Who Gives the Biggest Sign-On Bonus: Army, Navy, Marines or Air Force?

Like any other job, being in the military has its pros and cons.
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Like any other job, being in the military has its pros and cons. One of the benefits is the amount of money you can earn. A military sign-on bonus serves as an incentive to join, and these can change from year to year. While experts generally recommend that you contact a specific branch to learn more about its specific military signing bonus, some may be more lucrative than others.

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Army Sign-On Bonus

Circumstances may affect the amount that new U.S. Army recruits receive. Those who have special training, choose specific Army jobs, have higher education, have served before, or are willing to take on extra duties might qualify for one-time bonuses. These can be as much as ​$40,000​ for active duty or ​$20,000​ for signing on with the Army Reserve (when the recruit meets the enlistment qualifications). It has also been reported that some new recruits receive as much as ​$50,000​ for signing up for six years of service, but remember that the Army does not offer this bonus to everyone.

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Recruits with desirable civilian skills may also receive a bonus, especially if they are well versed in foreign languages or have experience in medical care. There's also a Ranger bonus for those who complete a Ranger Indoctrination Program. Other bonuses may be available for recruits who enlist in and complete officer candidate school or enlist as Middle Eastern translator aides.

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Air Force Sign-On Bonus

According to My Air Force Benefits, U.S. Air Force sign-up bonuses are also available, and some of the highest amounts are for pararescue jumper and combat controller positions. The initial enlistment bonus amounts offered vary and often reflect the length of enlistment. The Air Force offers a ​$20,000​ bonus for students who receive a four-year scholarship for the Health Professional Scholarship Program and active-duty aviator bonuses that range from ​$15,000 to $35,000​; some are even eligible for lump sums as high as ​$100,000​ or ​$200,000​. There is also a selective retention bonus of up to ​$100,000​ if you sign on for continued active duty afterward.

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The U.S. Navy Office of Information has an Enlistment Bonus Program to attract new recruits. The Navy bases these bonuses on program qualifications, language proficiency, physical screenings and source rate information. The maximum bonus is currently ​$50,000​. The U.S. Marines incentives for signing on include bonuses for certain skills; two examples are ​$8,000​ for electronics maintenance and ​$5,000​ for information and communications technology.

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Working for the Military Police

There is no evident answer to the highest-paying military branch since the incomes are based on pay grades, rankings and those sign-on bonuses. Military police (also called National Guard) members are part of the U.S. military and serve their country by being deployed for overseas military operations, reconstruction efforts and counter-drug missions as well as responding to domestic emergencies. These individuals must finish 10 weeks of basic training followed by another eight weeks of individual training. Military police can serve as enlisted members or officers; they are all expected to attend drill training two weeks a year and one weekend per month, with pay ranging from ​$3,849.93​ to ​$15,511.23​ a year. Those numbers don't include allowances, bonuses or other benefits, and certain recruits may be eligible for sign-on bonuses up to ​$20,000​.

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Military pay is not exempt from taxes, but there isn't any income out there that is tax-free. There will be federal income tax to pay (whether stationed in the United States or abroad) plus Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes and state taxes. There are federal tax breaks for serving in combat zones, but you'll still have to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. The sign-on bonuses and retirement pay received may also be subject to taxes.

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