It would be a perfect world if all our employers would throw extra pay at us just for tying the knot, and the U.S. military does come close. No, the federal government won't give you a pay raise just for getting married. It won't give you "military marriage pay," but it does the next best thing. It gives servicemembers more of a housing allowance when they add a dependent, and yes, a spouse is considered a dependent. It offers a few other perks as well.
The Basic Allowance for Housing
Technically, there's no difference in military pay married versus single, but tying the knot does affect the "Basic Allowance for Housing" entitlement that's provided to servicemembers to defray the costs of keeping a roof over their heads. It pays for a portion of rent, mortgage and some utilities, and it can be adjusted upward when you get married.
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This "BAH" entitlement increases a bit when you add a dependent, even if your spouse or your other dependent doesn't live at your duty station with you. In fact, adding a dependent is the only way to increase your BAH benefits. Unfortunately, this is a one-time event. You don't get another increase whenever you and your spouse add another dependent, such as if you have a child.
The extra money is included in your biweekly pay, much like a raise, and it covers 95 percent of your housing costs, not counting renters' insurance. And here's more good news: You'll still receive what you were initially getting if this rate is adjusted downward, but you'll get more if the rate goes up.
Some service members also receive cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs. Unlike the BAH entitlement, this increases with every dependent you have. It will bump up when you marry, and it will bump up with each child you have, but it's limited to military members who are assigned overseas or to areas with a higher-than-usual cost of living.
Dual Military Couples
BAH entitlements are effectively doubled up for dual military or "mil-to-mil" couples – both spouses serve in the armed forces. Each spouse receives the basic BAH benefit without a dependent added on. Neither of them is considered a dependent who would earn the service member just a slight increase, but only one of them can claim a somewhat higher entitlement by adding a dependent child.
The military is also pretty generous with what's referred to as "non-monetary compensation" to help your paychecks stretch a little further. This basically translates to cheap shopping for essentials, and even for some not-so-essentials. Almost all bases have commissaries funded by the Defense Commissary Agency, and these stores are required to sell you goods at cost.
We're not just talking grocery stores here. Most bases also offer department stores that sell on the same discount basis, as well as gas stations and even liquor stores. Most purchases are tax-exempt as well.
This is on top of the "Basic Allowance for Sustenance," or BAS, that's also sometimes provided to service members to defray the costs of food and groceries, depending on where they're assigned.
Sign Up Your Spouse
Taking advantage of the extra BAH entitlement is as simple as adding your spouse's name to the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS. Your spouse will receive a military ID card, too, that provides for those commissary discounts.