents (a spouse or children), among other factors. Generally eligible dependents are defined as a spouse (except a military spouse as they receive their own BAH allotment), unmarried minor children, incapacitated children of any age and unmarried children ages 21 through 23, but attending college. Dependents do not include family members for whom the member is not required to pay support such as a former spouse. When parents divorce, the custodial parent receives the BAH amount. 

A BAH-Differential (BAH-Diff) is an allowance paid to a military member who lives in military housing or has no spouse or children living with him or her but pays child support greater than the BAH-Diff amount. BAH-Diff is not equal to the difference between BAH at the with and without dependent rates, but was instead fixed at the difference between rates back in 1997 and then is subject to Cost of Living increases. 

BAH is reflected on a member’s leave and earnings statement, however, since it is not taxable, it is not reflected on a servicemember’s W-2 or tax return income.

Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS)

Basic Allowance for Subsistence is granted pursuant to U.S. Code Section 402, and allows servicemembers without meal cards to receive a basic allowance for subsistence. There are two rates, one for officers and a higher rate for enlisted members. There is a single rate for all enlisted and officers, regardless of the rank. There is another rare rate, known as BAS-II, which is payable for enlisted military members who live in government quarters with no meal preparation facilities and no government provided meals. 

Special Pay and Allowances

While most members receive basic pay, BAH, and BAS, a significant number of military members will also receive additional/special allowances in particular circumstances. Some examples include military members on jump status, special forces pay, sea pay, submarine pay, clothing allowances, or those receiving professional pay or allowances (such as lawyers or doctors). A lot of these types of special allowances are paid annually. The best way to determine any special pay and allowances is generally through requesting a PSMC (personal statement of military compensation).

Overseas Military Pay and Allowances

Servicemembers who are stationed OCONUS (outside of the continental United States) typically receive additional allowances. The most common of these include:

  • Overseas COLA: this varies, again, by rank, years of service, number of dependents, and location (based on cost of living in the area of station). 
  • Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA): the overseas equivalent of BAH. Although the OHA offsets rent and utilities, they are built into one allowance and not listed separately on a LES. After a military member signs a lease, a member applies for OHA on a DD Form 2367 individual overseas housing allowance report.
  • Per Diem: this may be available to a military member, particularly if he or she is on a deployment. 
  • Hardship Duty Pay: again, if the servicemember is deployed, this is anywhere between $50 and $150, depending on location.

In Kansas and Missouri, overseas allowances and other special allowances are considered a part of a servicemember’s income for the purpose of calculating maintenance and child support. Thus, it is crucial to a fair outcome that your family law attorney take into consideration all of the income that a servicemember receives in calculating income for purposes of family support obligations. 

Military Pay During Deployments:

Servicemembers who are deployed receive the same pay and allowances even if they have no rent or mortgage to pay. Additionally, while deployed, the common special pay a military servicemember may be eligible for includes the following: hostile fire pay, family separation allowance (once the military member and their family are apart for thirty days or longer), hardship duty pay (for deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan) ands per diem (based on thee standard on-base incidental rate). Finally, there is a combat zone tax exclusion whereby if a military member sends any part of a month in a combat/war zone, all ay and allowances for that month is tax free. This increases the net pay that a service member has available to spend, but as family support obligations in Missouri and Kansas are calculated on gross pay only, it does not change the family support calculations determined.

Can Military Pay Be Determined by Looking at a W2 or Tax Returns?

In a simple answer, no. While basic pay is taxable and reflected on the W2, other allowances are not taxable and therefore, not reflected on a W2. In addition to that, if a servicemember is serving in a hostile fire zone, not even basic pay will be reflected in the W2.  As a result, unique to military service, a W2 and tax returns are relatively worthless for the purpose of calculating and determining a military member’s current and past total compensation. There is no alternative to reviewing the Leave and Earning statement, coupled with the PSMC (personal statement of military compensation). 

What Other Information Can Be Gained from a LES?

A variety of additional information that could be important to a divorce or family law case can be gained from a Leave and Earning Statement (LES). This can include the following general information:

  • Pay Date: the pay date reflects the pay entry base date (PEBD) in YYMMDD format. This is the date that the member entered active duty service for pay purposes. This helps to determine both, when a military servicemember may be eligible for a longevity increase (assuming no break in service), as well as years of service for determining military pension years of service. 
  • SGLI Contribution: SGLI is the servicemember’s group life insurance and while this simply tells you that the service member is paying the premium, it allows a deeper inquiry into the amount of coverage, as well as the determination of the designated beneficiary. 
  • State Taxes: this reflects the member’s legal state of residence for tax purposes which helps, on occasion, with determining jurisdictional issues.
  • TSP Contributions:  this only reflects the current year. If the service member failed to list a Thrift Savings Plan, but has listed contributions, this is a sign that this account/valuation should be investigated deeper. 

Kansas and Missouri Treatment of Military Pay and Allowances

For the purpose of calculating maintenance and child support, Missouri and Kansas courts use a broad definition in calculating gross income. Generally, this includes all compensation the member receives, including non-taxable allowances. Additionally, family courts frequently allow imputation of income for servicemembers who receive lodging or food in lieu of BAH or BAS.

If you have questions about military pay, allowances and want to ensure that family support obligations are accurately calculated, call Pingel Family Law today at (816) 208-8130 to schedule your consultation. Put our extensive military family law knowledge and experience to work for your family!


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