which military branch pays the most
General Military Questions

Which Military Branch Pays The Most?

Are you looking to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and wondering which military branch pays the most?

Great question!

It’s crucial to make sure you are prepared for the military and prepared for the commitment.

Furthermore, being prepared goes a long way when dealing with a military recruiter or surviving basic training.

Therefore, we have put together this guide to answer all your questions related to military pay and benefits.

We answer frequently asked questions like “Which military branch pays the most?”

The guide also includes 5 critical steps to take with military recruiters to guarantee you earn the highest pay possible.

You’ll also receive insider’s knowledge to several of the most frequently asked questions regarding military pay and benefits.

Discover more in our complete guide to military pay, bonuses, allowances, and benefits.

Related ArticleHow To Land The Highest Paying Jobs In The Military

Which Military Branch Pays the Most?

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It’s common for a military recruiter to encounter a question like this from a perspective recruit:

“I want to make a career out of the military and was wondering which military branch pays the most?”

The question makes sense considering you should get rewarded for your hard earned time and commitment to the military.

Moreover, since there are 6 different branches of the military (more information, below) it seems likely the pay structures are different.

However, many of the assumptions made about military pay and benefits are just that… assumptions.

The most basic and straightforward answer is that they all pay the same rate.

Your basic military pay is determined by designation (enlisted, warrant officer, officer) and rank, not by which branch you serve.

Consequently, an enlisted member of the U.S. Marines will not earn a penny more than an enlisted member of the same rank in the U.S. Navy.

Nevertheless, there are numerous ways to earn more money in the military based on several factors.

First, you can receive a higher pay in the military by naturally progressing in rank and years of service.

Secondly, the military offers several incentives to military personnel that serve in hazardous environments or combat roles.

There are additional financial incentives for military careers that need new recruits as well as allowances for troops with family.

In fact, the U.S. government provides allowances for housing, food, clothing, and more.

Third, you and applicable dependents receive military benefits like medical and tuition relief.

As a result, it’s still wise to ask a military recruiter about a current sign-on bonus or any other financial incentives.

These opportunities will allow you to earn more than a typical service member since all branches pay the same basic rate.

Thus, follow these 5 steps to earn more military pay and benefits even if there is not a military branch that pays more than another branch:

Step 1: Enlist in a Military Branch

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Which military branch pays the most?

As we previously outlined, there is no precise answer for which military branch pays you the most.

The basic pay rate is determined by military rank and years of service.

Consequently, you will not earn more just because you are in one military branch compared to another branch.

However, military personnel can earn more through various other means.

For starters, you’ll need to settle on a military branch.

There are 6 different branches worth considering in the U.S. Armed Forces:

In general, the U.S. Army promotes rank the fastest.

Thus, some consider this military branch the quickest method to receiving a higher base pay.

Regardless, having previous work experience or an advanced education can also warrant you a higher starting pay.

For example, enlisted recruits sometimes join at the rank of officer because of previous experience or education.

Moreover, there are countless other ways toward earning a higher military salary (more information, below).

Unfortunately, advancing in your military is partly a waiting game and exercise in patience.

Often, military promotions are granted once a senior member retires or transfers to another occupational specialty.

Step 2: Earn Basic Pay Based on Rank

The basic pay you receive is already determined by military rank as well as years of service.

For this reason, the U.S. Armed Forces divides pay rates based on military designation:

  • Enlisted Personnel
  • Warrant Officers
  • Commanding Officers

The lowest ranking service members in each category begin at designations 1-5 before progressing to higher numbers.

As a result, you can discover your basic monthly pay in the military depending on rank:

Enlisted Military

The enlisted ranks of the U.S. military include:

  • E-1
  • E-2
  • E-3
  • E-4
  • E-5
  • E-6
  • E-7
  • E-8
  • E-9

There are notorious terms (“Private”, “Seaman”, etc) for the lowest enlisted rank in each branch.

Not surprisingly, they also earn the lowest pay ( about $1,785 per month) compared to enlisted personnel of higher ranks.

RankPay
E-1$1,785 (p/ month)
E-2$2,070 (p/ month)
E-3$2,104 - $2,372 (p/ month)
E-4$2,330 - $2,829 (p/ month)
E-5$2,713 - $3,607 (p/ month)
E-6$3,188 - $4,297 (p/ month)
E-7$4,190 - $5,765 (p/ month)
E-8$4,819 - $6,581 (p/ month)
E-9$5,637 - $8,753 (p/ month)

However, your pay doesn’t stay this long forever.

Enlisted personnel are automatically promoted to E-2 ($2,070 per month) after reaching 6 months of service.

Then, additional promotions in rank are granted based on merit as well as time in service.

Warrant Officers

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Meanwhile, the Warrant Officer ranks of the military are as follows:

  • W-1
  • W-2
  • W-3
  • W-4
  • W-5

Warrant officers are specialists and experts in certain military technologies or capabilities.

They hold a warrant from a service secretary which promotes the member to the position.

RankPay
W-1$3,309 - $5,719 (p/ month)
W-2$3,770 - $6,293 (p/ month)
W-3$4,261 - $7,475 (p/ month)
W-4$4,666 - $8,691 (p/ month)
W-5$8,296 - $10,856 (p/ month)

The lowest-ranking warrant officers serve under a warrant yet receive commissions upon promotion to Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CWO2).

Warrant officers outrank enlisted personnel yet are under Commanding Officers.

Furthermore, Warrant Officers are not required to have a college degree.

Lastly, the U.S. Air Force and Space Force do not have warrant officer ranks.

Commanding Officers

Lastly, the U.S. Armed Forces classifies pay grades for officers in 2 different formats.

Officers that earn the rank upon enlistment are classified differently from Officers that earn the position by promotion.

Thus, you can differentiate the pay grade based on the definition (O-1 vs. O-1E).

Consequently, the different officer ranks of the U.S. military include:

  • O-1
  • O-1E
  • O-2
  • O-2E
  • O-3
  • O-3E
  • O-4
  • O-5
  • O-6
  • O-7
  • O-8
  • O-9
  • O-10

Commissioned Officers with prior enlisted service are often referred to as a “Mustang”.

Officers immediately earn other benefits such as housing and food allowances.

Additionally, officers automatically earn promotions after 2 and 3 years of service.

RankPay
O-1$3,386 to $4,261 (p/ month)
O-1E$4,261 - $5,290 (p/ month)
O-2$3,901 to $5,399 (p/ month)
O-2E$5,290 - $6.252 (p/ month)
O-3$4,515 to $7.345 (p/ month)
O-3E$6,023 - $7,839 (p/ month)
O-4$5,135 to $8,574 (p/ month)
O-5$5,951 to $10,111 (p/ month)
O-6$7,139 to $12,638 (p/ month)
O-7$9,414 to $14,066 (p/ month)
O-8$11,330 to $16,333 (p/ month)
O-9$16,013 to $16,608 (p/ month)
O-10$16,608 (p/ month)

The highest ranking officers (O-8 through O-10) include Major General, Vice Admiral, and Lieutenant General.

These high ranking officials can earn nearly $200,000 per year by 30 years of service.

The highest pay grade for an officer is obtained once a General or Admiral achieves a 4-star rank.

Step 3: Earn Special Pay

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There are many different ways you can earn special pay in the military.

The U.S. Armed Forces refers to this bonus pay as “special and incentive” (S&I) pay:

  • Career Incentive S&I Pay
  • Medical S&I Pay
  • Rehabilitation S&I
  • Retention S&I Pay
  • Skill Conversion S&I
  • S&I Transfer Incentive

Meanwhile, other examples of special pay and incentives in the military include:

  • Hazardous Duty Pay (HDIP)
  • Hardship Duty Pay
  • Assign Incentive Pay (AIP)
  • Overseas Tour Extension Incentive Pay (OTEIP)
  • Foreign Language Proficiency Pay (FLPP)

You’ll likely get offered some type of signing bonus for joining the military.

Moreover, personnel that are seeking reenlistment can earn a career field bonus up to $90,000.

In general, the Department of Defense (DoD) rewards service members that work in demanding or challenging career fields.

Additionally, service branches may offer their own discretionary bonuses depending on when you enlist.

There are many opportunities to earn special pay for pursuing an officer program.

Furthermore, advanced education and skills are rewarded such as being fluent in a second language (foreign language bonus).

It’s important to note that unlike many types of military pay and benefits, S&I pay is taxable.

Step 4: Apply for Military Allowances

The U.S. Armed Forces offers housing, clothing, and food assistance in addition to other benefits.

In general, military housing is available both on base and off base depending on living preferences.

For those that prefer to live off the base, a Basic Allowance Housing (BAH) is provided monthly.

The amount of the stipend varies depending on location, military rank, and number of dependents.

Meanwhile, service members are also allocated monthly stipends for food, clothing, and other basic needs.

The most common type of military allowances include:

  • Basic Allowance Housing (BAH)
  • Clothing Allowance
  • CONUS COLA Allowance
  • Dislocation Allowance
  • Family Separation Allowance
  • Family Supplemental Subsistence Allowance
  • Meal Allowance
  • Overseas Cost of Living Allowance
  • Tax Savings Allowance

As you can see there are a variety of allowances provided to service members to make the cost of living more reasonable.

The allowances are especially valuable for military personnel with a significant other and/or other dependents.

Unfortunately, military life does take a toll on family life which makes so many of these allowances beneficial.

For example, you can earn an additional allowance for being separated from family and/or stationed overseas.

Moreover, those that are stationed within the continental U.S. can qualify for the CONUS COLA Allowance.

The CONUS COLA Allowance is distributed to service members that are assigned to 1 of the 21 military housing areas where consumer prices are 8% higher than national averages.

Even better, the allowances you receive for food and housing are nontaxable.

Thus, service members and military personnel have an advantage over the taxable income people would report in the civilian world.

There are a variety of other tax-free allowances and credits you can apply to clothing and move-in expenses.

Step 5: Receive Military Benefits

The military is still a career path where longevity is rewarded in terms of promotions and bonuses.

As a result, you earn higher pay the longer you stick with the military in addition to more responsibilities and special privileges.

You can maximize military pay by qualify for understaffed and demanding career fields.

Furthermore, several military benefits are available as soon as you officially enlist.

Meanwhile, other benefits of the military are offered as you ascend rank.

Here are some of the many benefits you’ll eventually receive in the U.S. Armed Forces:

  • Dental Insurance
  • Health Insurance
  • Low-Cost Travel
  • Military Pension
  • Tax Exemptions
  • Tuition Reimbursement
  • VA Housing Assistance
  • VA Disability Compensation
  • Veteran Affairs Education & Training

You can learn more about the full benefits package by speaking with a military recruiter.

The military benefits may vary slightly based on branch but most are universal.

FAQs

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Are you wondering “Which military branch pays the most?” and other frequently asked questions regarding pay and benefits?

Get all the answers, below…

What military branch gives the highest bonus?

We are frequently asked: “Which military branch pays the most?”

Unfortunately, this is not an easy question to answer because the simple truth is they all pay the same rate.

However, there are many other ways to earn more by qualifying for special pay, promotions, and bonuses.

It’s worth nothing that every military branch does have its own structure for S&I pay.

Moreover, bonuses frequently change based on current recruitment needs and other factors.

Nevertheless, military branches like the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps are currently offering up to a $50,000 enlistment bonus.

Meanwhile, retention bonuses are even higher (up to $90,000) so do what you can to make a career out of the military if you enjoy it.

We suggest meeting with a military recruiter for the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding bonuses.

What military careers have the largest bonuses?

Again, this can change frequently.

For this reason, we encourage you to meet with a military recruiter from every branch that strikes an interest.

You may find that one branch is much more financially rewarding right now (in terms of special pay and bonuses) compared to another branch.

Nevertheless, doing hazardous work or serving in combat roles will automatically qualify you for special pay.

Additionally, any military career that needs more recruits or has special requirements will usually provide a financial incentive.

Despite the good news about bonuses, make sure you are not depending on this money immediately.

Why?

Bonus payments are generally contingent on a variety of conditions and may take 1-2 years before you actually see the cash.

Finally, some bonuses are paid out in prorated amounts over the course of a contract.

Thus, it’s important to make sure your recruiter is clear about how any bonuses will pay out.

You should get these negotiated bonuses formally written into the service contract and not just rely on the word of the recruiter.

Which military branch has the highest allowances?

There all the same.

You’ll receive the same basic pay (for the same rank and years of service) regardless of where you serve.

The Department of Defense created this pay structure to keep all military branches equal.

However, there are many other ways you can earn additional pay, regardless of branch.

Thus, you should choose a military branch you want to serve in rather than pick one simply based on its pay.

Do you get higher pay for serving overseas?

Yes, you earn considerable more for being stationed overseas.

In fact, eligible service members can receive up to $80 monthly or up to $2,000 annually.

More importantly, the Overseas Tour Extension Incentive Program includes other benefits like Special Rest and Recuperation Leave.

The Overseas Tour Extension Incentive Program is available for all military branches.

Regardless, it’s generally utilized most by service members in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

The U.S. Navy – of all military branches – travels the most providing more opportunities for special pay.

Moreover, service members can earn more by qualifying for Career Sea Pay.

Conclusion

Which military branch pays the most?

The United States Air Force, Navy, Army, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Space Force are all equal in terms of basic pay.

The basic military pay you earn is determined by military rank and years of service.

Notwithstanding, there are multiple other means to earning a higher income in the military.

For starters, you can qualify for special allowances and bonuses.

Additionally, the military retains service members by providing a good benefits package including health care and housing assistance.

Lastly, military dependents can benefit greatly from the variety of programs and incentives available to them, as well.

For this reason, the military is what you make of it with boundless options for earning money!

Rob V.
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Highest Paying Military Branch

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