How Does Reserve Pay Work?

Updated: September 29, 2020

Table of Contents

    How does Reserve pay work? If you’re considering a career as a Reservist, understanding the factors that determine your monthly earnings for drill weekends and mobilization to serve on active duty is important.

    How Does Reserve Pay Work? Reserve pay functions like active duty pay in some respects but is quite different than others. Knowing the difference is huge, especially if you are transitioning out of an active duty career with plans to go Reserve.

    Some Fundamentals About Military Pay

    In general, active duty military pay and Reserve pay have some things in common including the fact that this income is taxable by the federal government.

    Both Reserve and active duty pay is also similar in the sense that any allowances you get including housing, “separate rates” or the Basic Allowance for Subsistence, and the military clothing allowance are NOT federally taxable.

    Both active duty troops and Reservists will see their pay increase the longer they serve. TIG or Time-In-Grade refers to the amount of time you have spent serving at your current rank. The longer you serve in your current rank the higher your pay will go up to certain limits established by the DoD and the branch of service you’re in.

    Active duty troops are paid at a rate and amount appropriate for their service commitment–they are paid to be on duty or subject to recall to duty 24/7. Active duty pay includes basic pay, allowances, special pay such as hazardous duty pay or language proficiency pay, and clothing allowances.

    Fundamentals About Reserve Pay

    Like the active duty troops, Reservists also get basic pay, allowances where appropriate, and special pay where appropriate. But this pay is offered only for the periods of service the Reservists show up for including training, drill weekends, and active duty service when activated.

    Military pay charts for Reservists show basic pay ONLY and these charts do not reflect allowances or other payments above and beyond basic pay. Depending on your status as a Reserve member you may be eligible to earn time on active duty that can be counted toward a Post 9/11 GI Bill once the minimum active duty service time (not drill weekends or the two weeks of training) has been reached.

    Reservists who are called to active duty will be paid for their active service the same as for “regular Army” troops or other service members–Reservists called to active duty service are compensated for the time spent working on active duty and those Reservists who serve on active duty earn days toward qualifying for education benefits like the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

    Drill Weekend Pay

    Drill weekends are paid monthly based on the number of drill periods worked in a weekend. Your drill weekend may contain multiple drill periods, not just one. You will be compensated for your drill weekends based on your time in grade and time in uniform, as we’ll explore below. You are not paid for weekends you don’t drill on. The annual training requirement pays you in a similar fashion to active duty service member–you are paid for the full two weeks of service.

    Time In Grade, Time In Service Counts

    There is also an overall TIS or Time In Service which also affects your pay and certain allowances; the longer you spend in uniform as an active duty service member or Reservist, the higher your pay can go.

    In both cases there are federal limits on the amount of the pay raise you get upon certain career milestones such as passing the two-year mark on your initial enlistment depending on the rank and time spent serving. Stay in the military for six years and you may be entitled to a pay raise at years two and four, but depending on your Time-In-Grade you may stop getting pay raises at year six until you get promoted.

    Promotions are dependent on both time in grade AND time in service–you can’t get promoted to another rank without having spent a minimum amount of time on duty in your current military rank and you’ll find it important to seek guidance on how long you must serve at your current rank before being eligible for a promotion.

    An Enlisted Example

    Let’s take a look at the pay chart for an enlisted E-1 Army Reservist who has six years in military service. The numbers seen below were current at press time, but these numbers are always subject to revision by the DoD so consider the numbers below as a reference only. These numbers are cumulative totals based on two weeks of Reserve training per year plus one drill weekend per month:

    • Army Reserve E1 with >2 Years Of Time In Grade/Time In Service: $3,639.51 (the Army official site points out that an E-1 will earn less in the first four months of military service than in successive months)
    • The same Army Reservist with four years or more of time in grade/time in service earns $3,639.51
    • The same Army Reservist who serves as an E1 for six years also earns $3,639.51

    At this point, sharp-eyed readers will notice that the amounts listed above DO NOT CHANGE. Why? Here’s one of the nuances of the military pay system. The Reserves do not want new troops to sign up for duty only to stall out in their military career at a certain rank.

    An E1 with six years of military service is not going to get a pay raise for one important reason–the Army doesn’t want people “hanging out” in these lowest ranks for longer than a prescribed time.

    But an Army Reservist who has been promoted to E3 starts off at $4,289.67 at  a >2 years pay rate for the year’s worth of drill weekends and two weeks of training. Compare that to the four-year level which is of $4,835.88 total for drill weekends and the two weeks of training.

    The pay increase does not apply at six years, indicating the Army might prefer troops who are more upwardly mobile–consider the four-year pay for an Army Reserve E-5 at $6,071.94 compared to the six year pay increase to $6,498.37. It’s easy to see that the Army Reserve wants to encourage career upward mobility when reviewing these pay charts.

    In Conclusion

    Reserve Pay is a system that might take some getting used to, but it’s designed to be as fair as possible for military members who want to serve but who can’t or don’t commit to a full-time military career. You can be called to active duty on a temporary basis, and when you are you should expect your pay and other compensation to reflect your active status until you are demobilized and placed back onto Reservist status.

    The legal/financial implications of this could affect your taxes, eligibility for military education programs, etc. Being called to active duty is the risk one takes when signing up for the Reserves, but it can also be quite adventurous both in terms of general experience and your financial bottom line.


    About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News


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