The 2015 Defense budget act included Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) Rate cuts. Instead of the 100% BAH rate which has been the norm since 2005, the Department of Defense announced they would reduce BAH to 99% of expected costs. This is part of a larger, long-term goal of implementing BAH Rate cuts to cover only 95% of expected costs.
Don’t fret about this change yet. BAH Rate Protection protects your current BAH Rates. So you shouldn’t see an immediate decrease in your monthly BAH check, except under a few circumstances, which will cover in a bit. Let’s take a look at the new BAH Rate Cost-Share Policy, why it has come to be, and discuss BAH Rate Protection.
Why Move to 99% BAH?
The DoD, along with the rest of the government, is hurting for money. They are looking for places to cut back spending. And since Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) affects the majority of the military population, it is a prime target for cuts. This 1% cut is expected to save the government approximately $200 million per year.
The 2015 defense budget called for plans to cut BAH to 95% of expected costs over the next several years. Under the current law, there will be a 1% decrease in BAH rates per year for the next five years, starting in 2015 and ending in 2019. So this is only the first step. While many servicemembers and their families will start seeing more money out of pocket in the coming years, this is still a much better situation than the 1990’s, when BAH only covered 80% of expected housing costs.
BAH Rate Protection
We have a full-length article covering BAH Rate Protection, but here are the basics. Your BAH Rate is protected from the time you arrive on your installation, until you leave, with the exception of three circumstances:
- Permanent Change of Station (PCS)
- Reduction in paygrade
- Change in dependent status
In other words, your BAH rates can only increase, not decrease, unless you move to another base via a PCS, you receive a reduction in paygrade, or your dependent status changes from with dependents to without, or vice-versa. For the rest of your assignment, your BAH will be the higher of the published BAH Rate on January 1st or the BAH Rate you held on December 31 of the previous year.
I will say it again: Your BAH Rate will not drop during the middle of your assignment, even if the rates for your location decrease in any given year.
Note about a PCS moves: If you live in an area with two bases close to each other and you receive a permanent change of station assignment to the other base, you could possibly remain in the same home, but still face a decreased BAH because it would officially be a PCS move.
How Much Will This Cost Me When I Move?
At the time of this publication, the DoD hasn’t announced exactly how the cuts will take place. They could do one of several actions, including decreasing BAH 1% across the board, calculating the total cuts across the entire DoD and applying an average cut to everyone who receives BAH, or some other calculation.
Andrew Tilghman of the MilitaryTimes reported,
“Military officials do not want to create a new incentive for troops to prefer rural areas over costly urban ones, so it is likely that the Pentagon will calculate some sort of single across-the-board cut for all BAH checks.
For example, they might take the average of all 1 percent reductions nationwide and use that to determine a single dollar amount to shave from every BAH check. For example, regardless of the location and actual BAH rates, each service member may face a reduction of about $200 a year.”
Let’s look at an example: We’ll look at two different BAH rates for an E-5 with dependents. The first is the rate used for the Post-9/11 GI Bill when you take classes exclusively offered online (in-residence classes are based on the ZIP code for your school). The other BAH Rate is an E-5 in Chicago, chosen to illustrate the difference in a high cost of living location:
- E-5 with Dependents Rate (non-location, used for Post-9/11 GI Bill): $714.50, *99% = New Rate of $707.36, a difference of $7.14/month, or $85.68/year
- E-5 with Dependents Rate (Chicago): Current Rate: $1,977.00, * 99%, New Rate = $1,957.23. A difference of $19.77/month, or $237.24/year.
When put in the context of a monthly cut, $7 – $20 is noticeable, but not a massive cut. Especially if you don’t see it due to BAH Rate Protection. When you PCS to your next base, you should have a good idea of the BAH in your new area and can use that BAH when setting your budget for your new location.
BAH Rates Can and Do Change for Other Reasons
It’s also important to note that BAH Rates change when the cost of living in a local area changes. In general, the BAH should increase as the cost of living increases, and the BAH may decrease when the cost of living in an area decreases. Falling BAH Rates were common after the real estate markets crashed in 2007-2009. This is when BAH Rate Protection was helpful for many servicemembers.
It’s also possible that you may see increased BAH payments, even with BAH paid out at 99% of the calculated rate. The important thing to remember is that your BAH Rates should not decrease, regardless of what happens to the published rates. Your rates should only increase throughout the duration of your tour.
What is the Future of BAH?
Right now, we can only go from the information we have at hand, which is from the recent budget talks. The DoD wants to decrease BAH to 95% of the actual cost of housing, but Congress limited to cut to 1%. This 1% decrease could just be the first step. Right now we don’t even have the full picture on the implementation. But going forward I would expect the decreases to continue on an annual basis for the near future.
The DoD won’t implement the full 5% decrease overnight, and the BAH Rate Protection provisions should protect a large portion of servicemembers over the next few years. The largest impact to most servicemembers probably won’t be felt for the next couple of years.