Military Pay For New Recruits

I get a lot of questions about military pay for new recruits.  A very plan-ahead type Delayed Entry Program (DEP) reader recently wrote to, asking what his income would look like once he entered the service.

Hi Kate! I’m currently in the Air Force DEP and I’m trying to figure out a monthly budget, could you give me an estimate on what an E-3 makes after taxes and deductions? Thanks, Cody

My answer is simple, but it is fairly accurate for most situations:


Great job planning ahead!  There will be some individual details that differ based upon your situation, but generally, once you finish training, your monthly pay will look something like this:

Base Pay, E3 under two years:  $1805
BAS:  $358
Total Entitlements:  $2163

Federal Tax:  $100 (will vary based upon when in the year you enter the service, any other income, etc.)
State Tax:  depends on state
FICA-SS:  $100
FICA-Medicare:  $25
Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI):  $29 (new, post 1 July rates)
Meal Deductions:  usually less, but we can’t know for sure so we’ll guess it is the same as BAS:  $358
Total Deductions:  $611 plus state taxes

$2163-$611=  $1552 (minus state taxes)  divided by two paychecks per month equals about $775 per paycheck.

I strongly advise you to start saving in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) and/or an IRA account as soon as you enter the service.  Contributions now are much more valuable than when you get older. Plus, there are tax advantages for retirement savings when you are in a lower-income bracket.  You’ll quickly phase out of those tax advantages (up to 50% of retirement savings), so take advantage of them while you can!

Good luck to you!


I’m sure there are questions, or things I’ve missed, or other information that could be helpful to Cody.  Please share them in the comments!

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • Bethany

    This gives a pretty good general idea. There are a couple details I would add.

    You will receive BAH. If you have no dependents, it will be partial BAH, which is $7.80 per month. If you have dependents, it will be the rate for where your dependents live while you’re in training and it will change to your duty station’s rate once you get to your first permanent location.

    The federal tax withholding if you claim single and 0 is about $207. If you claim married or more exemptions it would be lower.

    SGLI (including TSGLI) is currently $27 but will increase to $29 soon.

    All enlisted members contribute $0.50/month to the Armed Forces Retirement Homes.

    The meal deduction is currently $10.15/day or $314.65 for a 31-day month. However, during your initial training you may not receive BAS or have a meal deduction.

    My calculations put each paycheck for a single E-3, under 2 years, claiming S00, at $720-$740 per paycheck. If that seems low, don’t forget that none of that has to be spent on housing or food!

    For a married E-3, under 2 years, claiming M01, who is still in training and separated from his/her spouse, I calculated about $905 per paycheck PLUS whatever BAH is. The increase is due to lower tax withholding and $250/month for Family Separation Allowance.

    • Kate

      Bethany, thanks for your insights. I had forgotten about the $1 for TSGLI. I’ll fix that.

      I’m curious where you came up with your federal tax figures? I ran a sample 1040EZ for this hypothetical person, and came up with a total annual tax bill of around $1300.

  • Bethany

    I’m not sure how many people notice the SGLI/TSGLI breakdown since I think the Marines are the only service that list the two separately on the LES.

    My tax withholding number came from the tax tables in IRS Publication 15, page 57. Your way is probably a better estimate of what should be withheld for taxes, but the vast majority of young service members I see have never really thought about tax withholding and have it set at S00.

  • Ooopps!!! did we get GF or BF in there.. then there pay will be around their BAS, but hey they Have Chow Hall for 2 wks

  • Keseanna Gray

    Could you calculate fo E-1 because while my husband is at bmt hes considered an E-1.

    • Kate

      Keseanna, you can use the same structure that I used, but use E-1 pay and BAH for the location where your family resides. I can’t do that for you without knowing where you live, your income tax situation, how many people are your dependents, etc. It gets a lot more complicated once there is a family involved.

      • keseanna gray

        Oh okay. Well I don’t want you to go through all that mess so I’ll just be patient like I should be doing lol. But thank you so much Kate. I read your stuff all the time!

        • Kate

          It’s simple enough, and there’s no reason you can’t do it. Just look at hte pay charts, and do a search for BAH for your area.

          • keseanna gray

            Ohh okay okay. Thank you!