The military retirement can be very confusing to understand and calculate. Depending on when you entered the service you may have the option of getting a bonus, contributing to the Thrift Savings Plan, or taking a lump-sum payment. Which option is best for you? We explain here.
Final Pay Retirement System
If you first entered the military before September 8, 1980 you are eligible for the Final Pay Retirement system.
Under this system your retired pay is computed by multiplying your final monthly base pay when you retire by 2.5% for every year of your service. That means you get 50% of your base pay if you retire with 20 years of service or 100% of your base pay if you retire after 40 years.
High 36 Retirement System
If you first entered the military between September 8, 1980 and July 31, 1986 you are eligible for the High 36 Retirement System.
The High 36 retirement system is almost exactly the same as the Final Pay Retirement System above except that you compute retired pay using the average base pay for your three highest paid years (36 months), rather than final monthly base pay. You still get 50% of your (High 36 ) base pay if you retire with 20 years of service or 100% if you retire after 40 years.
CSB/REDUX Retirement System
If you first entered the military between August 1, 1986 and December 31, 2017 you are eligible for the CSB/REDUX Retirement System OR the High 36 system.
Under the CSB/REDUX system your pension is based on the average of your highest 36 month's base pay like above, but the similarity ends there. The CSB/REDUX system gives you a "Career Status Bonus" (CSB) when you get to your 15 year service anniversary, but then reduces (REDUX) your retirement pay.
Under the CSB/REDUX you will get a $30K cash bonus (approximately $21K after taxes) and your retirement percentage is reduced from the normal 2.5% for each year of service by an amount equal to 1% for each year of service less than 30 years. This means that if you retire at 20 years, your retirement will be 40% of your base pay - (30 years minus 20 years = 10 years, the normal High 36 retirement pay at 20 years is 50% of your base pay, BUT under CSB/REDUX that is reduced by 10% (1% for every year of service less than 30), so your retirement pay is only 40% of your base pay.)
If you serve 30 years or more this reduction doesn't happen.
Pretty complicated, but it gets worse. All retirement systems have an annual cost of living adjustment. This is a subtle, yet very important detail. Over the lifetime of your retirement the cost of living adjustment could more than double your retirement check.
The COLA for the final pay and high 36 systems is determined each year by the national Consumer Price Index. But the COLA for the CSB/REDUX retirement system is the Consumer Price Index minus 1%. Soa retiree under the High 36 may see a COLA increase in their retirement check of 1.7% in 2018, while a retiree under the CSB/REDUX plan would get a COLA increase of only 0.7%.
Note: There is one more twist to the COLA for the CSB/REDUX retiree. At age 62 the 1% reduction goes away so that the High 36 and CSB retirees get the same monthly pay.
As you can see it is pretty complicated, luckily DOD has created a calculator and information pages to help you figure it all out.
Blended Retirement System (BRS)
If you first enter the military after January 1, 2018 you are eligible for the BRS. Under the BRS, your pension is similar to the CSB/REDUX system, you will get 40% of your base pay after 20 years. You also get a bonus at 12 years of 2.5% of your annual base pay. The military will contribute 1% of your base pay to your Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) which is similar to a savings account. You will also be automatically enrolled in the TSP to contribute 3% of your base pay. You can raise or lower, or stop this contribution at any time. After you have been in for 2 years, the military will match up to 5% of your TSP contribution.
When you retire you can either get your full retirement or opt to get a lump-sum payment. If you take the lump-sum you will get a reduced monthly retirement check until age 67.