Enlistment and Reenlistment Bonus Guide – Everything You Need to Know about Bonuses

Enlistment bonuses and reenlistment bonuses are just one way that the military entices people to join the military or choose to reenlist for additional service. These bonuses aren’t available to everyone, however. Bonuses are most often used as a tool to get people to sign up for hard to fill jobs, those which require a lot of training, and jobs that offer high paying jobs in the civilian sector. Let’s take a look at enlistment and reenlistment bonuses, including how much they can run, how they are paid out, and what you can expect if you receive one.

Enlistment Bonuses

reenlistment bonus guide

Read this guide before reenlisting!

Some jobs in the military are eligible for an initial enlistment bonus of up to $40,000. Keep in mind this is only for the most difficult to fill positions, and bonuses are not available for every job. The size and availability of bonuses depends on your branch of service, job specialty, and the length of your enlistment (typically between 3 and 6 years). As you can imagine, a 6 year enlistment bonus generally pays more than a 3 year enlistment bonus. If your job is eligible for a bonus, you will typically receive it after you finish your basic training and initial technical training.

Reenlistment Bonuses

Reenlistment bonuses may be available to current service members when they reenlist for another term, again, usually in 3 to 6 year increments. As previously mentioned, reenlistment bonuses aren’t available for every career field. Each branch of service is able to determine which specialty (Rating, MOS, or AFSC) is eligible for a reenlistment bonus.

You may be eligible for a reenlistment bonus if you are a member of the uniformed service who:

  • has completed at least 17 months of continuous active duty (other than for training) but not more than 20 years of active duty;
  • is qualified in a military skill designated as critical by the Secretary of Defense, or by the Secretary of Homeland Security with respect to the Coast Guard when it is not operating as service in the Navy; and
  • reenlists or voluntarily extends the member’s enlistment for a period of at least three years in a regular component of the service concerned; or in a reserve component of the service concerned, if the member is performing active Guard and Reserve duty (as defined in section 101 (d)(6) of title 10).
  • You are not currently receiving special nuclear-training pay.
  • You reenlist or voluntarily extend your enlistment for a period of at least three years.
  • You enlist in a regular component of the service concerned; or continue in a reserve component of the service concerned.

How much can you receive as a bonus? Reenlistment bonuses cannot exceed the lesser of:





  • The amount equal to the product of 15 times the monthly rate of basic pay to which the member was entitled at the time of the discharge or release of the member; and
  • the number of years (or the monthly fractions thereof) of the term of reenlistment or extension of enlistment.
  • Reenlistment bonus not to exceed $90,000.

Note on Special Retention Bonuses: Some specialties are eligible to receive retention bonuses of more than $90,000. These are usually limited to those in the medical field, aviators, and those in select nuclear specialties. These are all on a case-by-case basis and are spelled out in US Code: 37 U.S. C, Chapter 5.

How (Re)enlistment Bonuses Are Paid

This is the section everyone wants to read! If you qualify for a bonus, you want to know when you get paid, right? Fair enough. If your bonus is less than $20,000 you can generally expect to receive it in a lump sum, upon completion of the terms in your contract. This is generally after completion of your initial technical training. If your bonus is more than $20,000, you can generally expect to receive half up front (again, upon completion of training), and the remainder spread out among annual installments. The Navy pays out their annual installments on October 1, which is the start of the fiscal year. The other branches of the service pay their enlistment and reenlistment bonuses on the anniversary of the date you received your initial installment. Update: a reader recently wrote in to tell us the Navy now pays out reenlistment bonuses on the anniversary of your reenlistlment, just like the other branches do.

Why annual installments? The military wants to ensure they are getting their money’s worth. You must continue to meet standards for your Rating/MOS/AFSC in order to be eligible to continue receiving your anniversary bonus payments. Failure to meet the technical standards for your career field, or failure to meet other standards may make you ineligible to receive your bonus payment.

Example: If you have a $40,000 bonus, you would expect to receive a $20,000 lump sum upon completion of training (or when your reenlistment actually begins). You would receive the remaining $20,000 in 5 annual installments of $4,000 each on the anniversary of your reenlistment.

Don’t forget about taxes! You will also have taxes automatically withheld from your bonus, generally at the 25% or 28% rate. This is automatically done by the government, and not something you can change. If the withholding is too high for your tax bracket, then you will likely receive a larger than normal refund the following year.

What About Tax-Exempt Bonuses?

Count yourself lucky if you reenlist or receive your bonus while you are in a tax exempt combat zone. If you reenlist in a tax-free combat zone, you will receive your entire bonus tax free, which can be a substantial savings. Even better – your anniversary installments will also be considered tax-exempt, even if you receive them after you leave the tax-exempt zone. This is because you signed the contract in a tax-exempt zone. It’s not uncommon for people who are due to reenlist to request to go on an overseas deployment and reenlist at that location so they can receive a tax-exempt bonus. This tax exemption has another important factor which we cover in the next section about the Thrift Savings Plan.

Contributing Bonuses to the Thrift Savings Plan

You are eligible to contribute some or all of your enlistment or reenlistment bonus to the TSP, from 1-100%, provided your contributions do not exceed the federally mandated TSP contribution limits ($17,500 for 2014; $23,000 for age 50 and over). However, there are some exceptions. The $17,500 contribution limit only applies to taxable income. If your bonus is tax exempt, you can contribute up to the Annual Addition Limit of $52,000 ($57,500 for age 50+). You would be able to contribute up to $17,500 of your base pay, and up to $34,500 of your bonus pay, to reach the $52,000 limit. Taking this a step further, tax-exempt TSP contributions are extremely valuable as the income has never been taxed. This gives you some advanced retirement planning options should you choose to go that route (we’ll save that for another article).




Refunding a Bonus

This is the part no one wants to read, but it must be understood. If you receive a bonus, you are on the hook for the term of your contract. You may owe a prorated refund to the government if you are unable to fulfill the terms of your contract. This will be based on the amount of money you have received and how much time remains on your contract. Reasons you might have to repay your bonus can include, but are not limited to: voluntary separation, misconduct, failure to meet standards, failure to meet technical qualifications, and possible other reasons.

You aren’t generally on the hook to repay a portion of your bonus if you aren’t qualified to serve due to illness, injury, or other reasons for which you aren’t at fault.

Note on repaying a bonus due to early separation: Voluntary early separation often requires you to repay a portion of your bonus, but it may depend on why you separate. Repayment of bonuses has been waived at times during Reduction in Force (RIF) measures, but only in cases when the branch of service specifically waived the requirement. In other words, don’t take it for granted! Be sure to read the contract you signed when you received your bonus, and the contract you will sign to separate early. The terms will spell out whether or not you will need to repay your bonus.

Meet with your finance and/or personnel  office for more information: If it is determined you will owe a refund to Uncle Sam, be sure you know how much you will owe, and how you will be required to pay it back. Your finance or personnel office should be able to help you with this.

Which Jobs Offer an Enlistment or Reenlistment Bonus?

Great question, and I’m sorry, but it’s one I can’t answer because it’s a moving target. Each branch of service determines which specialties are eligible for enlistment or reenlistment bonuses, and they frequently change as the needs of the service change. If you are considering joining the military, then you will need to speak with a recruiter to find out if a bonus is available to you. If you are currently in the service, you can generally find a list on your service’s website, or by contacting your personnel or retention office.

Word of advice: Don’t just do it for the money. A bonus is nice, but make sure 1) you want to serve; you aren’t just joining the military for a fat bonus, and 2) you want to serve in the job that is offering the bonus. Nothing will make the next few years drag more than a job you hate. Secure happiness first, then worry about the money.

More reading:

  • Enlistment and Reenlistment bonuses are part of the US Code: 37 U.S. C, Chapter 5, subchapter 1 (§ 309 – Enlistment bonuses), (§ 308 – Reenlistment bonuses)
  • There are special sections of the US Code that cover certain hard to fill specialties, particularly those in the medical, aviation, nuclear, and other professional fields. These are also listed in subchapter 1.
  • Contact your recruiter or personnel office for more specific advice regarding any bonuses you may be eligible to receive. And as always, get it in writing!
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Date published: May 9, 2014. Last updated: October 20, 2014.

Article by

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of this site. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is currently serving in the IL Air National Guard. He also writes about money management, small business, and career topics at Cash Money Life. You can also see his profile on Google.

Comments

  1. says

    I didn’t realize you could save so much by being in a tax free combat zone and reenlisting! It sounds like that is a great choice, if you can work your plans to accomplish that. Thanks for the great breakdown!

  2. Tony says

    The Navy has changed their policy on SRB installments. It is no longer distributed on Oct. 1st, but on the anniversary of your reenlistment like the other branches.

    Source: Navy guy waiting on his SRB installment.

  3. Tara says

    Just curious, on a re-enlistment bonus for Army National Guard. If I read correctly you stated that it would be issued on the original date of the first initial bonus. Just wanting to make sure I understand because his original ETS was 150121, but he re-enlisted Feb of 2014, so would disbursement date fall according to when he signed the paperwork, or from the date he received his first bonus 6 years ago, because he did not receive that until June of that year. So was just curious. Hope that makes sense.

    • says

      Tara, It will probably be on or near the anniversary of his first bonus, but each branch of the military may be slightly different. The best way to know for certain is to contact the finance department and ask if they have a specific date.

  4. roxana oberst says

    Husband reenlisted last week is there anything he can do? The bonus list came out today and his career was on it. I know it’s a long shot

  5. joel says

    Hey my recruiter told me I was going to get a bonus for my job in the air force reserves. Everything went good I swore in and signed my contract but when I got home and actually took my time to read it I dint find the bonus part. Does these mean he lied to me??

    • says

      Joel, Thank you for contacting me. Any bonus would be written into the contract. If it’s not in there, then there won’t be any bonus. I strongly recommend contacting your recruiter and verifying there is supposed to be a bonus. It’s possible that there was a bonus when he first mentioned it, but that the bonus went away before you were able to swear in and sign your contract (this happens sometimes, and is outside the control of the recruiter). So it may not be that he lied to you, but that the situation changed. Contact your recruiter to find out what happened. Best of luck!

    • says

      Don, Thank you for contacting me. Yes, they will deduct taxes for annual installments, unless you signed your reenlistment paperwork in a tax-exempt zone. In that case, all future SRB payments are tax-exempt as well. Taxes are usually withheld at a rate of 25%. But yo can contact your personnel department or finance department to verify the percentage of taxes they will withhold.

  6. Tod says

    Im being medically discharged sometime in the near future but am scheduled to recieve the second half of my reenlistment bonus. Will I still get the 2nd half of my reenlistment bonus? Considering I had no control over my medical issue

    • says

      Tod, You may receive the second portion of your reenlistment bonus, or you might not. But be careful if you receive it, because you may be required to pay it back if you don’t fulfill your reenlistment contract (even through no fault of your own). I would speak with your personnel department ASAP to let them know about the situation and find out if you will receive it, and if so, if you will be required to pay any of it back if you are not able to fulfill the full terms of your contract. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  7. Scharles says

    I just reenlisted 03152015 contract doesn’t expire until 11072015. I will be getting a reenlistment bonus was wondering if I would receive it on my initial entry date or now since I have reenlisted?

  8. Michelle says

    I was just medically discharged on 30 March 2015. I received severance on April 10 that was a lot less than what I was told. I looked on my LES and it showed I was paid on April 8 for severance as well. I was paid $9000 and they took approximately $6000 for re-enlisment debt. I re-enlisted in December 2009. It was my understanding that if you were discharged medically in LOD and it was not due to your own negligence, then you would not have to repay. What is my next course of action to make sure I am reimbursed for this? I was in the Army Reserves.

    • says

      Michelle, Thank you for contacting me. You need to contact your base personnel and/or finance section. If you are unable to get help through them because you have already been separated, then you may need to contact DFAS, or possibly even the Army Human Resources Command.

      You may be in for a lot of phone calls and emails, so do your best to take good notes and keep records of your conversations, who you speak with (including their name, phone number, email, etc.). If possible, try to work with one individual in an ongoing basis, once you determine which organization can help you. Working with one person will make things much easier in the long run because you won’t have to explain your situation over and over again. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  9. Riley says

    Is there a date in the contract to where if you pass it you no longer have to pay it back. Also if yout have to pay it back, does it come out all at once or in installments?

    • says

      Riley, I’m not aware of any cut off dates in the contract. Usually if you have to pay back a bonus, it is prorated based on the amount of the bonus you received and how much time you have left on your contract. In regard to repayments, I’m honestly not sure. Your personnel section can give you more specific information to both of these questions.

    • says

      Tonia, I don’t know for certain if the bonus is paid out on the completion of your reenlistment. You will need to read your reenlistment contract. That will list the schedule of payments. If you can’t find the information on your reenlistment contract, then you should contact your personnel department.

  10. Curious Khaki says

    So I am a Zone C (10-14yrs) Navy member with 13yrs 9 months of service. I have been told that I will not recieve anything for the Zone C bonus that is authorized for me because my re-enlistment will cross me over the Zone.

    • says

      Michael, Thank you for contacting me. I believe this is decided on a case-by-case basis. Factors that could affect the outcome include how much time is left on your enlistment, the reason for changing careers in the middle of an enlistment, whether you were fully qualified in the career field with the bonus, etc.

      For example, if you joined an MOS, but didn’t complete the training, and were then required to lat-move into a new career field, then you most likely wouldn’t be eligible for any of the bonus. If you changed to a new MOS later in your career (after initial upgrade training was complete), then it would depend on the reason for the move. If the move was completely out of your control, such as an over-manning situation or medical reasons, then you may remain eligible for the rest of your bonus. The situation may be different if you voluntarily left the MOS for something else.

      Your contract should include some information that will help you understand the benefit. Otherwise, you will need to see your personnel section for a specific determination.

  11. Christopher D. says

    I was promised a (reservist) reenlistment bonus and have had nothing but problems getting my bonus package through the system. As of a couple of months ago, I was told any evidence of my bonus package has vanished, possibly due to the many errors and problems I have had. For a time, I simply gave up on it as my career counselor kept bringing up problem after problem on their side as to why my package still didn’t go through. I had everything in writing such as orders, reenlistment contract, what have you, but lost it along with a number of other valuables. Where can I get a copy of my reenlistment contract and/or orders? Seems I need to have a bunch of paperwork such as my orders to my first reserve duty station, contract, etc. but I just don’t have them anymore and my electronic service record (OMPF), and the electronic pay and personnel system we have (NSIPS) only has orders from when I was in active duty. Would the recruitment office I reenlisted at still have any of my records even after two years, or my previous Reserve command after one? Apparently my current command can only help me so much until I do all the leg work to get the paperwork I need, and it is only due to severe monetary constraints that I’m so gung ho about it now when the reenlistment money didn’t mean that much to me before. With less than a year remaining on my contract, I am getting a little nervous. I apologize for this wall of text but would be extremely grateful for any advice you may have. Thank you.

    • says

      Christopher, Thank you for contacting me. You will need to contact the unit where you enlisted. They should maintain copies of your enlistment contract. If they don’t have it, the parent branch of service should keep a copy on record somewhere. Call the unit where you enlisted and ask then how to get a copy of the contract. They should have it as a permanent record. If they do not have it, they should be able to tell you where to get a copy. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  12. Jessica Costin says

    Hello, my husband was in the Air Force for 6 years. Before he left he was told in an email that he was going to get his enlistment pay. Well we were waiting for it and a few weeks later after his enlistment was up we were told that he could not get it because he was not considered active duty? He emailed the House of Representative they said that there was not much he could do. Please help me understand why they are doing this. Shouldn’t he have gotten his pay on the like the last day?!

    • says

      Jessica, Thank you for contacting me. He should have a copy of his enlistment contract that will specify the bonus amount and the payment terms. Enlistment bonuses are normally paid to the member when they join the military, or on the anniversary of the year they joined. But it’s always paid at the beginning of the year, not at the end of the year. So I’m not sure why they would tell him he was scheduled to receive an enlistment bonus at the end of his term.

      I’m not familiar with the situation you described, so the best I can do is refer him back to his former unit to see if they can access his records to determine what went wrong. He was either supposed to get the bonus and didn’t, in which case he may be able to file a claim for the funds, or he wasn’t supposed to get a bonus and the email was in error.

      Again, refer back to the enlistment contract to determine what the correct bonus payment should be, and when it should be paid. If he doesn’t have a copy of the contract, then he can try contacting AFPC to see if they have a copy. Best of luck.

  13. Jerome Rodriguez says

    After your ets date if you report to your national guard unit overweight will you lose your bonus or will they hold it until you lose the weight?

    • says

      Jerome, Thank you for contacting me. I can’t speak for your unit, but my guess is that it depends on your unit, career field manning numbers, how desperately they need to fill that spot, and other factors. The best thing to do is ask them. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  14. Raul Ibanya says

    This is a bit of a crazy question that I cannot find anything on. I was looking at my old initial enlistment contract and realized that I failed to get my initial enlistment bonus back in 2002. After I finished AIT I immediatly deployed to Iraq after arriving to Fort Hood. They did not do the bonuses automatically back then. I have since reenlisted several times and obviously fullfilled the terms of that contract. Is there any way that I would still be able to collect this?

    • says

      Raul, Thank you for contacting me. I don’t see why not – the military is obligated to fulfill the terms of their contract with you. I would take this to your personnel section and see if you can get this bonus paid out. Be sure to keep a copy of your enlistment contract because this is your proof that you were supposed to receive it. You may have to get your finance or personnel section to pull all your previous LESs and mid-month statements to verify you never received the bonus. But they should be able to do this. If they don’t have records that go back that far, then you should be able to get them from DFAS. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  15. GoNavy says

    Where exactly does the paperwork go for an SRB? The yeoman says he has processed my reenlistment paperwork, but a call to DFAS says they have nothing about it? Who exactly does it need to go through? I should also mention that it clearly states in my paperwork that I will be receiving an SRB. Just wondering about the specific paperwork process.

    • says

      GoNavy, Thank you for contacting me. I don’t have the specific process for the Navy – I’m only familiar with the Air Force, since that is my branch of service. You will need to contact your personnel section or ask around your unit. But as long as you have it written in your contract, you should be able to get it. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  16. Kathleen says

    My husband reenlisted state side a couple of years ago. He will be deployed when the anniversary installment is issued. Will that be taxed?
    Thank you,
    Kathleen

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