There are many misconceptions regarding military pay. When people see a military pay chart, they think they know exactly how each service member is being compensated. While using time in service and rank to find base pay is a good starting point for determining individual compensation, there is still a large portion of cash unaccounted for.
Each service member is entitled to some form of housing. Single junior enlisted soldiers will typically be provided a barracks room free of charge. Married soldiers, non-commissioned officers, and officers may choose to live in government owned housing at no cost to them, or they may elect to receive a housing allowance. This allowance is known as basic allowance for housing, or BAH.
The amount of BAH a service member receives is based off of three things:
1) number of dependents
2) duty zip code
A service member with dependents will receive BAH approximately twenty percent higher than their single counterparts. There is no additional compensation for having more than one dependent. If a service member elects to receive BAH and locate their own housing, the extra pay is added into their monthly paycheck.
Each service member is entitled to some form of compensation for meals. This is known as basic allowance for subsistence, or BAS. Junior enlisted soldiers living in the barracks can elect to receive this compensation in the form of a meal card, which allows them to dine for free in the mess hall. All other service members receive a flat rate added into their pay each month. The BAS rate for enlisted service members in 2010 was $323.87 per month, while the rate for officers was $223.04 per month.
Because of these allowances, take-home pay for most service members is typically about one and a half times as much as the basic pay charts would suggest.