The Gap

Marines don’t serve for the money.  You can’t put a price on the hardships, the time away from your family, the danger, or the camaraderie that comes with wearing the uniform in the defense of the nation.  The pay is enough to live comfortably, but certainly no one in the service is getting rich on their military paychecks.

Although you aren’t becoming wealthy on payday you are getting paid for what you do.  The government does a great job of ensuring that you receive what you are entitled to by dropping half of your monthly salary by direct deposit into your bank twice a month.  Despite the fiscal challenges that the nation faces the thought of not paying the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who keep the country safe makes lawmakers squirm and infuriates taxpayers.  Suffice it to say that just like clockwork your paycheck will find its way into your bank account on the first and fifteenth of the month (unless those dates are holidays or weekends, in which case you get paid a few days earlier – which is always nice!).

Those checks just keep on coming, at least until your last day in uniform.  Then things get a little more complicated.

The military pay cycle is pretty simple.  In employment terms, all military personnel are government employees who are paid a base monthly salary in addition to any additional benefit payments that they are entitled to.  The base salary is taxed at the normal federal and state rates, but the benefits are not.  Examples of benefits include things like Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH, which subsidizes off-base housing) and Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS, which is a meal stipend).  There are many more, like jump pay (for those who find falling out of perfectly good airplanes on a regular basis as part of their job description) and combat pay (that not-so-huge amount of extra money you receive for going to places where bad people shoot at you).

So, all of these things are added up, resulting in your gross monthly pay.  Taxes and any other allotments (allotments being automatic withdrawals from your pay for things like Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance or savings bonds) are then subtracted, and the result is the money that is due to you for your service.   That amount is divided into two equal payments, which are in turn dropped into your bank account on payday.

It is important to remember that the month is divided into two portions, with the first half of the month being paid for on the fifteenth and the second half of the month being paid on the first of the following month.  This is very important to remember as you transition, because if your last day in uniform is the end of the month then your last paycheck is due the next day, and it will include all of your service up to the day of transition.

Well, it’s supposed to.  It’s not that simple.

Your last paycheck most likely will not show up when you expect it to.  Unless you are very fortunate, it will be delayed for a few days or weeks.  Although each service has slightly different regulations on your final mustering out pay, they all have the same basic requirements: the final paycheck must include all pay and benefits due to the separating servicemember minus any obligations that he or she owes the government.

This can be pretty surprising if you don’t expect it.  What obligations can you owe the government?  The obvious ones are any fines that you incurred by getting in trouble, but if you stayed on the straight and narrow you should be good, right?

Not necessarily.  The bean counters hold your final paycheck in their possession until all of the possible ways that you could owe money are doublechecked.  These include (but are not limited to) charges for any equipment that you may have lost (remember turning in all of your gear to the Consolidated Issue Facility?) or adjustments to benefit payments (for example, it is not uncommon for your combat related payments to be properly adjusted for a few months after you return from theater, and any overpayments will be recouped by the government).  Your final paycheck will also settle up any additional amount that the government owes you for things like unused leave.  The long and the short of it is that your final settlement paycheck is most likely not going to show up on the same schedule as you are accustomed to.

If you are relying on that check to pay for necessities then you are in for a rude surprise.  No amount of begging or complaining will make that paycheck show up any faster.  You can help yourself, though, by making sure that all of your ducks are in a row as you check out.  Make sure that all of your gear is turned in, for example, and include the receipt showing a zero balance with your checkout paperwork.  Stop by your admin shop and make sure that your pay and allowances are correct before you check out- deal with any problems up front and you won’t have to wait as long for your final paycheck because you are making the bean counter’s job that much easier.

In my case, my final paycheck took 26 days from when my terminal leave expired and it showed up in my bank.  Welcome to “the gap”.

The retirement pay cycle is monthly, as opposed to the bi-monthly system that active duty personnel enjoy.  Your first retired check is due on the first of the month after you retire, which means that you are not going to receive a paycheck at all until a full month after you get out.

This can be quite disconcerting if you don’t plan for it.  When you retire you are going to have a month without a paycheck so make sure to be ready!  Don’t put yourself and your family in the sad position of having to eat sawdust and oatmeal until you retirement check shows up.  Sock a little extra into savings ahead of time or mooch a few bucks from your relatives to bridge the gap, but make sure that you are prepared to go for a month without a paycheck.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you…


Lessons learned:

1.  Your final paycheck will be held up as the accountants settle up all of your accounts.  If you are relying on it to cover immediate expenses then you are in for a tough financial time.  Plan ahead!

2.  Your final paycheck will be reduced by any payments you owe the government and increased by any payments the government owes you, so it will most likely be an amount that may differ significantly from your normal pay amount.

3.  Unlike the bi-monthly active duty pay cycle, your pension is paid monthly with your retirement check arriving the first of the following month.


6 responses to “The Gap

  1. I appreciate the post. My medical retirement took affect yesterday and I was looking for my pay and had not received it. As I understand, a pay period will pay you 15 days after that period. So I’m due two more paychecks. Yet I never received my paycheck on Jan 1 (dec 31 with USAA). I checked mypay and I’m suppose to get an unusual amount on Jan 15. I called my admin (on I-I duty) and they had no clue why this sum was so large. Their theory was that this was my retirement pay. Which I knew wasn’t true. After doing so much and reading your post, my only conclusion was that due to the fact that my last day is December 30th, they are holding my pay and giving me a two paycheck lump sum on January 15th.

    No where during my out processing was I ever briefed of this and I am quite upset. You have shed some light on this issue and I know how to approach with my admin once they return from the New Years 96. Thank you.

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