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The Cost of Living Allowance or COLA helps offset the effects of higher living expenses that servicemembers stationed in expensive locations within the United States are faced with.

As a servicemember, you can expect to be stationed virtually anywhere in the country. During your career, you are likely to be assigned to a variety of low, moderate, or high cost locations. Although private sector pay often reflects the local cost-of-living, military basic pay tables do not vary based on location. To help offset the effects of higher cost areas, military servicemembers may be eligible for a Cost-of-Living Allowance (COLA). COLA is designed to compensate for being stationed in certain "high-cost" locations in the continental United States (CONUS).

COLA Eligibility

You qualify for COLA under any of these conditions:

  • You are assigned to a high-cost area in the Continental United States (CONUS). As of this writing, there are less than 30 such locations (military housing areas, or MHAs) in the U.S.
  • You are assigned to an unaccompanied tour of duty outside the continental United States if the primary dependent of the member resides in a high cost area in the continental United States.
  • It is determined that your primary dependent must reside in a high cost area in the continental United States due to your duty location or other circumstances.

Important COLA Details

  • CONUS COLA is based on the ZIP code of your duty station, not your home address.
  • CONUS COLA is a taxable allowance; an amount is added to cover an average income tax rate
  • COLA is computed separately for members with and without dependents.

COLA is designed to compensate for a portion of excess costs for non-housing expenses incurred in areas that exceed the average cost of living by more than 8%.  Qualification for CONUS COLA is based on geographic duty location, i.e., the ZIP code of duty station not the member's ZIP code.

The amount of COLA each servicemember receives is based on three main factors.

  1. Servicemember family status. Servicemembers with dependents are paid a different rate than those without dependents.
  2. Location based COLA indexes. Indexes are computed for all military housing areas (MHAs), which represent major metropolitan areas and installations throughout CONUS. Non-MHA areas are also considered as eligible for the program based on costs for cities, townships or urban areas in the vicinity. COLA indexes are adjusted annually based on new cost data as determined by the local market prices, access to and utilization of military commissaries and exchange services.

    Note: The utilization data for commissary and exchange facilities is obtained from surveys conducted approximately once every three years by the Per Diem, Travel and Transportation Allowance Committee through the Defense Manpower Data Center.  This survey is mailed to over 9,400 CONUS-based servicemembers randomly selected by pay grade, Service and geographic region.
  3. Pay Grade and Compensation. COLA payment rates are based on regular military compensation (RMC) and spendable income. RMC includes basic pay, basic allowance for subsistence, an average basic allowance for housing (BAH) and the tax advantage.  Spendable income is total income, less Federal income taxes, housing and housing-related expenses, gifts and contributions, life insurance and savings.

Calculate Your CONUS COLA Payment

To figure out if you qualify for a CONUS COLA payment, follow these five easy steps:

  1. Check off whether you have a dependent or not.
  2. Select your pay grade.
  3. Select your minimum Time in Service.
  4. Select your location.

    Note: If your location is not listed, you are likely not eligible for a CONUS COLA paymentHawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and other overseas locations are considered OCONUS and are not listed here. Go to the OCONUS COLA web page for more information.

  5. Click "Submit" to find out how much you should be paid.

You can hit the "Reset" button at any time if you make a mistake.

2016 CONUS COLA Payment Calculator
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