The military’s housing stipend, known as the “basic allowance for housing,” increased by an average of 5.4% per person in January 2024. Whether a service member saw a larger or smaller increase than average depends on their location.

BAH rates are typically adjusted once a year and take effect Jan. 1. However, DOD in recent years has taken additional steps to ease the burden of surging housing costs on service members. The Pentagon provided temporary out-of-cycle increases in BAH for some hard-hit areas in 2021 and 2022; It also bumped up the rate by 12.1%, on average, in 2023 — the largest increase in 15 years.

Meanwhile, the military is continuing to study how BAH is calculated and whether the stipend meets the needs of service members.

What is BAH?

The Basic Allowance for Housing provides compensation for the housing costs of active duty troops stationed in the 50 U.S. states who do not live on government-owned property. Stipend amounts are tied to local market rates and depend on the recipient’s rank, whether they have dependents and where they are based.

The tax-free benefit is intended to cover 95% of the estimated average housing costs at each assigned duty post in the U.S., including utilities. Individual service members are expected to pay the remaining 5% of housing costs out of pocket. Congress or the Pentagon could boost the stipend to cover 100% of those projected expenses instead.

Most service members can choose where to live. Those living in privatized housing — owned and operated by civilian companies for the military — also receive BAH, but the allowance typically goes straight to their landlord each month.

If troops can find housing in the civilian community that’s cheaper than the BAH rate for their assigned location, they can pocket the difference. And if homes are more expensive than what BAH will cover, troops pay for the overage.

Those stationed in U.S. territories or overseas who are not provided government housing are eligible for an overseas housing allowance, which is calculated under a separate formula. That allowance partially offsets housing expenses at overseas duty locations when service members live in privately leased housing on the local economy.

How BAH is calculated

DOD conducts a survey to calculate median rental costs for 300 military housing areas, including Alaska and Hawaii. Calculations are based on the rental costs of a one- or two-bedroom apartment, a two- or three-bedroom townhome, and a two- or three-bedroom single family home. The BAH for junior enlisted, for example, might be based on the equivalent of a small apartment, while the allowance for more senior enlisted and officers might be based on the equivalent of a house.

Two rates — with and without dependents — are set for each location. Personnel with at least one dependent, whether a spouse or a child, qualify for the dependents rate. It does not increase for additional family members.

For dual-military couples with no children, both spouses get the without-dependents rate. If the couple has children, one spouse receives the with-dependent BAH rate, while the other gets the without dependents rate.

BAH varies widely. For example, an E-1 without dependents at Twentynine Palms receives $1,614 a month, while an O-4 with dependents stationed there gets $3,021. But across the country at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, an O-6 with dependents receives $2,025 a month, according to DOD.

For details of locations across the country, you can use the Defense Department’s official BAH calculator.

Service members receive BAH rate protection as long as they remain in their home, even if rates drop. However, if they move, are demoted or their dependency status changes, they would receive the rate for their new status.

If rates rise in a location, all service members receive the higher rates, regardless of when they arrived.

Find more information on BAH on DOD’s website.

Read more from the 2024 Pay and Benefits Guide here.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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