Understanding How Basic Allowance for Subsistence Works

US Marines with meals

Over the course of the year, I get lots of questions about Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), and those questions peak each December when the new BAS rates are released.  I’m hoping to address most of those questions here, but please send me more questions (via comment or email) and I’ll include those as well.

What is BAS? BAS is an allowance designed to partially offset the cost of meals for a military member.  BAS is not designed to have any impact on the cost of food for family members.

Why do we get BAS? BAS is based on the history of the military providing lodging and rations as a benefit of military service.  As the military changed, service members have had more choice and freedom in their meal options.  The system became progressively more complex and confusing until 2002.  That year, the Department of Defense (DOD) changed the system to pay full BAS to all service members beyond their initial training.

How is BAS calculated? BAS is linked to, and changes with, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) food cost index.  No one in the military, Congress, or the executive branch of government has any control over the statistics that come out of the USDA’s annual survey.

Why don’t I get BAS? New service members do not receive BAS during their Basic Military Training, nor during most advanced initial training. After initial training is over, all service members should be receiving BAS.

Why are there two BAS rates? I don’t know.  I’ve researched it up and down, and I have yet to find a good answer.

Why is BAS being considered in my child support calculations? While BAS does not provide financially for family members, it does change the financial abilities of the military member.  Some states choose to include BAS when calculating child support obligations.

For more information, you may want to read the Defense.gov Military Pay BAS page or the DOD Financial Regulation Volume 7A Chapter 25.  I must warn you, the Volume7A Chapter 25 is long and I find it to be very confusing.  I have read a lot of stuff in there that directly contradicts what I have seen in the real military.  I am going to continue pursuing this to find more information, but I wanted to publish the rest of this first.  You may also find interesting the Economic Research Service’s report on Changes in Food Price Indexes 2008-2011.

photo by nukeit1

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • Cool. Now that’s something worth reading. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  • Crystal

    so my husband is just finishing up training. We have a month old son. Are my son and I included or is it a lump sum based off just my husband? I am a little confused. I read all of your post but didnt find the answer hopefully you can fill me in. Thanks.

  • BuckSGT

    Crystal,
    Simply put, it is a flat rate. 348 and change. It doesn’t matter how many children or dependents the soldier has. It is 348 regardless. :)
    While your husband is in training, he will not receive that extra money. Once he gets to his duty station, he will.

  • mhartman

    I have a question, a soldier has BAS taken out of their paychecks, but the total is greater than what its should be, how does one get a meal reduction?

  • HGH

    I know no one has posted in a while but I have a situation I need an answer to. My husband completed AIT in December but was put on medical hold due to an injury received in training. He is being released from the base in June. When he graduated, they took his meal card but continued to take out BAS. He is no longer attending AIT but is pulling CQ duty everyday when he is not at the physical therapist or doctor. He is being told by the chain of command that he is still viewed as a student even though he has graduated since he is not yet at his permanent duty station. He continues to point out that he doesn’t live in the barracks and doesn’t have a meal card, but they tell him there is nothing that can be done. The finance NCO told him to find in the Army regulations where it states he has to be paid the BAS and they will refund the money. Can someone direct us where to look? Thanks.

  • cara

    What “official” document(s) are available for use in a divorce in Florida to show that once the service member’s divorce is final his BAH/BAS will decrease due to his change to single status (there is one minor child) when calculating future/ongoing child support based on his current income as married?

    Also, can you tell me if is the “norm” to include military pensions as a marital asset even when the marriage lasted 2 years and the service member has been active 5 years and is not yet vested?

    Thank you.

    • KateKashman

      Cara, you ask challenging questions that truly require the help of an attorney who is thoroughly experienced in military divorces. Child support can be recalculated at any point, but it is a hassle and there are costs involved. It would be in the best interest of both parties to try to get the numbers right to start. BAH rates are available online at the Department of Defense website, as are the relevant regulations pertaining to BAH. Whether he changes to BAH without dependents will depend on the custody agreement. However, if he is paying child support, he may be eligible for BAH-Diff to help offset the required support. BAH-Diff is only available up to the amount of required support. As you can see, a knowledgeable attorney is invaluable to make sure things are calculated correctly.

      With regard to the pension, a military spouse may always ask the court to divide the pension as a marital asset. Whether the court will award a portion of the pension depends on how well each party makes their case. It would be unusual for the courts to award possible pension for that short a marriage, but if one side asks for it and the other side does not disagree, then the courts are unlikely to intervene. Regarding the length of service, there is no such thing as “vesting” with military pensions. If you leave the service any time before retirement eligibility, usualy 20 years of active duty service, you do not receive any pension benefit. It you remain on active duty for 20 years, you are eligible for a pension. (Rules are different for reservists and National Guard.) Therefore, any division of pension assumes that the service member is going to accumulate enough military service to earn a pension.

      Again, I advise the service member to retain an attorney with extensive experience with military divorce so that he may provide appropriately for his child and protect himself from financial harm in the settlement agreement.

    • guest

      in regards to modifications Cara, in FL your child support amount would have to increase 15% for you to be able to apply for a modification in the future (that means his NET income would have to go up a whole lot). In addition, he can, and should ask for a reduction in child support from the DOR charts to cover the cost of travel expenses. Lastly, realize in FL you are not allowed to move more than 50 miles without his consent or the courts…or you can be charged with kidnapping.

  • melinda

    My husband and I are separated and we’ve never lived together but he does have children that don’t live with him but pays child support for and he lives off base he says he only gets $150.00 extra a month for quote ‘not being single’ but from my calculations that isn’t right. I would just like to know what the right thing is because I want nothing I’m not entitled to just don’t like being lied to. Please help.

  • I have a question, can I save my BAS for not using it? :)

  • Siwa

    Can I save my BAS for not using it? Like not eating at any military kitchen. :)

  • L Hudd

    confused… Does BAS comes out of you paycheck or is it extra or what.. Our grandson has BAS coming out of his pay… Is it temp deduction later given back or permanent. He is in spec school grad in mar.

  • Mildred

    I am a single military member being sent TDY to a base where we are provided a meal card. We are on Title 10 orders. Does a single person get BAS? What about a married military person being sent to the same location, on TDY orders, provided a meal card. Do they get BAS just because they are married?

  • Kris

    If an active duty airman is married to another active duty airman, do they both get BAS?

  • jane bushnell

    do they have to eat on base to receive bas? My son often has to work through lunch and dinner or the mess hall is closed when he gets off work and then he has to eat off base. Can he get reimbursed for off base dinners? He is single w/no dependants