Service members saw their biggest pay raise in 22 years — 5.2% — this past January. The pay bump in 2025 likely won’t be as large for all troops, but some junior personnel could get a windfall if lawmakers follow through on recent promises.

Basic pay is determined by a person’s rank and length of service, with automatic raises when troops meet certain time and promotion markers. Congress also determines how large of a pay raise all troops should receive each year.

The figure is tied by law to the anticipated increase in private-sector pay, but lawmakers in the past have approved bigger raises to help with recruitment and retention, or smaller raises to save money for other military priorities.

The most junior enlisted service members make around $24,000 a year in basic pay (not including allowances, special pay and other benefits), while enlisted troops nearing retirement typically earn about $70,000 annually.

Officer pay is significantly higher: Junior officers earn close to $40,000 a year, while senior officers nearing 20 years of service can make in excess of $170,000. That means that even a small change in the anticipated pay raise calculations can make a big difference for military families.

The annual military pay increase takes effect in January each year. The White House issues its target for the hike each August, either going along with the projected rise in private-sector wages, known as the Employment Cost Index, or offering justification for proposing a different rate.

Congress has the final say. In the past, lawmakers have overridden attempts by the White House to submit lower pay raises that would save money for other priorities. But in recent years, the executive and legislative branches have been in sync on the annual pay raise.

Targeted pay raises

The military pay raise usually applies equally to all troops, though lawmakers made an exception at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide more money for some mid-career service members to help with retention.

That could be the case again in 2025. Last year, House lawmakers considered a plan to give additional targeted pay raises to junior enlisted troops, ensuring that even the newest service members would be guaranteed an annual base pay of $31,000. The plan ultimately failed in Congress.

But members of the House Armed Services Committee are considering similar language again this year as part of the annual defense authorization bill debate.

So far, the White House has not supported those plans. Officials there have pointed to an ongoing military compensation review by Pentagon leaders that is scheduled to be completed in early 2025, and have pushed to delay any major military pay overhauls until then.

Troops should know what congressional pay proposals are likely to be at the center of this year’s Capitol Hill debates by early summer. House and Senate lawmakers are expected to spend most of the summer negotiating that authorization bill, with an eye towards final passage ahead of the November presidential election.

Even if lawmakers do adopt major changes to military pay, the decisions are unlikely to take effect until January 2025 at the earliest.

2025 pay boost

Since the start of the all-volunteer military force in 1973, Congress has authorized a pay raise of at least 1% for troops every year, even during budget cycles where other civilian wages held steady. Those increases have grown to 2.5% or more since 2018.

The 2024 pay increase (which took effect Jan. 1) was 5.2% — the largest bump since 2002 and the second-biggest boost in 40 years.

That 5.2% pay boost matched the federal formula based on the annual Employment Cost Index calculation, and somewhat offset concerns about covering increased living costs over the last few years.

The ECI calculation for 2025 sits at 4.5%, which — if approved — would mark the third straight year of pay hikes above 4% for military members.

For junior enlisted troops, the proposed 2025 raise would mean about $1,600 more in take-home pay next year. For senior enlisted and junior officers, the raise would add about $2,700 more. An O-4 with 12 years of service would see almost $5,000 more over 2024 pay levels.

That raise is not guaranteed, but lawmakers have recently shown little interest in trimming back military pay. Congress has not adopted a raise below the ECI calculation since 2015.

Lawmakers are expected to debate the pay raise level along with the rest of the defense budget over the spring and summer. Congress typically fails to approve the federal budget until late in the calendar year, after each fiscal year begins Oct. 1. But the new pay raise still goes into effect on Jan. 1 each year.

Read more from the 2024 Pay and Benefits Guide here.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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