Considering The Military? What Benefits Are Available?

Posted on: 2 November 2017

Whether you've become interested in joining the military yourself or have just begun to do some research after being informed your teenager plans to enlist after finishing high school, you may have more questions than answers. Choosing the armed forces as an employer can set the course of your career early, and you may wonder what benefits will follow. Read on to learn more about some of the benefits available to members of the armed forces and their families, including some often-overlooked and intangible military benefits.

Financial or Tangible Benefits

In addition to the basic starting pay and any cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), you'll generally receive additional pay for housing and meal allowances after you complete basic training. Depending upon the branch with which you've enlisted and the area you're stationed in, you may be required to live on-base (often for free or at a reduced rate) or be given a housing allowance to select your own off-base housing. 

Many military members, particularly those who are young and single, may opt to bank a large portion of their housing allowance to use on later expenses. This allowance, in addition to any enlistment bonuses available, can help create a substantial cushion in your checking or savings account, even early in your military career.

You'll also enjoy tax advantages on these allowances and your base pay. Military pay isn't taxed the same way civilian pay is taxed, and you may be eligible for a number of military-specific tax credits in addition to the tax-exempt status of certain housing and meal benefits. You may want to visit an accountant or tax preparer to see exactly how much you can expect to save the first time you file your tax return after joining the military.

If you're interested in attending college (or paying off the student loans you've already incurred), your military service can help. Through the GI Bill, you may be eligible for tuition reimbursement at a school of your choice, allowing you to complete your degree without incurring educational debt.

The military has some student loan repayment programs that can help you get out from under this debt without paying thousands in interest and associated fees. And for those in specialties that require some additional training or certifications, these certifications can often be obtained for no extra cost while you're actively serving in the military. 

While you may not yet be thinking about retirement while just beginning your career, the military offers you the unique opportunity to retire with a full pension after only twenty years of service. For those who enter the military just out of high school or after college, this can provide you with the chance to begin an entirely separate "second career" while receiving a guaranteed monthly paycheck from your first, all without necessarily making any cash contributions to your own retirement. While you're receiving your pension, you'll likely also be eligible for military healthcare, which can significantly reduce your monthly expenses and eliminate any financial "need" to work.  

Non-Financial Benefits

In addition to these tangible and financial benefits, you can also internalize some very important life lessons while serving in the military. For those who are shy or withdrawn, the military can provide the confidence to speak up and command attention; for those who are impulsive or scattered, the military can instill focus and foresight. 

For those who may still be on the fence when it comes to pursuing a career in the military, keeping these benefits in mind can be helpful when it comes time to commit to a decision. Because leaving the military isn't nearly as simple as leaving a civilian W2 job you decide is a bad fit, it's important to take all the necessary factors into account when deciding your future path.