Is the Army Worth Joining: Military Pay


Broke Soldiers: Military Pay Scale

I constantly hear people in the Army say they are broke. This leads so many people to believe that the Army doesn’t pay very well. I am here to tell you, that is simply not true. The Army is one of the best paying jobs you can find if you don't have a degree. Compared to an entry-level job that requires a degree, the Army pays just as well, if not better. These soldiers are not broke because of what they get paid. They are broke because of how they spend their money. When I was in the Army, I was only an E3 and I felt like I was living large with what I was paid.

Soldier's Sacrifice: Civilian vs. Army Pay

This is by no means an argument of whether soldiers are paid enough based on the risk and sacrifices they make. That is an entirely different debate. This is more of a comparison between civilian pay and military pay, assuming equivalent qualifications.


I am basing all of my numbers on 2012 values. Also, any comparison in the housing arena is going to be based off of living in El Paso, Texas and being stationed at Fort Bliss. This is important because the amount of money you get for housing differs based on the zip code you live in. For example, El Paso is going to be a lot cheaper than San Francisco in terms of housing costs.

Do you think soldiers are paid enough?

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  • No
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Military Pay Scale: Better Than McDonalds

Army pay doesn’t seem like much until you look at all the different alternatives. Even the lowest rank in the Army makes good money for someone whose only accomplishment was graduating high school and signing on the dotted line. I will give you a salary scale for a few different groups of soldiers so you can see for yourself.

Army Base Pay: Single Soldier with No Children

Rank: E1 (Private)

Time in Service: 1 day

Base Pay: $1491

Housing Allowance: $400

Technically you don't get any cash for your housing allowance. Instead, you receive a barracks room, where you share a kitchen and bathroom with one other person. This is free and so are all the utilities. In El Paso, this kind of housing situation is worth around $400.

Food Allowance: $348

Total Value: $2,239 per month

$26,868 per year

*Using the standard 40-hour work week and 52 weeks per year model, this comes out to $12.92/hr.

Army Salary Scale: Single with Children & Married with or without Children

Rank: E1 (Private)

Time in Service: 1 day

Base Pay: $1491/mo

Housing Allowance: $1038

Food Allowance: $348

Total Value: $2,877 per month

$34,524 per year

*Using the standard 40-hour work week and 52 weeks per year model, this comes out to $16.60/hr.

Comparison: Army Pay vs. Civilian Pay

Compare these incomes to some common civilian situations where only a high school diploma is required.

Minimum Wage

$7.25 per hours X 40 hours per week

$1,257 per month

$15,084 per year

Minimum wage is nowhere near what the lowest paid Private gets paid in the Army. To top it off, those jobs almost never have any other benefits included.

But I went to College . . .


You may be thinking, “OK that’s great for someone with no college or experience but what if I have a bachelor degree?” Here is a breakdown of your pay if you joined the Army with a 4-year degree. It doesn’t even matter what your degree is in! Many soldiers like to say you can have a degree in underwater basket weaving, and it’s true!

Single Soldier With No Children

Rank: O1 (Second Lieutenant)

Time in Service: 1 day

Base Pay: $2828/mo

Housing Allowance: $969

Food Allowance: $240

Total Value: $4,037 per month

$48,444 per year

*Using the standard 40-hour work week and 52 weeks per year model, this comes out to $23.29/hr.

Single with Children & Married with or without Children

Rank: O1 (Second Lieutenant)

Time in Service: 1 day

Base Pay: $2828/mo

Housing Allowance: $1119

Food Allowance: $240

Total Value: $4,187 per month

$50,244 per year

*Using the standard 40-hour work week and 52 weeks per year model, this comes out to $24.16/hr.

Army Benefits

Vacation Time vs. Overtime

Some may argue that soldiers only make more than civilians because they work plenty more than 40 hours per week. That may be true, but it is not always the case. Some weeks have more off-time because there is nothing important to do and you can go home early. Also, how many civilian jobs give you 30 days of paid vacation? For a normal five-day work week, this is six weeks of paid vacation. If looked at another way or 240 hours of paid vacation. This is based on an eight-hour work day. Also, these leave days (paid vacation) do not count all of the four-day weekends soldiers are given. There are probably around ten 4 day weekends in the year. These are for holidays like President’s Day, Memorial Day, Martin Luther King Day, Thanksgiving, etc. Please, let me know if your civilian job pays this.

A typical day for a soldier, who's not deployed, looks like this

0630 – 0730: PT

0730 – 0900: Breakfast/Shower time

0900 – 1130: Work

1130 – 1300: Lunch Break

1300 – 1700: Work

This is truly a typical work schedule most soldiers will experience.

Total daily working hours = 8

Total hours from start to finish = 10.5

If you calculate it all out, including the soldier’s longer working hours, 24 hour work days every now and then, extra 4 days weekend and prolonged paid vacation; soldiers still work an average 40 hour work week.

Army Insurance

The Army gives you, your spouse, and your kids free health insurance. Insurance is expensive! Having never had to pay for it, I asked a friend what she pays for just her husband and herself and she told me around $300/month! The Army is, in essence, paying you an extra $300/month by giving you this free healthcare.

The Army also gives you life insurance for next to nothing. I believe it costs $17/month for $100,000 of coverage. You can also get around the same coverage for your spouse for about five bucks! On top of that, your children are automatically covered for $10,000.

What About Taxes?

Soldiers only pay taxes on their base pay, nothing else! So, the same exact salary in the Army compared to a civilian job, goes a lot further because the government is taking less of it.

What Do You Think?

Do you think the military pays well?

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Comments 32 comments

safiq ali patel profile image

safiq ali patel 3 years ago from United States Of America

Army life portrayed in a slightly more positive light. Some good info here.

CassyLu1981 profile image

CassyLu1981 3 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

This is really good information but you can't base it off of a 40 hour work week 52 weeks a year because most soldiers are working 24/7. Deployments, training, schools, etc. Last year my husband was home with us a combined total of 98 days :( So I honestly don't think he gets paid enough for the work he is constantly doing (all hours of the day and night). But if it was a 40 hour work week, that would be heaven!!! LOL Great article, voted up and shared :)

Learning in Life profile image

Learning in Life 3 years ago from SW Florida Author

I specifically said that I was refering to the in garrison work week. Deployment "working hours" are a completely different story.

collegedad profile image

collegedad 3 years ago from The Upper Peninsula

This makes a lot of sense. I've often wondered how much our military makes and why so many would choose the military as a lifelong career. Voted up and shared...........everywhere!

Learning in Life profile image

Learning in Life 3 years ago from SW Florida Author

lol thank you collegedad. I appreciate that!

Sanxuary 3 years ago

It's a tough call and most likely the answer is no. Short term benefits and college paid for is a likely yes. Long term with retirement is the only thing that makes it worth it unless you are high ranking or an officer. The time lost in establishing yourself out side the military is only a guess but probably a huge step back wards. I often saw a very wealthy life style when the economy was good but count plenty who saw this erased in recent years. Retired is like starting at the bottom all over again regardless of skills. You never earned your worth while you were in and probably will be dead by the time you get back to the top of your game. Despite constant employment, a retirement check with medical benefits is the only thing keeping me from living on the streets. I truly wonder how ordinary people make it out here.

hiya 3 years ago

We make it by not falling for high-end glossy recruiting ads like this hub.

Kommadant 3 years ago

I think the military is a great place for younger adults to find themselves. Of course I am biased and joined after high school. I am now in college, and have a full time job. The military is not for everyone, but I believe that is a good idea for some people. Informative post for those uninformed (like I was when I joined).

vetstatus27 3 years ago

"When I was in the Army, I was only an E3 and I felt like I was living large with what I was paid."

Why did you get out of the military?

phtech profile image

phtech 3 years ago from Idaho Falls, ID

The problem with this hub is the assumption that soldiers work only 40 hours a week. I work an average of 55 hours a week with the military, not including FTXs. If you add in PT, it's more like 60-62 hours a week. That comes out to about $9 an hour and some change. Plus, you are always on call. People in the civilian world get paid extra to be on call 24 hours.

paul 3 years ago

if you join the military for the money, you have to be really struggling for money. there are a few different types of people who join. im not going to et into that now, but what i will say is that, it is like any career choice. you should love what you do, and if your career in the army is what you love then great. but it all depends on the person. some people are happy to work as a checkout guy forever on minimum wage and have a great life, where some people would go insane, military careers are the same thing, but require much more commitment and sacrifice, that's really all. some guys are happy to work as a private infantryman for decades. it's all relative. right now i am thinking about giving up 150,000 a year to join the army, because it near the cut off point by age, and its something that's been gnawing at me for years.

redcoat87 3 years ago

yes that would be correct assessment for the typical military members hours but not for all. I was stationed in Japan for 2.5 years and my average work week there would have been at least 80 hours of work a week. Which in that case I wish i would have been paid by the hour because then I would have been making more money.

armyguy1805 3 years ago

I know that you say that the army gets free health care which is nice, but anyone that's been in the military knows that the health care is also really crappy. Being in the military doing things like carrying heavy ruck sacks, constant running, things of that nature wear down your body a lot. Well I know from experience about the health care, my back was hurting me from doing things like rotating the antenna mast group's(AMG) mast out. When i went sick call about it all he said was that its because i smoke (he was a major and blamed everything on smoking). So yes i have free health care, but there's nothing i can do with it.

Sanxuary 3 years ago

I often debate if the 20 years I spent in cost me on a plan of getting ahead in life. It has definitely kept me alive since I retired, but the cost of living is rising and it is beginning to mean a lot less. In this economy its the bottom you start at when you leave. Maybe the economy would have robbed me either way, but I really think that serving this country was a waste of time. We are serving the wealthy no matter what we do and most likely they our only serving themselves. I have yet to see where any profit was ever gained by the latest wars.

John 2 years ago

Often times people are amazed when they find out how much I make in the Army. As an E7 with 13 years in I make about 75,000 not counting my FREE health care and 4,500 a year in tuition assistance. NONE of my 30 year old friends make that, not to mention the 42,000 in bonuses I have gotten for reenlisting. All in all, I couldn't ask for a more stable existence. When I get promoted (which is almost inevitable in the Army) I will be getting about a 6,000 a year raise depending where we live.

pdqfiero profile image

pdqfiero 2 years ago

Your logic & math are flawed. I retired from the Navy after 21 years so I think I can speak with some authority. First off, not all military service is created equal. When there is relative peace in the world, which admittedly there hasn’t been for a while, the place to kick back & rake in the cash would be the Air Force. The Army is a close second & the Marines not far behind that. However, what most may not know is the Navy doesn’t change its deployments when the world goes to hell in a hand basket. They are always deployed for up to 8 months at a time regardless of what is going on. I found it interesting when I would talk to people in the other services who had no idea what the Navy duty required. The conversation usually ended with them saying, “Wow, sucks for you man”. There are two very distinct worlds within the Navy. There are those jobs that predominantly remain stationed at shore bases (which typically follow the same duty requirement as other services) & there are those jobs that are predominantly at sea. I had a job that was mostly at sea. In my 21 years I spent 3 years on the USS America, CV-66, 3 years on the Paul F. Foster, DD-964, 5 years on the USS Nimitz, CVN-68, & my final 4 years on the USS John C. Stennis, CVN-74. So 15 years of sea duty, 6 years of shore duty. For both of these scenarios you have 24 hour duty rotation, or at least for my rating of FC you did. Shore duty would usually be more lenient with up to 7 day rotation. Sea duty would have different 24 hr rotation depending on if you were underway of in port. Underway was usually 3 section & in port would typically be 5. A typical example of work hours for a person stationed on a ship that was in home port is, Mon thru Thur, (7am – 4pm), Fri, (7am to 7am Sat, "24hr duty"), Sunday off. Then Mon & Tues (7am – 4pm) Wed, (7am to 4pm on Thur “32hrs straight”) Fri (7am – 4pm). So in this two week cycle you would be working or otherwise on call 112 hrs or 56 hrs a week. Now let’s look at the at sea scenario. A typical workday onboard while underway is a minimum of 12 hours a day, 7 days a week & does not include when you go to GQ or engaged in constant battle drills. I was also on a cruise where we were in theater for 140 days without a break. I would say for this deployment I averaged 16 hrs a day, 7 days a week, 7 months deployed which comes to 120hrs per week, Monday through Sunday, with no days off for 140 days straight. Also I want to point out that the E1’s to E3’s onboard are worked much harder than I was and usually included many hrs on the flight deck in 120 deg heat with hot jet exhaust mere inches away. So your breakdown doesn’t come close to reality not even taking into account the danger involved with being in a war zone.

pdqfiero profile image

pdqfiero 2 years ago

John, when your other 30 year old friends start coming home from their jobs at Barns & Noble missing limbs, that is when I will say you have a point.

AAL426 2 years ago

We do not get "6 weeks of paid vacation time". If we leave the area on a weekend, we still get "vacation days" subtracted from the 30. In other words, we don't have the ability to use our days off as we please and even when we aren't technically supposed to be at work (AKA Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc) if we go to visit our family ourside a certain radius, they still charge us a "vacation day".

padro 2 years ago

this is not all about money i mean some people would go out and serve in the military without getting paid. every military website i go to is all about money and how much they get paid. This is so stupid.

Demarcus 2 years ago

I always figured the army's pay couldn't be that bad.. It's all about how you spend your money. Best article I've read so far, thanks man!

Person 2 years ago

The healthcare is NOT free. Look closer. E-6 w/ dependants taxable income is $22,000 :(

Person 2 years ago

Not to mention the sgli payout is $400,000 not nearly enough for a family to survive on even with a surviving working parent. I believe Dave Ramsey recommends at the very least $1,000,000.

Me 2 years ago

Also, just read an article on ABC news today that approx. 5,000 active duty soldiers w/ a family are food stamp eligible.

Jess 2 years ago

This chicks calculations are completely off. As an E-3 single soldier I made $1400 a month. Housing and food allowance??? Nope didn't get any of that. Definitely can make more as a civilian. What a joke.

phtech profile image

phtech 2 years ago from Idaho Falls, ID

You will make way more as a civilian. The experience, however, can be worth much more.

Learning in Life profile image

Learning in Life 2 years ago from SW Florida Author

It really depends on the MOS...

phtech profile image

phtech 2 years ago from Idaho Falls, ID

My MOS translates to a few 60-100k jobs on the outside. I guess I got lucky picking the right one.

Junior 2 years ago

Yea I'd like to call you on your BS. This is your version of what the soldier got paid.

Rank: E1 (Private)

Time in Service: 1 day

Base Pay: $1491

Housing Allowance: $400

*Technically you are not getting paid anything for your housing allowance in terms of cash. You do receive a barracks room that you share a kitchen and bathroom with one other person usually. This is free and so are all the utilities. In El Paso, this kind of housing situation is worth around $400.

Food Allowance: $348

Total Value: $2,239 per month

$26,868 per year

*Using the standard 40 hour work week and 52 weeks per year model, this comes out to $12.92/hr.

In all actuality it goes like this.

Rank: E1 (PVT)

Time in Service: 1 day

Base Pay: $1379 (for the first 4 months, then 1491 thereafter.)

Housing Allowance: $400

*Technically you are not getting paid anything for your housing allowance in terms of cash. You do receive a barracks room that you share a kitchen and bathroom with one other person usually. This is free and so are all the utilities. In El Paso, this kind of housing situation is worth around $400.

Food Allowance: $348 (Which you'll never see either because your forced into eating at the DFAC)

Total Value: $2,127 per month then $2,239 per month after the first 4 months. This is combining everything without deducting what automatically comes out and you'll never see.

Total Value (not including meal deduction and housing): $1,379 or $1,491 after 4 months

Total Per Year(without extras):$16,548 per year or $17,892

*Using the standard 40 hour work week and 52 weeks per year model, this comes out to $7.95/hr or $8.60/hr.

Darian 2 years ago

There is more money to be made in the army than a civilian career. For a single person that is. YOU ARE GETTING FREE ROOM AND BOARD!! Remember that part. A lot of your money will be pocketed.

milwife87 2 years ago

Yes you can pocket money if your single young with no children....If your married with kids this pay is definitely not much compared to if you leave a 21 dollar an hour job to do this and become deployed. It definitely has to be a choice someone makes that matches their perspective on life. Otherwise you will miss out on so much if you don't enjoy it. You will regret the experience. You have to really want to do this and enjoy it. Military enrollment can't be about money.

Fred Arnold profile image

Fred Arnold 21 months ago from Clearwater, FL

Great article! I was single when I was in the Navy and with Submarine pay + Hazard pay I would make ridiculous paychecks on deployment. The best part was that you were gone and didn't need to ever spend any of it so it just accumulated in my bank account. Being on shore duty was the shit. Go to work, get done, go home. I never paid for food since there was always a chow hall on base and I didn't pay for rent since I just stayed in the barracks. Money just wasn't a thing when I was in the military!

Sakers288 2 weeks ago

Yeah this is totally skewed. For one, you beat the livin crap out of your body. Jobs like the roughnecks and lineman, who also beat the crap out of their bodies relatively close I'd say to an infantryman, also have very minimum entry level requirements. These jobs and many other pay 3-4 times what the military pays if your willing to do the shit work. This isn't McDonald's or Walmart work tho. That being said you usually work two weeks on two weeks off in the oil fields. Lineman usually work normal hours and when they're on call during the summer and fall months they make up to 30 grand a month. The army's leadership is in the worst shape it's been in US history. You have that to deal with. You're paid vacation days are given to you only when the army feels like its time to let you use them. I've gone Christmas to Christmas without a vacation of any sort. That's from being at work from 0545-1800 every day except federal holidays. Been called in on weekends on top of long training events that last weeks. Worked numerous 24 HR Cq shifts. Which is over 30 hrs of work actually all together. The health care is about the worst there is available. Took me 8 months to get back surgery. That's because you usually have to go thru some dimwitted lieutenant PA to see a real doctor. Ur usually not approved. No matter how fucked up u are. They tell u to stretch and take Motrin. And you can't go anywhere else. Emergency room will give about 5 pain pills and a shot and tell you to go to your PA. The pay you get also gets to be dumped into uniforms and equipment. Sure you get a 100 dollar a year stipend. But when a pair of good boots is 150+ and one uniform set is 100$...that isn't Jack. Plus write in the rain notebooks... Pouches... Batteries cuz supply won't give any out... Markers cuz supply won't give any out...tan tees...socks.. .Other proper equipment cuz a lot of army equipment sucks horribly...dress blues... Hair cuts goes on and on. It all adds up quickly too. Then most posts like Bragg are located around shitholes. Absolute shit holes. There's nothing to do but stare at a wall on your free time. Unless you want to go to a bar or strip club....maybe go work out some more or go shoot a gun. Also the army loves... Absolutely loves to waste your time. You will sit around at work and stare each other for hours before someone says u can go. Or you'll sit around for hours and then when it's time to go be told at the last minute to go pull weeds and now the grass. I could go on and on. But first and foremost the thing that bothers me the most is the disrespect by superiors in the army. It doesnt matter what rank you get to... There's always some dickhead over top of you. And sure civilian life you have that too. But in civilian life that person doesn't have the ability to disrespect you and permanently destroy your life. They can't take away your pay and make you work double as punishment. They can't make you do physical punishment in front if your peers just because they feel like it. I've never had this type of stuff happen to me, but it's because I learned to swallow all of my pride. I've seen it happen to a lot of people tho. Even when they were in the right. So if ur reading this thinking you're gonna be an infantryman or sf because you play too much call of duty... Don't do it kid. There's better routes out there. Way better.

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