Duty Station

There is No Such Thing as “Free” Housing

There’s no such thing as a free lunch and there certainly isn’t a free roof over our heads. It is a widespread misconception that BAH means “free housing” and is a perk that comes with joining the military. Whether one pays for that home with the intangible sacrifices that come with service, such as deployments, injuries or uprooting his or her family when Uncle Sam calls…or the very tangible dollars in hand when a mortgage or rent payment is due…the housing for military families is never free.

How many times has a civilian said something along these lines? “Well…since you live on base, your housing is free.” Or someone may have asked, “Don’t you love the fact that you don’t have to pay a mortgage? I can’t believe you get free housing.” Neither of those statements is even close to being true and we’ll break down how a military family pays for their home in the simplest of ways.

Consider this: for argument’s sake, lets say your spouse doesn’t get paid with money for his or her service…instead the government pays your spouse with a delicious apple pie each year. Then, to make it easy, the military will tell you what each piece of the pie represents. For enlisted families, one slice of the pie can even represent uniform expenses. And for all service members, a slice of that pie will go toward housing expenses. You won’t get an extra slice of pie… but you know how that pie is divided up to cover your living expenses. Depending where you live and your rank, that slice of pie representing housing expenses, better known as “BAH” (Basic Allowance for Housing), may be bigger or smaller.

All members of the military assigned to permanent duty within the 50 United States who is not furnished Government housing is eligible for BAH. The amount of money designated as BAH will change depending on rank, dependency status and permanent duty station zip code. For example, an E-1 with dependents will receive $2,016.00 BAH while stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. However, an O-3 with dependents living in that same zip code would receive $2,877.00.

Now say you choose to live on base rather than buying a home or renting near your current duty station. Say “goodbye,” to BAH. In essence, you are paying for your house though you aren’t getting a monthly bill to pay your rent. Look at it as a trade: you are forfeiting that piece of pie earmarked for BAH.

When explaining this concept to a civilian who knows little about the military or even a new spouse…consider using the pie analogy or describing it as a budget being laid out for us in advance. Let’s say a civilian is a teacher making $50,000 annually and the school district says, a quarter of that will help you pay for a nice condo. That condo isn’t free. The military is earmarking portions of our spouses’ pay to make it easier on us. If you choose to live in a house that costs less than the BAH your spouse earns…you can pocket a little cash at the end of the month. Or, if you choose to buy a home that your BAH doesn’t cover – you’re going to dip into other portions of your spouse’s pay, or your own pay, to meet your monthly payments. Yet another possibility: if you live on base, the BAH becomes a non-factor because you won’t get it anymore. The government’s intent is to provide uniformed service members accurate and equitable housing compensation based on costs in local civilian housing markets and is payable when government quarters are not provided.

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