Living on Officer Pay

Discussion in 'Life After the Academy' started by Cannonball, Mar 20, 2015.

  1. Cannonball

    Cannonball Member

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    I have been thinking about the pay as an officer in the Air Force after graduation. I have some questions and I hope they don't sound too dumb. I have looked in other threads and there is some information but it is not exactly what I am looking for. What is the real pay for a new officer in the air force? I see the pay charts and it shows about $35K in pay but I know you get housing paid for and stuff. How hard is it to make a living with that pay? Can you afford to get married and have kids? I know you can do it, but is it really difficult? I want to be an officer but I am also deciding on some civilian colleges and wondering if it is a better choice. Is there any difference in income for officers from AFROTC verse ones from AFA? Does your job in the air force make any difference in pay? Sorry if these are dumb but I want to know as much as I can before deciding.
     
  2. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    I don't remember what my Coast Guard pay was, but my first job out of the Coast Guard paid $67,500. It was more than what my pay had been in the Coast Guard, but when I got my first paycheck, I had LESS!!!

    Why?

    Basic Allowance for Housing or BAH. In the Coast Guard my base pay may have been $45-$50K, but in the DC area I was also receiving $1,900 a month BAH (single). That BAH isn't taxed, so you actually take home $22,800.... and nothing comes out of that. That's HUGE!

    In addition to paying taxes on 100% of my income, I also had to switch my legal residence from Tennessee, which has no state income tax, to Virginia, which does. So I lost some more money there.

    You can MORE than live comfortably on officer pay. The base pay is one thing, but all of the other stuff off-sets it. Free healthcare, benefits, BAH, etc.

    In my experience, in the Coast Guard, you could also factor in other things. My first unit was a ship, and half the year I was out, and half in. There's only so much you can spend when you're out at sea (I'd guess Amazon is changing that now). So I was able to save. There were also other little things added in, like "sea pay" and "hazard pay."

    Military officers have it pretty good. You don't always realize that while you're in, but when you get that first paycheck on the outside, that you're proud of, and you see how much money you lose to federal and state taxes.... it makes you rethink how "bad" it was.

    Oh and things like BAH increase with dependents, although they vary on location. BAH also increases as you're promoted.
     
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  3. usna1985

    usna1985 USNA Alumnus

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    I think most officers would say the following: As an officer, you live well. You won't become rich.

    If you have six kids and your spouse doesn't work, you'll have a tougher time than if you have one child and your spouse works. But that's true for everyone.

    Also, consider what you would do if you graduated from college and did not go into the military. First, would you find a job? Easy to say "yes," but there are lots of grads of excellent colleges who are out of work. Second, will you earn as much? Obviously, depends on what you do -- as an engineer, probably yes. In many jobs, probably not, especially when you consider the benefits and tax breaks LITS mentions. Third, what is your job security? In the military, if you do reasonably well and keep your nose clean, you'll likely have a job for at least five years and probably more (recognizing "up or out" is tougher in these lean times). Fourth, consider student loans. Coming out of a SA, you're debt free. If you attend a civilian college, you may incur significant loans, which have to be paid back -- seriously dipping into your pay.

    Finally, you're signing on for five years, not the rest of your life. If, after a few years, you see a different path that seems more appealing, you can leave the military and pursue it. Many do.
     
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  4. Physicsguru

    Physicsguru Member

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    As far as pays are concerned, everyone gets the same base pay regardless of commissioning source. So, an O-1 from AFA gets the same base pay as one from ROTC and from OTS. There's a subsistance allowance for food that everyone gets, and the housing allowance is the same, but is based on where you live. The BAH is higher for Hawaii than it is for Alabama, for example.

    There are bonus or incentive pays, for specialty jobs. Flight pay comes to mind for aviators, but there's also hazardous duty pay if your in a combat zone, as well. Different services have different bonus pays.

    There's also the tax benefit. Pays are taxable, allowances are not.

    In summary, everyone gets the same benefits, though you can get more depending on your job.
     
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  5. Capt MJ

    Capt MJ Member

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    Your healthcare, dental and pharmacy are free, no monthly premiums or co-pays. Ask working adults you know what they pay into civilian healthcare plans at work on a monthly basis.

    You will be able to shop tax-free at military stores and commissary (grocery).

    Depending on what becomes your state of residence for state income tax purposes, you may pay no state income tax while on active duty. You will be a transient military resident while "passing through" other states for duty. (That's a whole 'nother thread)

    A small caveat - yes, base pay is the same, but some prior enlisted may have years of service count in the pay scale. Most who commission will be at pay-grade O-1 (Ensign or 2nd LT) under 2 years service. A prior enlisted who had 3 years of enlisted service might be higher on base pay, at O-1 under 4.

    You will have access to veterans' benefits down the road, from mortgage to educational.

    You can have excellent quality of life, with a sound and prudent approach to managing your personal finances, where needs come before wants. (Water is a need, beer is a want!) Using your time on active duty as a springboard, where you will learn leadership and resource management skills, whether you get out at 5 or 25, you can go on to successful and lucrative employment with hard work and a bit of luck.
     
  6. Spud

    Spud BGO

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    If you are picking an officer's life based on pay, you will hate the work. If you are picking it based on the work, you will like the pay.
     
  7. Capt MJ

    Capt MJ Member

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    Well said, Spud!
     
  8. cb7893

    cb7893 Member

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    Aside from the compensation, which is excellent, there are very few jobs elsewhere in government or the private sector which give a newly minted college graduate the responsibility of that given to a newly minted O-1.

    How much $ you earn as a forty year old will have nothing to do with how much $ you made in your 20's and everything to do with your work experience in your 20's. An important element of that experience is how many people did you get to boss around and how good were you at it.
     
  9. scoutpilot

    scoutpilot Member

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    I think you have very little concept of how much money you stand to make in your 20s, and your employment prospects.
     
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  10. Pima

    Pima Parent

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    BRAVO SPUD!

    Cannonball you can live quite nicely!
     
  11. goaliedad

    goaliedad Parent

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    Put it this way. Officers have been making a living, raising a family, and doing a good job at it for a long time (Bullet and Pima can attest to this). And believe it or not, the enlisted folks reporting to you manage to scrape by on even less while getting married and having children.
     
  12. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    You can live quite comfortably on officer's pay. Now, if you start out with a lot of debt and/or a large family, things will be a little stricter to maintain a sound budget. If you are a single Lt or Capt without college debt, it's pretty darn easy to live comfortably and save money at the same time.
     
  13. EDelahanty

    EDelahanty Member

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    You are correct on both points. My son is single and shares a pleasant off-base apartment with another 2nd lt. He drives a reliable beater (oxymoron?) and has no car payments. He has money in the bank and a modest Roth IRA. The refrigerator is stocked with strawberries, coke zeros and imported beer, and the freezer is full of ground angus burgers (confession: I bought all that stuff while he was away on training).

    Still, if he hadn't ignored the sagacious advice I offered when he was an adolescent, he wouldn't be crawling around today under bobwire through mud or wandering around in the dark trying to plot points on a topo map for a living. At an early age he was already strong and tall with long arms, prehensile fingers and good eye-hand coordination. "Son," I advised, "the majors are desperate for left-handed relievers. You could write your own ticket." He nodded as if he understood, but gave up baseball not long after.

    Go figure. Maybe he didn't realize "majors" meant the big leagues.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2015
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  14. -Bull-

    -Bull- Member

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    I'm a single LT and (before taxes) make just around $50,000 including base pay, BAH, BAS, etc. Just as the others said, you're not gonna get rich, but you'll be comfortable. I don't have to worry about how my bills are going to get paid or what I can afford to eat for dinner, but I'm not buying filet mignon daily or buying the newest electronics. I'm able to divide money between saving, investing, and rent/food/utilities, and I honestly can't believe I get paid what I do when I see it hit my account. I haven't even mentioned healthcare and those benefits, which are significant. Or the tax free benefit of the PX or Commisary, free access to on post gyms, the Army Wellness Center, so on and so forth. Did I mention I got access to all of this within 2 months of finishing my degree? I know people that have been out of college for 2 years and are searching for careers (as opposed to just a temporary job).

    The biggest benefit, and it will translate into future earning potential is the title of Military Officer on your resume (Scout, I think this is what you were hinting at). Companies love that title, and I had some trying to persuade me to go Guard and join their company before I had even begun training.

    If you want to make money, the military is not the right place, but you will make a nice living here.
     
  15. Jcleppe

    Jcleppe Member

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    Be aware that your total compensation before taxes will vary depending on where your stationed as a new 2LT. Your total in Alabama will be far less then your total in Hawaii, but it'a all relative to the cost of living. While the amount may be 74K in Hawaii, it will be more like 46K in Alabama.

    Learn to live on your base pay, anything left over from BAH and BAS is a bonus.
     
  16. fencersmother

    fencersmother Founding Member

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    My son in the AF is 25, married, owns a house, 2 newer cars, travels all over the world, runs marathons, does what he wants when he wants... and flies a plane. Top that from any civ college.
     
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  17. scoutpilot

    scoutpilot Member

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    Thousands of Ivy league grads on Wall Street say hi.
     
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  18. USMCGrunt

    USMCGrunt Member

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    How, exactly, does this address the OP's question?
     
  19. fencersmother

    fencersmother Founding Member

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    Scout, my son has NO SCHOOL LOANS. :)

    What exactly was the question: can you live relatively comfortably on a 1st LT's pay? Yes! Will you get rich? Not too likely.
     
  20. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    I think as a 2nd Lt. And yes, I hope the original poster is clear on how comfortable you can be.

    As for the Wall Streeters, investment bankers and traders make good good money, but they also have to go pretty hard to make it work. And that's why some burn out.
     
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