You'll Be Rich in the Military - in Ways You Don't Think

American Soldier in his office
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I hear "You'll never be rich being in the military" all the time, from lower enlisted to command level officers. The military perpetuates the mentality that we don't make that much money. I'd like to argue that we do make a lot, and that the military is an incredible steppingstone to the middle class.

When I got shipped off to boot camp, I was making about $400 every two weeks. I always thought to myself how much more I had made in the civilian world. But I wasn't taking into account what didn't show up in my paycheck. Here are 10 big financial benefits of serving in the military:

  1. Training. Depending on your service and military occupational specialty, you'll get up to two years of training before reaching your first duty station. Much of this training translates straight into college credits -- and it looks great on a résumé.
  2. Retirement. The military is one of the last employers in America to offer retirement plans. After serving a mere 20 years, service members can choose to separate with 50 percent of their base pay every month for the rest of their lives. If they're eligible, they can stay up to 30 years to receive 75 percent of their base pay, and high-grade officers can retire with 40 years to receive 100 percent.
  3. Health care. While serving on active duty, service members and their families (spouse and children) will have free health care through Tricare so they are in the peak physical and medical condition they need for their jobs.
  4. Dental. Dental is free for service members, because good oral hygiene is necessary to maintain a deployable status.
  5. Commissary. The commissary is pretty much just an enormous grocery store, with better-than-Walmart (WMT) prices (most of the time). They also have enormous "lot sales" every so often where they have blowout prices of stuff you actually want.
  6. Basic Allowance for Housing. When you're a low enlisted rank, they'll stick you in the barracks (or dorms in the Air Force). The barracks, as terrible as they may seem at the time, save you so much money it's incredible. Typically, they're in the same parking lot as your workplace, so the commute is eliminated. Utilities are included, too. And you don't need to write a check for rent and worry that you won't have enough money, because the basic allowance for housing is granted to all military members. The allowance also gives you the ability to rent a house off-base or to use base housing.
  7. Tuition assistance. Depending on your branch of service, you could be eligible for up to $4,500 per year toward college classes. By taking full advantage of this, you could have an associates's degree in one enlistment and a bachelor's in two. And don't forget that you could earn college credit for your training through the College-Level Examination Program or Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support.
  8. The GI Bill. Typically used after separation, the GI Bill allows you to go to college at no extra cost to you. During the first year of your service, you will pay $100 per month toward the GI Bill. After that, you owe nothing. Service members can choose among two versions (the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post 9/11 GI Bill), and there is a way to get a few extra free credit hours if you switch between them in a specific way. It's also transferable to your spouse or children, although you need to serve at least four extra years after the election has been made.
  9. Thrift Savings Plan. If a pension plan wasn't enough, military members have access to the retirement savings plan, with a traditional and Roth option. It bases allocations on stock indexes and has extremely low operating costs -- read: very, very low expense ratios.
  10. Veterans Affairs loans. VA loans resemble Federal Housing Administration loans -- with a few awesome advantages. These include no down payment and no mortgage insurance requirement. They also usually let you have access to the best current rates available. And you maintain this benefit for life. Married to another service member? Then you each get your own VA loan to use.

Other benefits include military discounts (thank you business owners!), networking (you'll meet hundreds, if not thousands of people during your tour), experience (management and occupational), VA benefits and free simple income tax filings.

I'm not advocating that you join the military for financial reasons, but I am trying to highlight some of the financial perks that you wouldn't see in your paycheck.

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