Comparing Military Pay and Benefits to Civilian Jobs

Military covers housing costs.
Housing is provided by a military, a big advantage over the civilian sector. (Airman 1st Class Alexandria Crawford/377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs)

Military life is like civilian life in many ways. For the most part, you work a regular job and have to keep your life, bills, housing, car and other things in order. You will work with other people, have a boss and have to exhibit initiative if you want to get ahead.

On the other hand, the military lifestyle carries much more responsibility. There is always the threat of heading to a combat zone and risking your life. You must be on time to work -- there are no "getting stuck in traffic" excuses -- or face punishment. You consistently must be well-groomed, live up to working and presentation standards, and talk to others according to specific rules. You usually do not have the option of saying "no" and just quitting when you feel like it. After all, you are charged with protecting the United States. If you fail, the security of the country is at stake.

Here are some common aspects of life that would be important no matter what you choose to do. In general, civilian life offers more money. But there is a catch: You must first spend more to get yourself educated. You must spend more to travel, stay in hotels, find a place to live, move your things and pay for health care. The responsibility is held entirely by you, whereas in the military, many things are taken care of, such as health care, insurance and housing. Many things are either substantially cheaper or free in the military: look at travel and education. Finally, the pride that you will have by serving your country is a tremendous feeling that can be matched by few jobs elsewhere. Let's look at some military-civilian comparisons:

  Military Civilian
Pay Basic pay, special pay. With tax advantages, pay is comparable to civilian sector pay. Usually higher than military pay. However, there are usually no tax advantages.
Health care Several options, including full coverage that you do not pay for. Depends on employer. Often you must pay your own or pay partial amounts & co-pays.
Housing Provided by military. If you live off base, the military provides a basic allowance for housing, tax free. Usually you cover all costs.
Insurance Comprehensive life insurance, all free. Employers may or may not have insurance plans.
Education G.I. Bill, branch college programs, graduate education for officers ... there are endless possibilities You pay for all of it.
Travel Most likely you will travel to several spots through deployment. In your spare time there is also Space A travel, as well as great deals for military members. Many choices, but you pay out of pocket for all of it.
Vacation 30 days guaranteed vacation per year. Varies. Most employers start you at 10-14 vacation days per year, with little increase until you have worked several years.
Work hours Vary. Occasionally work weekends. You are on call 24 hours, 7 days a week. Full-time jobs are usually 35-50 hours per week.
Opportunities for advancement Excellent! You are challenged by your leaders and peers. The choice is yours if you would like to advance or not. Vary widely. In small companies, you may not have much opportunity. In larger companies, you may have opportunities, but often have to work much longer hours.
Retirement Most can retire after 20 years of active-duty service. In some cases, you may retire after 15 years in service. Varies. Most employers will require you to work 35 or more years before retirement.

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