Sea Legs - Pay and Benefits
There are many benefits to serving in the Coast Guard, including some financial ones. Service members receive pay and benefits for the work and time sacrificed while serving their country.
Pay & Compensation
Coast Guard members and their families are entitled to pay, access to the base commissary and exchange, family assistance, health care, a generous leave policy, travel opportunities and if the Coast Guard becomes a career, retirement.
Active duty members are paid twice a month. Paydays are the 1st and 15th of each month. If payday falls on a weekend, the money is usually deposited to the member’s bank account on Friday. Always check to be sure the pay has been deposited to your account and find out the exact amount that was deposited before you write checks, withdraw money, etc.
There are many categories of pay, some are taxable and others are not — usually “pay” is taxable; all “allowances” are not. The active duty member should speak with his/her servicing Yeoman (YN) or Servicing Personnel Office (SPO) if they have any questions about their pay. However, the Servicing Personnel Officer cannot speak with a spouse concerning pay or other items not considered public information without a general power of attorney.
Service members are only responsible for state taxes to their state of legal residence, not the state in which they are stationed. However, spouses can elect to use the legal residence of the servicemember for purposes of filing their state and local taxes. This law went into effect December 2018; consult a Coast Guard legal assistance office for assistance.
Subsistence (Food Allowance)
All active duty personnel receive a tax-free food allowance each month, called Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS). It is intended for the member to offset costs for a member’s meals and is not intended to offset the costs of meals for family members. The management of officer and enlisted BAS differs. Officers are authorized the officer BAS rate and are always expected to pay for government-provided meals. Enlisted members are authorized the enlisted BAS rate, but depending on their duty station assignment and government dining facility availability, can have the BAS amount adjusted to pay for government meals provided at the duty station at no cost to the member. At other duty locations, such as aboard a Coast Guard cutter, enlisted personnel are required to use the onboard dining facility or galley and are automatically charged the cost of the meals provided and therefore automatically forfeit BAS.
Coast Guard members on active duty entitled to Basic Military Pay may be authorized a monthly Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) based on a member’s pay grade, dependency status (with or without dependents) and duty station location. When authorized, BAH is paid in the continental United States, District of Columbia, Alaska and Hawaii. Outside of these locations, the housing allowance paid is called the Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA). BAH is paid to offset the cost of private sector housing when a member with or without dependents is not assigned to government-owned or leased housing. BAH is not designed to cover all expenses, as personal choices, such as education needs, commute time or spouse employment, may determine housing needs. In BAH payable locations, the cost of rental properties in each designated geographic location is surveyed annually to determine the correct housing allowance to enable members to afford suitable rental housing within a reasonable distance of the member’s duty location. By design, BAH does not consider mortgage costs should a member make a decision to buy a home. Check with your new unit’s Servicing Personnel or Housing Office prior to making any housing commitments.
Clothing Maintenance Allowance
Enlisted military members are paid a monthly allowance for maintenance and replacement of required uniform items.
Disability pay is available in the unfortunate event of serious illness or injury while on active duty. Disability payments are based on the degree of the disability, the member’s basic pay and the member’s years of service.
If a Coast Guardsman dies on active duty in the line of duty, the Casualty Assistance Calls Officer (CACO) will assist the family with arrangements and paperwork. The Coast Guard will provide the family with a death gratuity of $100,000 and any unpaid pay and allowances (including unused leave). Funeral expenses for burial and a burial flag will be arranged. Government-paid transportation of household goods and family members to any location will also be paid. Information on Social Security benefits are available from your nearest Social Security Administration office.
If enrolled, the qualified beneficiary (i.e., spouse, former spouse or minor child/children), of active duty members and certain reservists who die while on active duty, regardless of length of service, are eligible for Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) coverage.
In the event of a death of an active duty member in the line of duty, the spouse and dependent child/children are eligible for continued medical care, commissary and exchange privileges, certain preferences in hiring for federal employment and up to a year of basic allowance for housing (BAH). Educational benefits are offered through the Veterans Administration. Widows or widowers may qualify for GI Bill home loan guarantees if the member’s death was service related.
For more information, contact the Veterans Affairs office in your state or the local Veterans Administration office.
There are substantial benefits that go along with military service.
Commissary and Exchange
After receiving a military ID card, the holder can begin to benefit from its advantages. Two of the most frequently used benefits are access to the commissary and the Coast Guard Exchange System (CGX). The commissary is the military version of a grocery store. Many of the same goods found in a local store are available at a reduced cost. The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) applies a small surcharge that pays for operating the store. However, there is no sales tax on items purchased at the commissary.
The CGX is similar to a department store, but is operated by the military. Prices are competitive with civilian stores and you can normally pay by credit card, check or cash. Sales tax is not collected on items sold through the exchange. Base stores also honor coupons. The profits from CGX go into the Morale, Well-Being, and Recreation (MWR) fund for Coast Guard members and their families.
Military families can save between 10 and 30 percent using these stores, due to the service’s volume buying and federal tax-free status. These stores are strictly for service personnel and family members, a military ID must be shown to make purchases. There are strict rules regarding shopping privileges, but the one stressed most is do not buy for anyone who is not a military family member, unless it is a real gift.
Purchases can also be made online at https://shopcgx.com. This is especially helpful to those families who do not live close to a military base.
Morale, Well-Being and Recreation (MWR)
Coast Guard MWR services support mission readiness, personnel retention and overall quality of life. Each unit’s MWR varies according to the size of the unit, interests of the service members, geographical location and available activities and funding. Most units have a morale representative who can provide you with information. MWR provides discounted tickets for local attractions including concerts, plays, cultural events and local movies.
The Coast Guard and other military services maintain guest housing available for rent through the morale program. Additional information is available at www.dcms.uscg.mil/mwr and click on the “Coast Guard Lodging” tab. Reservations are required and most facilities do not allow pets.
Vacation time is referred to as annual leave in the military. Every service member earns two-and-a-half days of annual leave every month totaling 30 days each year. Paternity and adoption leave may be authorized in accordance with current instruction or policy. Please see your Servicing Personnel Office for information.
Emergency leave can be granted for grave illnesses, serious injury or a death in the immediate family. Emergency leave comes out of a member’s annual leave, but does not require the same advance notice that annual leave does. District Commanders and Commanding Officers may grant emergency leave to officers not to exceed 30 days at any one time, and to enlisted member not to exceed 60 days at any one time.
If the service member is deployed and a family emergency arises, contact your command ombudsman, your Chaplain or the American Red Cross. They will notify the service member’s command of the emergency. If the emergency requires the service member’s presence at home and if he/she does not have enough saved annual leave, the Commanding Officer may approve advance leave. This leave will be earned back as the member continues to serve.
Not all time off in the Coast Guard is charged to annual leave. Travel time between duty stations, house hunting during a PCS (permanent change of station) move and convalescent leave are examples of time off that is not charged to annual leave.
Liberty refers to the time when a member is not on duty, such as weekends and holidays. Special liberty refers to time off during normal work hours that is not charged to leave. Commanding Officers and Officers in Charge have the authority to combine special liberty with holidays, not to exceed four days.
Special liberty may be awarded for especially hard work or outstanding job performance. Commanding Officers may also grant special liberty to members who need to take care of pressing personal business. Four days of special liberty, (bereavement absence) may now be granted to any member experiencing the death of an immediate family member or legal guardian. This type of special liberty may be combined with normal liberty holidays or regular leave, at the request of the member.
Coast Guardsmen are encouraged to continue their education and there are many programs available to help. In addition to on-going training for job skills, there are opportunities to work towards college degrees. Some classes can even be taken online. Every effort is made to allow members to continue their education regardless of deployments or reassignments. Some programs allow members to attend school full time while still receiving pay and benefits. The Coast Guard Tuition Assistance Program assists eligible personnel (active duty, Reserve and civilian employees) in their professional development by providing funding for off-duty voluntary education courses. The unit Educational Services Officer (ESO) can provide detailed information on these and other available programs that may be available to spouses including College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) testing.
There are programs available that may provide scholarships for military dependents. For further information on scholarships contact the Family Resource Specialist (FRS) at your Health, Safety, and Work-Life Regional Practice (HSWL RP) or visit www.dcms.uscg.mil/worklife/scholarship-Program or contact your Education Service Officer https://www.forcecom.uscg.mil/Our-Organization/FORCECOM-UNITS/ETQC/Voluntary-Education/Education-Service-Officers/.
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers home loans for qualified service members who wish to buy a home. These loans usually offer a lower interest rate and a lower down payment than commercial loans. Information on guaranteed home loans is available at your bank or credit union, veteran service offices and through real estate brokers. Please visit www.homeloans.va.gov for more information.