Congress Launches All-Out Attack on BAH Pay
(Updated June 28th, 2016)
While the Pentagon fought against it, the U.S. Senate has just officially passed a new law attacking Basic Allowance for Housing rates and significantly reducing their utility. Currently, BAH offers a set amount of money per month, which is supposed to be used for rent and utilities, but which individual service members can allocate however they see fit after it’s been handed over.
This new change to the program is set to change the benefits so that they only cover actual expenses, meaning that service personnel will have to hand over copies of their rent payments, mortgage payments, and actual utilities bills, and only be paid up to whatever was actually spent on these expenses.
Furthermore, military personnel sharing housing will have their allowances divided by the number of service members living in the shared space, which is a significant departure from the current guidelines that allow everyone in the household to receive the full amount of BAH benefits they qualify for.
This change could cost individual service personnel hundreds to potentially thousands of dollars per month, and removes any incentives for personnel to try and reduce their out of pocket costs for housing and utilities.
As such, it’s definitely a step in the wrong direction, and we see absolutely no reason for the changes other than greed. Unfortunately, Washington Politicians are likely to continue cutting military benefits of all sorts, from education benefits to housing benefits, until there is major pushback from voters across the country.
What are the New BAH Rates for 2016?
As usual, new BAH rates were announced in December, 2015, and went into effect on January 1st, 2016.
In general, most military members were pleased with the 2016 BAH rate changes, as rates increased by an average of 3.4%, or about $54 monthly.
The Pentagon also announced that they’d be keeping to the promise of protecting individual rate protection for all service members, meaning that even if your rate were supposed to drop, you would not actually experience any decline (because the difference would be subsidized).
Unfortunately, it’s also been announced that the annual BAH rate increases are set to be decreased by about 4% over the next 2-3 years until BAH only covers about 95% of actual housing and utilities costs. Why has Congress decided to cover 95% instead of 100%? That’s anyone’s guess…
What Were the BAH Rates for 2015?
2015 BAH rates were announced in December of 2014, and went into effect on January 1st, 2015.
Across the country, veterans and military families waited with baited breath, hoping for another increase in basic allowance for housing rates, but this year things were different.
Unfortunately, BAH rates rose only an average of .5% for 2015, which is substantially less than last year (between 2013 and 2015, BAH rose by about 5%!).
What is Basic Allowance for Housing?
For those of you who don’t know – basic allowance for housing is the Post 9/11 GI Bill housing allowance offered to everyone who’s enrolled in the general benefits program.
BAH benefits are offered to military personnel who don’t live in government-provided housing (like on-base housing), but who instead want to rent or pay a mortgage on their own private property.
The trick with BAH pay is that it’s set based on your location, so those personnel living in areas with higher costs of living will receive more money each month, while those living in cheaper areas receive less.
In addition, BAH rates fluctuate based on pay grade (rank) and whether or not personnel have dependents (this is why people say that the military pays you to have a family, and why so many military personnel get married and start having kids so quickly).
The Government sets a new BAH rate each year by surveying the cost of rental properties in specific geographic locations, averaging the prices and issuing a dollar amount based on the cost to live in that area.
BAH Rates By Zip Code
To find the 2016 Post 9/11 GI Bill BAH rate for your area, please use the BAH Calculator below:
All you have to do is choose 2016 for Year, enter your Duty Zip Code and Pay Grade, and you’ll find out exactly what you’ll get each month this year.
What if My Rate Dropped?
Each year when the new BAH rates are posted, service personnel across the country bemoan the fact that their personal rate has decreased, but we’ve got good news about that…
There is a program in place offering individual rate protection, so that if the rates in your area happen to drop, you won’t have to worry, because you’ll continue to receive the amount you were receiving last year.
Only personnel who are newly reporting to the area will receive the lower BAH rate.
2016 BAH Rates Charts
If you want to see the BAH Rate Charts, click the links below and register an account with Military.com:
Keep in mind that the first one is for personnel with dependents, while the second is for personnel without dependents.
BAH Rates Component Breakdown
If you want to pour over the nitty-gritty details and find out exactly how your area’s BAH rate was calculated, then take a look at the following PDFs, which break down the overall BAH rates into their three component pieces (Rent, Utilities and Insurance):
As you can see in the above PDF, Rent is by far the most important component when calculating the new rate, accounting for about 65-75% of the total allowance, while Utilities make up about 25%, of the total BAH rate.
Insurance has been removed from this year’s components breakdown since it has historically been such a small component to the total amount (around just 1-3%).
The Official DOD 2016 BAH Fact Sheet
If you want to get your info straight from the horse’s mouth, please feel free to review the Department of Defense’s official BAH Fact Sheet, which you can find here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some of the most common questions regarding Basic Allowance for Housing. Please note that these questions and answers were paraphrased from the official DOD website for BAH pay, which you can find here.
Who is Eligible for BAH Pay?
Anyone assigned to permanent duty within the 50 United States who is not receiving government housing.
Members stationed overseas (except Hawaii and Alaska), including U.S. territories and possessions who are not receiving government housing are also eligible, but for something slightly different, called an Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA).
If My Rate is Lower Than Last Year do I Lose Money?
We answered this one above, but since it’s a pain-point (and in case you missed it earlier in this page), the answer is NO.
You’ve got something called BAH rate protection, which guarantees that you will not receive any reduction in BAH pay as long as you maintain “uninterrupted eligibility” for it.
Can I Lose BAH Rate Protection?
Yes, and quite easily actually. There are three ways to lose BAH rate protection:
- Being transferred to a new duty station where the BAH rate is lower than your previous location. You will be reassigned to the new BAH rate for the area, receiving less money if that areas rate is lower. Technically, the Government claims that you aren’t really losing anything, since they’ve determined that the new area has a lower cost of living, but we all know how that goes…
- If you are demoted, your BAH rate will be reduced to the lower pay grade.
- If your dependency status changes (and you no longer have dependents), then your BAH pay is guaranteed to be reduced.
Does Rate Protection Prevent Increases Too?
Of course not. Do you know how much complaining there would be if it did?
If I Get Promoted, do I Get the Higher Amount?
When you’re promoted, your BAH rate will be adjusted to whatever the current BAH rate is for your new higher pay grade.
However, if you get promoted and are serving in a duty station where the current BAH rate for your new grade is lower than what you were receiving before, you’ll continue to receive the larger amount.
How Much Does BAH Change Each Year?
Typically the BAH rate doesn’t change that much each year, since rental prices across the country tend to change only between about 2-5%, unless there’s an exceptionally “hot” market where rents could spike up 5-10%.
This year the rate increased substantially less than it has in many recent years, which is unsettling to say the least, especially when so many military families count on the increase in BAH pay to make the rent, or mortgage.
What if I Still Have Out of Pocket Expenses?
You’re going to, almost guaranteed.
BAH isn’t designed to subsidize your housing 100%. It was designed to offer some assistance in helping you secure housing, and its been set at an average rate for your area.
If you happen to rent a much nicer house than the average place that was surveyed, then you’ll likely end up with out of pocket expenses.
Conversely, if you serve in an extremely nice duty station, but find an extremely cheap place to live, you’ll end up with more BAH pay than you need for rent, and can spend the money on something else.
My BAH Rate Doesn’t Come Close to Covering My Mortgage!
That’s probably true, unless you bought a fixer upper.
BAH rates are set based on rental data, not mortgages, and monthly mortgage payments tend to be higher than rental rates, especially when you factor in the costs of actually owning (and maintaining) property.
Don’t expect for BAH to cover your mortgage payments, or you’ll end up in hot water.
Where does BAH Data Come From?
The Government collects data from “multiple sources”, and claims that there are “checks and balances” in place to ensure its accuracy.
They claim to randomly survey residential vacancies listed in local newspapers and real estate rental listings, as well as telephone interviews and other means to ensure a 95% confidence level in the accuracy of their data.
Are BAH rates perfectly set for every area? Probably not.
What Gets Included in the BAH Rate Calculation?
We mentioned this above, but there are three components to the calculation for BAH pay:
- Average rent prices for the area
- Average utilities bills for the area
- Average renters insurance costs for the area
When is Data Collected?
Each year, in the spring and summer while housing markets are most active.
This typically helps the rate get set a little higher than it would if they collected the data during the Winter when housing markets are relatively flat, or even depressed.
Does Family Size Matter?
No. The only thing that matters in determining your personal BAH rate is whether or not you have ANY dependents.
If you have 1 dependent, or 10 of them, you’ll still receive the same rate.
So – while the Government (and the military) are effectively promoting starting a family here, it’s a bit of a mixed message, because they aren’t subsidizing starting a huge family.
Does BAH Guarantee that my Private Residence is as Nice as Military Housing?
No. You may end up living somewhere that’s not nearly as nice as the on-base housing, but you could also end up living somewhere that’s far superior to base housing.
BAH rates are determined based on the average for the area, if you remember, so you can play the game of living in a cheaper part of a nice area to save some BAH money for other expenses, or you can live in a nicer than average place in your area and end up spending a little bit of money out of pocket for that added comfort.
Why is BAH Based on Duty Location Instead of Resident Location?
Will Living in a Crappier Area Reduce BAH Rates for Others at My Duty Station?
BAH rates are not set based on actual personnel’s living expenses, but on the average cost for anyone living in the area.
If your friends move out to the sticks to reduce their own expenses and save some of the money they were offered via BAH benefits, that won’t cause your BAH pay to get decreased next year, so don’t hold it against them.
Why do People in Other Cities Get More Than Me if Living Here is More Expensive?
It probably isn’t.
The rates are set scientifically, using random surveys and calculations.
You probably aren’t using a large enough sample size to get an accurate idea of how much it costs to live where you live, compared to how much it costs to live where they live.
I Need More BAH!
No, you don’t.
And you won’t get more either.
If the BAH you’re receiving isn’t covering enough of your expenses, then it’s time to downsize.
How are Duty Stations / Local Areas Defined?
If My Spouse and I are Both Service Personnel and We Have Two Children, Can We Collect Two Full-Rate BAH?
One of you will be allowed to collect full-rate BAH, while the other will only be able to collect single BAH.
This is according to the rules governing allocation of dependents.
What is BAH-Diff?
BAH-DIFF is the housing allowance amount authorized for personnel who are assigned to single-type quarters, but who are authorized to collect BAH pay only because they’re paying child support.
If I’m Divorced, but Have Children, Do I Get BAH With Dependents?
Your rate will be determined based on the following factors: whether or not you have legal and physical custody of your children, pay child support, and/or live in single-type government quarters.
If you have legal and physical custody of the kids, you’ll receive BAH at the with dependents rate as long as you are not assigned family-type government quarters.
If your ex has custody and you are paying child support (at a level high enough to be determined as “adequate” based on the BAH-DIFF rate), then you’ll receive BAH at the with dependents rate if you are not in government quarters, and you’ll receive BAH-DIFF if you’re assigned to single-type government quarters.
If I’m Divorced, My Ex is a Service Member, and We Share Legal Custody of Children, Can We Both Receive BAH With Dependents?
Both members may not receive a housing allowance at the BAH with dependents rate based on the same dependent.
When you share legal and physical custody of a child, each parent will be authorized BAH at the with dependents rate during the period of time that the child is actually in their custody.
This gets a bit complicated, but it works out so that you’ll get some percentage of the BAH with dependents rate, based on the amount of time you’re actually in custody of your child/children.
If I’m Divorced, My Ex has Full Custody, but I Pay Child Support, Can I Get BAH with Dependents?
If you don’t have legal or physical custody of your dependents, then they don’t really count as dependents, so you will not receive BAH at the with dependents rate.
Where To Ask Other Questions?
If you need help determining your rate, or if you have any other questions about how BAH works, then please use the contact numbers below.
Army personnel should contact MACOM RM directly, using the numbers below:
- AMC – (256) 450-6577
- Army Reserve – (877) 462-7782
- Cadet Command – (757) 788-3835
- Hawaii – (808) 438-2070
- HQDA – (703) 692-7954
- TRADOC – (757) 788-5183
- USAREC – 502-626-0263 DSN: 536
Navy personnel should contact their local PSD or command for questions about specific entitlements, but may then contact the Navy’s official BAH representative at (703) 604-5477.
US Air Force
Air Force personnel should contact the local finance office for questions about specific entitlements. They will then contact the MAJCOM for clarification, if necessary.
US Coast Guard
Coast Guard personnel should call (202) 475-5398.
US Marine Corps
Marines should contact their local finance office or command for questions about specific entitlements. If they aren’t provided a sufficient answer, they can then contact the USMC BAH representative at (703) 784-9386.
NOAA personnel may contact their representative at (301) 713-1045.
Public Health Service
If you receive BAH pay as part of the Public Health Service, please contact your representative at (301) 427-3296.
Was it Enough?
Considering that the rate only increased .5% this year, what are your thoughts on how the Federal Government is treating military personnel?
Do you think that a half percentage point increase was fair, or was this far too little to cover the increased costs of living in your area?
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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