One of the great things about the military pay scale is that there are regular raises built right into the system. When you’re first starting out, they come a little more frequently, then the pace tapers off after you’ve been in the military a while.
There are three types of regular pay raises in the military: promotions, time-in-service pay raises, and annual increases in the overall pay chart. There are also targetted pays and allowances that are paid for certain specific jobs, locations, or types of duty.
Every branch promotes a little bit differently, but there is a similar progression regardless of your branch, career field, and whether you are an officer or enlisted. During your time in the military, you will (usually) promote every few years, with “few years” meaning anything from six months to 6 years. Promotions usually come more often at the lower ranks, and then slow down as you reach a higher rank.
You can see how promotions impact your pay on this portion of a pay chart. It’s for 2021, but you can see the full history of pay charts at the Defense Pay website. (Here’s a link to a different version of the same information.)
It’s important to note that you don’t always get paid for a promotion immediately. How that timeline works out will depend on your branch and sometimes the community.
Time-In-Service, or Longevity Raises
One of the really nice things about the military pay table is that you will get regular, automatic raises every 1-2 years, even if you never promote. (You might not stay in the military very long if you never promote, but that’s a whole different story.) Early in your military career, you’ll likely benefit from the faster time-in-service raises (there’s a jump at 3 years, which is the only time that you have a time-in-service raise that isn’t on a 2 year schedule.
Here’s an example of how time-in-service raises will increase your base pay.
Annual Pay Increases
Each year, the military has some level of pay increase. It is based on inflation, but that figure can be increased or decreased by Congress. In theory, there could be a year with no pay increase, but it hasn’t happened since this annual review process was adopted in 1963. The lowest annual raise in recent history is 1.0% (2014 and 2015), and the highest has been 6.9% (in 2002).
The 2021 pay chart is 3.0% higher than the 2020 pay chart. For example, an E-4 over two years of service had a base pay of $2,378.40 in 2020. In 2021, that same service member’s base pay increased to $2,449.80.
There are many other pays and allowances that go into total military compensation, but base pay is the one constant. Understanding how it will increase over time is an important part of understanding the big picture of the military pay system.