Changes to BAH will Penalize Married Couples & Smart Money Choices

Recently, the Senate passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the massive piece of legislation that sets policies and funding levels for the Department of Defense (DoD). Tucked away in the 1600-page bill is a set of proposals that — if signed into law — will significantly change the way service members receive their Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH).

And here’s what we think you need to know about it:

  • Instead of a flat rate based on rank, location, and dependency status, service members would be paid for their actual housing costs, up to their set BAH rate.

  • Service members who live with other members of the military – whether married couples or roommates – would each see their housing allowance cut in half, or more. The amount of the cut would depend on the number of service members residing together. For example, a junior service member rooming with three military friends would receive one-quarter of his BAH.

We’re not okay with this proposal. At all.

If passed, this proposal would lead to a sizable pay cut for many service members and their families. By itself, that pay cut would be more than enough reason for us to oppose the legislation. However, we believe changing BAH as the Senate suggests unfairly penalizes married service members, places an undue administrative burden on DoD, and discourages responsible financial choices.

Unfair Marriage Penalty: Proponents of the Senate plan argue that since BAH is meant to pay for housing, it is appropriate to reduce the amount paid to dual service married couples who reside together. They only need one house, right? That argument fails to take into account that BAH has long been considered part of Regular Military Compensation (RMC), the figure used to calculate how military pay stacks up against salaries in the civilian world. Reducing a service member’s BAH lowers his or her RMC. Simply put, it’s a pay cut.

Dual service married couples are not a two-for-one deal. Each of them serves and sacrifices, and deserves to be compensated accordingly. Anything else unfairly penalizes service members who marry other military members.

Administrative Nightmare: The Senate proposal is very similar to the current policy for military families living overseas, who are reimbursed for their actual housing costs when living off base. The overseas process works the way it does because of the differences in U.S. and overseas housing markets and currency fluctuations. But this only affects a relatively small number of families. Imagine the organization needed to check every service member’s rental agreement, or mortgage statement, and set their pay accordingly. What about the financial impact on families when mistakes inevitably happen? The time, effort, and money required to institute such a plan would far outweigh any potential savings.

Discouraging Responsible Choices: The Senate plan severely limits military families’ freedom to make responsible choices and manage their own money. The majority of military families use all of their BAH to pay for their housing and utilities; in fact, many families tell us their housing costs exceed BAH. However, the current system allows families flexibility to make different choices based on their unique needs. The Senate plan would incentivize families to spend all of their BAH on housing and not a penny less. How would that inflexibility help military families – or the DoD’s bottom line? And what’s more shocking: the plan penalizes junior service members who make the responsible choice to seek out roommates in order to save money.

The Senate proposals regarding BAH were not included in the version passed by the House, which means it is an issue to be resolved in conference. There is still time to let your Congressman or Senator know how this change would affect your military family.

How does your family use BAH? Does it cover ALL of your rent and utilities? We’ll be speaking out loud and clear to let Congress know any changes to BAH must keep your family’s needs in mind. Your service member’s sacrifice demands nothing less.

Please share your thoughtful, specific examples below and we’ll be sure to capture your comments in your response to Congress.

Posted June 21, 2016


From: CharlesEleks on: October 9, 2017
Doctors have many challenges to face as they are perennially surrounded by patients, diseases, hospital duties and over-extended or odd shift timings. Universally, doctor is considered to be a noble profession and respectable one at that, but a doctor also has to work under immense pressures, emotional strains and other physical challenges. A regular physician like most of us at some point face will have to deal with personal situations such as important family affairs, family holidays, sickness or pregnancy that may force them to abandon medical duties. At the same time, a hospital or a healthcare facility is also constantly faced with emergency situations that demand all hands on deck round-the-clock. Therefore, every hospital, clinic or nursing home is compelled to hire locum tenens or substitute doctor in order to keep the staffing under control at all times. In fact, locum doctors are the most valuable asset for the medical community because they provide quality medical care and act as a helping-hand in emergency situations when the medical facilities need them the most. Unlike regular or permanent doctors, locum doctor jobs are also ideal career options for medical interns and graduates because they offer a wide array of medical exposure in varied medical specialties, work cultures and healthcare systems. Locum jobs are challenging and flexible, thus an increasing number of medical professionals have benefitted from these jobs, so whether one is looking for a family physicians position or in a hospital or in a clinic, locum jobs for doctors are available at all levels and in different healthcare systems. In addition, being a locum doctor gives a medical professional the control over their working hours, location of work and choice of area of specialisation. Technically, locum positions are not restricted to general physicians but they are also extended to other fields of medical specialisations such as cardiology, neurology and many more. Travelling can be an integral part of locum jobs, and these distinctive features are a boon for many dedicated medical professionals who are eager to expand their medical careers with loads of multi-cultural medical experiences. The fact that locum agencies in the UK recruit tens of thousands of locums from across the globe in various NHS hospitals, private clinics, nursing homes and other public hospitals speaks volume of the popularity of locum jobs. Locating or getting a locum tenens job is a simple task as long as you are registered with one of the many reputable locum agencies. These agencies act as the middle man between locum tenens and medical facilities, and they also look after all the details pertaining to travel for locum tenens, accommodation and the nature of locum work. Thus, maintaining a healthy locum doctor-agency relationship benefits both the parties, and it also increases the probability of getting recommendable employment opportunities and businesses or vice-versa.
From: Mike on: September 3, 2017
The proposal is a massive pay cut and I am completely disgusted with supporters of this plan. My mother is a teacher and also worries she is not payed well enough. There are many important contrasts between our situations and very specific issues I feel a need to address. She has been able to begin paying a mortgage, drastically remodel a kitchen, and take a cross country road trip in the last 7 years (and good for her financial management, choices and opportunities). The military also creates opportunities but requires massive sacrifices! BAH is actually part of an overall compensation package that takes into consideration the need to offset a financial gap between our profession and the civilian sector based on experience and seniority (aka rank and time in service). Please understand: BAH is part of a "broader financial package" which essentially (barely) contributes to making up a gap in our income (compared to civilian opportunities), based on our rank and time in service. I am a Paratrooper with many years in a demanding reconnaissance and surveillance job and I feel that troops "need" (and deserve) realistic income. Here is the stark contrast in our financial situations and job demands...please hear me out. We bought a home, and with the taxes and insurance we pay about half of our BAH. We were being frugal and planned to update our 1950's farm house and keep it. Our water source is a well and it passed initial inspections... and then immediately, completely failed after finalizing the purchase and moving in. No one was considered legally liable nor could we afford any legal research. We payed about 20,000 (borrowed) to drill a new well and therefore could not remodel anything. Due to being very cautious and my wife's great negotiation skills, we still were not upside down on our loan (with the well cost being a surprise). Part of the reason we were not financially damaged too much is because we crossed off our re-modelling plans for a while (and we are still waiting to this day). We have a 4x5 foot hole in our shower wall with plastic sheeting covering it (because we cannot afford repairs (and there are many other sub-par issues). Due to those types of living condition problems, we cannot rent it out. We still remain FAR below the debt level of the average American family and we are just about to see a raise that would have helped address much remodeling. The problem then? I received orders to move but we wanted to keep our family's home home of 6 years, also my daughters age and childhood memories. It is a good thing we bought cheep and sacrificed many comforts that are demanded by others. We spent 4 months researching the cheapest rent at my new assignment and we now use our entire BAH for the two households. The four months of research were based on searching as soon as we received notification/orders to move. I could retire in under three years and would like to return to our financed home and continue to "live poor today" in order to build our financially secure future. I have friends that bought a home that cost about 2.5 times more than mine (because they spent their entire BAH and based their decision on most of their loan approval). I had approval for similar figures but was worried that something might go wrong (such as our current scenario), and we were much more careful. Furthermore, we had considered the possibility of not being able to retire (based on downsizing, needs of the Army, or other unexpected issues) and we took comfort in knowing that we could afford the mortgage on minimum wage. That would of course have led to other issues with bills but we would not be homeless. If the proposal occurs, it is a lack of flexibility and a pay cut that would likely lead my family to bankruptcy for several obvious reasons. I would need to at least re-finance everything (including many household repairs), then sell my home to try to break even, and soon retire, move, and start all over. This proposal penalizes "geographical bachelors" (basically, families that might have to be occasionally separated by an order to move elsewhere). The military does not help sell our house, etc. My peers that payed more than double what I did will be unaffected because they maxed out the BAH coverage. My family will be financially ruined for trying to be frugal. Additionally, all similar financial impact to other service-members will affect our future and place us behind those who did not volunteer to sacrifice 1-3 decades of their life...or possibly even health, youth, limbs, eyesight, mental health, and opportunities we can typically take for granted. This next part is some related points. Just about anyone who claims to relate to the demands and the hours of a military combat occupation is crassly unrealistic and utterly offensive. I have literally seen a co-worker suffer from temporary insanity because we were only able to sleep for FAR under 4 hours a day for 7 months while walking next to improvised explosives and getting shot, killed, or losing arms and legs. With that kind of challenge in my life I find myself still working on college. I will have an AA in January next year (with almost 18 years in service) and I will work on a Bachelors to be closer to educational success by retirement. The financial sacrifices that me and my family have made should help with our future financial security but it absolutely will not if our BAH covers half of what it did, or in our case, the cost of one CHEAP and sub-standard residence (chosen sacrificially in order to build a better tomorrow for our family). The service has ALREADY made it much harder to buy a home or to attend college. My average "work-day" is over 15 hours, SOME are 18-32 hours long. I have had no choice on occasion but to execute tactical work for 90+ hours with no rest or for 4-5 days on under 45 minutes of sleep per day! I have walked 24 miles with 127 lbs. on my back to conduct multiple tactical raids. How is that comparable to a civilian job? How are we being over-payed? I typically work more than 6 days per week and I have NO predictability regarding any time or days off as I am essentially "on call" and our occupation is a "service". We don't clock in and out, we don't have a "union"...we work when and were we are told to and we do so without question. Finally, as far as my understanding goes, the Army is likely having some trouble getting new soldiers. Many people are not qualified and many people are not willing. The proposal would absolutely steer people away from serving our country and directly to anything else at all, likely more focused toward personal financial or social gains. Some of us have more potential than this particular profession of service but maybe feel geared toward this challenging lifestyle and profession. Proper income for a soldier is a demand of reality. Penalizing our choice to be frugal is not fact, this encourages service-members to seek housing at the maximal coverage, costing more in the long run for tax-payers. That alone means that we have less flexibility toward other investments in our future! We already have less opportunity and frankly, the idea is similar to politically authorizing a form of theft and oppression from those that agreed to put their life on hold and into harms way. It places our service-members in a more fixed social/economic caste and it threatens retention and recruiting of quality members, such as those who have a choice and desire to serve. This threatens our veterans futures to a degree that in some cases would be financially catastrophic to families. This is not good for our society or nation in the long run. I ask the incompetent idea fairy: How many broken families, minds and homeless alcoholic vets is the quota for this plan? If this plan takes place, I will leave the service as fast as I can and I will advise everyone against it. Maybe we need to consider better ways to save money than generating an oppression of our veterans financial futures that would add to the list of (typically inherent) occupational sacrifices.
From: Stev on: December 19, 2016
I do want to tell this Rebecca, who is a teacher, about fair. You can talk about and complain about military and their pay check when you sacrifices the same thing they do insteat of seating on ur chair every day and able to see your family every day ALSO COMPLAINING ABOUT UR OWN JOB. Im active duty in the Navy, and i will be away from my famliy for about 6 to 9 months everytime we deploy, and we go to war zone, not to a nice office with AC, we earned every penny from our pay check. I do want you to know, I DO NOT WANT MY SON TO HAVE A TEACHER LIKE YOU, because you have time to post your complain in a nice AC office only because our military are out there fighting to keep our contry safe!!!some of us putting our lifes in front line!! most of us sacrifices time and not able to see our family, our kids for 6-9 months!! NOW TELL ME, WHAT DID YOU DO.
From: Rebecca on: November 12, 2016
I just wanted to address Barbara - first of all - thank you for what you do! Teaching is a noble profession and I appreciate what you do! That said, I wanted to address what you said. BAH reflects the market, not the other way around. If military members didn't regularly move, BAH would be part of their salary. But they do! Teaching is paid regionally as well- you make more money teaching in Connecticut than you do in Kansas. It also costs less to live in Kansas. Something to think about. Again, thanks for what you do!
From: Barbara on: October 12, 2016
I appreciate the service of our military personnel. I understand that military personnel do not get paid well. Did you know that teachers don't get paid well either? I am a single public school teacher who cannot afford rent near my school due to the fact that the military stipends have, in effect, raised rents beyond market value. In speaking to local homeowners,they are upfront about raising rent and they know that military personnel get a certain amount of money for housing- so that's what they're going to charge! The military housing stipend raises rents because homeowners are completely aware of this military practice. This rent hike is preventing people like me from living near the school where I work and preventing public service workers from purchasing homes in our own community. There's no way to save for a down payment on a house when most of your income goes toward rent! Does this sound fair? Sure the military need a place to live. What about the teachers teaching their children? What do we deserve? Something has got to be done!
From: Paul on: August 12, 2016
Write your Congressman and Senator now!
From: Marcie on: July 19, 2016
I'm not even military and this makes me mad. Why don't we all contact our representatives and ask them to take a pay cut? Come on military friends.....I know your not supposed to go against your country (and this isn't, it's standing up for what is right!) but haven't they put you last before even considering themselves? They aren't going to stop hitting up the military until someone gets fed up and stops them.
From: Kenny Mathiesen on: June 29, 2016
I wish I could say this surprises me, but our leaders in government to not actually think before signing a bill. Whenever congress, the senate or the White House complains about Military spending, the first area they look at is taking money out of the hands of it's service members. Our military spends BILLIONS of dollars funding usless projects like uniform reforms that are not necessary. If they used their heads, stop trying to make male and female military members look exactly the same, stick with what uniforms we have that are working, we would decrease the military spending significantly. I've been AD for 22 years, and for the last 10 years, I've witnessed our leaders do everything to put more strain on it's members and their families. Quit taking money out of our pockets!
From: Stephanie on: June 28, 2016
The government enjoys screwing the people that protect them.
From: Heather on: June 25, 2016
Cutting BAH is a frustrating proposal for all the reasons already mentioned and I agree. My husband and I are both military in the Air Force. We chose to buy a house where we are stationed to the very affordable market in our area. Due to our equal compensation we could afford to go for a 15 year mortgage and save more than $100k in the long run. This decision factored in both of our BAHs and as a result our payment is above a single BAH but below our combined BAHs - not including utilities and taxes. We would not have been able to make such a good financial decision had we been reduced to a single BAH. Furthermore if this goes through, our financial situation will go from being able to pay off our student loans and house while also contributing to our retirement funds, to having to greatly reduce our payments and retirement contributions (if at all) and cost us significantly more in the long run. We didn't join the military to get rich, obviously. But we try to make sound financial decisions with what we are provided and it hurts us greatly to feel like we are punished for being married. We are both engineers and would make significantly more in a commercial job, but we both chose to serve.
From: Kerry on: June 24, 2016
My husband and I both serve and are stationed in the Bay Area in Ca. If my husband was not in the service, the BAH I receive with dependents would be short $1200 a month of my rent. That includes no utilizes at all, so truly we would be $1600 a month in the hole. We use both of our BAH to cover the house and not have to commute the 1-2 hours everyday. That is how far away we would need to live to "break even" or we would have to live in a 2 bedroom apartment. We applied for government housing and wete released within 30 minutes because there was no housing available because members with a spouse that dont work could not afford to live here at all. When BAH is calculated it includes areas where crime rates are so bad, you can't live there which drives down the rental averages. What it comes down to is the Congress will force people to make the decision as to whether the service is worth it or not. You will lose experience and expertise because they won't be able to afford to stay in. There will be tons of people willing to do 4 years and leave. Why would you stay and miss milestones in your families' lives for less money? It doesn't make sense.
From: Jess on: June 24, 2016
In the event that this should be passed, and it will be extremely detrimental if it does, but will there be provisions in place to let families out of their existing leases without penalty because they can no longer afford their current residence? If not, they will not only be faced with an allowance cut, but loss of deposits, potential termination fees, etc., while having to put down new deposits for a new residence. Dual-military families are already at the mercy of the needs of the military and the stress caused by work-life balances that generally tip in favor of the military. This will cause a catastrophic shift in that balance that families may not be able to recover from.
From: Laura on: June 22, 2016
If a civilian employer declined benefits to a spouse with the excuse that her husband already has benefits, there would be a huge outcry - not to mention law suit. Please don't demote the value of two profesdional people who choose to serve their country together.
From: Cristina on: June 22, 2016
BAH rates are already based on studies of local market rates. I believe most people are living right up to the BAH rate. Those who aren't are most likely spending savings on housing related costs (utilities, repairs, etc.) or other necessities such as food, clothes, etc. Penalizing service members who decide to economize by paying for housing below their BAH rate is ridiculous since that entails some level of discomfort which is probably the result of needing to cover costs somewhere else in their limited budget. There is no gaming the system. I would also argue that local economies would suffer and/or local housing markets would adapt to inflate housing costs up to BAH rates anyway. Rental housing costs around posts are already inflated. Lastly, the bureaucratic cost of implementing this new system would be huge. Housing is part of the overall compensation package and an incentive for staying in or joining the military - no one is living extravagantly on this benefit, but it provides peace-of mind especially when military service usually results in underemployment or unemployment of the spouse. This proposed change would be devastating to families, moral and efficiency.
From: Holly on: June 22, 2016
I took a pay cut to join the military. BAH provides supplementation to my base pay. If they take that away, then our salary should be renegotiated. I choose to live in a place below my BAH, so I am not out of pocket any more than I already am. Professionals with my education and experience in the civilian sector live in much more extravagant conditions. Also, I am married to another military member. Being dual military, we are often apart because it is difficult to get us co-located. We use our BAH for things like lodging, when one of us stays somewhere away from home during the week to be closer to work. When one or both of us is deployed, we still have to pay the mortgage, regardless if we live in the house or not. To add insult to injury, on deployment, we live in even worse conditions - in small quarters on a ship or in a tent with community bathrooms or even worse no bathroom, no hot water for a shower, etc. We don't get to choose where we are from year to year. It is the needs of the military, and we sacrafice our own needs and desires for the cause. If they want to compare our lives to the civilian sector, ask them if they would like to live the way we do and see if the amount of money we make is sufficient. If there were more members in congress who have served, this would not be up for debate.
From: Garrett on: June 22, 2016
BAH greatly assists my family and I make responsible choice about housing locations and associated utility costs. Should BAH be reduced, I would be strongly inclined to use my training and experience gained in the military and University, to seek civilian employment. Military members should not be having to worry about congress cutting their pay. They should be confident that congress will make the informed choices necessary to ensure soldier salaries are increasing, not decreasing.
From: Holli on: June 21, 2016
My husband and I were both active duty and even with two paychecks we still couldn't afford daycare for two kids. I got out and my husband is still AD. Our BAH barely covers our mortgage, we pay utilities and everything else out of pocket. We couldn't even afford to get me a beater car till just recently just so I can take the kids to appointments and buy groceries we can barely afford.
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