Basic allowance for housing (BAH) provides a housing allowance for service members when military housing is unavailable. Several factors determine BAH rates, including geographic duty location, pay grade and dependency status. The rates are subject to change based on the defense budget.
The Department of Defense releases updated rates in December. The rates kick in on Jan. 1 of the following year.
Like many benefits, BAH is simple on the surface. But it can get a little complicated, depending on your circumstances. This guide covers a variety of frequently asked questions, including types of BAH, BAH eligibility, BAH rates, how BAH is calculated and what happens when BAH rates change.
Types of BAH
There are several types of housing allowances:
- Basic allowance for housing (BAH) – Allowance for military members to offset the cost of housing when government housing is not available.
- BAH with and without dependents rates – BAH is also broken into separate rates for service members who have dependents and those who do not. The dependent rate is the same regardless of the number of dependents you have. Dual-military couples without additional dependents each receive the without-dependents rate. If the dual-military couple has dependents, one will receive the with-dependents rate, and the other will receive the without-dependents rate.
- Partial BAH – Service members without dependents who reside in government quarters receive a partial housing allowance.
- BAH Reserve component / transit (BAH RC/T) / BAH Type II – Members of the Guard or Reserves who are activated for fewer than 30 days receive a different housing allowance. This allowance also applies to members who are in transit from a duty location with no prior BAH rate (such as overseas). BAH II is a fixed rate based on the national average for housing and does not vary by location.
- BAH-Diff – BAH Differential is the housing allowance amount for a member who is assigned to single quarters but receives BAH to pay child support. Service members are not entitled to BAH-Diff if the monthly rate of child support is less than the BAH-Diff amount.
- Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA) – Similar to BAH, but only available to members stationed overseas or in U.S. protectorates.
Who Is Eligible for BAH?
The military has a limited amount of housing available for service members. This can include dormitories, barracks and on- and off-base housing.
When there’s no base housing available, or a service member is authorized to stay off-base, they get BAH.
New military members who are attending basic training or tech school only receive BAH if they have dependents. The dependent’s location determines the BAH rate.
Do I Have to Live in Military Housing If It Is Available?
Sometimes, but not always.
For example, single junior enlisted members may be required to live in base dormitories or barracks until they have dependents or reach a certain rank (depending on availability and other factors).
Some military members may also be required to live in base housing in overseas locations, particularly for remote assignments or in locations where off-base housing is extremely limited or restricted to members of a certain rank or status.
How Are BAH Rates Determined?
The Defense Travel Management Office (DTMO) handles BAH for the Department of Defense.
To calculate BAH, DTMO collects data on housing costs like rent and utilities from military housing areas across the United States. Then, it sorts that data into “profiles” for apartments, townhouses/duplexes, and single-family rental units of varying size.
DTMO links housing profiles with particular pay grades and dependency statuses. The chart below outlines the Office’s six standard housing profiles for BAH.
|Size||Military Pay Grade (With Dependents)||Military Pay Grade (Without Dependents)|
|One Bedroom Apartment||E-4|
|Two Bedroom Apartment||O-1|
|Two Bedroom Townhouse or Duplex||E-5||O-1E|
|Three Bedroom Townhouse or Duplex||E-6||O-3E|
|Three Bedroom Single Family Detached House||W-3||O-6|
|Four Bedroom Single Family Detached House||O-5|
From there, to calculate BAH rates, the DTMO determines the total housing costs (median rent + average utilities) for each profile in a military housing area. Then, it calculates a separate BAH rate for each military pay grade for service members with and without dependents.
Because these rates fluctuate, DTMO must reassess them annually.
Note: Much, much more goes into the calculations than we can cover in this article. The DTMO publishes a BAH Primer that covers the BAH formulas in greater detail, including additional checks and balances. DTMO’s process results in 95% statistical confidence that the estimated median rent is within 10% of the true median ren for a given area.
Does BAH Cover 100% of Housing Expenses?
That depends on how much of your BAH you spend. I know, not the answer you’re looking for, right?
Contrary to popular belief, BAH wasn’t intended to cover 100% of off-base living expenses at first. At one point, it was only calculated to cover 80% of off-base living expenses, leaving service members to foot the remaining 20% of the cost themselves.
In 2000, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen authorized a BAH increase to close the gap. By 2005, BAH was increased to cover 100% of off-base living expenses.
However, the 2015 and 2016 Defense Authorization Acts eliminated renter’s insurance from the computation and introduced a cost-sharing element to shift some housing expenses back to service members.
Service member cost shares began at 1% in 2015, increasing by an additional 1% each year until it reached 5% in 2019.
Now, BAH covers 95% of median housing costs in a military housing area.
Should I Still Buy Renter’s Insurance?
While the cost of renter’s insurance was removed from BAH calculations in 2015, it’s still a good idea to get renter’s insurance.
Typically, it’s not too expensive (around $20 or less in many locations) and covers your belongings in the event of loss, damage, theft or natural disasters.
Covering your belongings is your responsibility, not your landlord’s. You can learn more about renter’s insurance in this article. It’s also not the military’s responsibility. If you live in the barracks, you should also consider purchasing renter’s insurance.
Why Doesn’t My BAH Rate Cover My Housing Expenses?
Remember that median housing prices in your duty location – along with your pay grade and number of dependents – determine your BAH rate.
Choosing to live in a larger or smaller residence than the median will affect how far your BAH goes. If you buy or rent housing that is larger or more expensive than the median price range for your rank and dependent status, your BAH may not cover all of your expenses.
Additionally, choosing to live closer or further from your base may affect the rental prices. As with all real estate, it often comes down to location, location, location.
Can I Use My BAH to Buy a House? Will BAH Cover My Mortgage?
Yes, you can buy a house with your BAH – there’s no rule against that. Just be aware that, by design, BAH does not consider mortgage costs, it only considers the median cost of renting. If the cost of renting in your area is higher than your mortgage, you’re in good shape.
If it’s lower, expect to foot the bill for the difference. In addition to considering your home’s cost, size and location, remember to factor in any down payment, taxes, homeowners insurance or closing costs.
You may also need to cover additional homeownership costs for maintenance, repairs or upgrades to your property.
If you move or PCS, you’ll need to rent or sell your home. If you can do that, positive factors to consider include potential market gains.
Where Can I Find Current BAH Rates?
Current BAH rates can be found on the DTMO website.
Remember, basic allowance for housing rates vary by location. The higher the cost of living, the higher the BAH rate. Some locations with a high cost of living may also be eligible for an additional Cost of Living Adjustment on top of the BAH benefit.
To use DTMO’s BAH calculator, enter the year, your duty zip code and pay grade.
The calculator will return the BAH rate for your location for both the single and with-dependents rates. You can also find more background information on current BAH rates on our site, including the amount of the most recent BAH rate increases or decreases and other supporting information.
What Happens When My BAH Rates Change?
In most cases, your BAH rate can only go up in a given area. When BAH rates increase for your housing area, your benefit will increase as well.
But, your rate will not go down in an area while you’re living there – BAH rate protection has you covered.
Service members are entitled to the BAH rates published Jan. 1 or the amount of housing allowance they received Dec. 31, whichever is larger.
Individual rate protection prevents decreases in housing allowances, as long as the service member doesn’t have a change in status, such as:
- A permanent change of station (PCS)
- A reduction in pay grade
- A change in dependent status (only a change in with or without dependents, not the total number of dependents)
BAH for Dual-Military Couples
According to DTMO, BAH for dual-military couples depends on whether or not the couple has children.
Married partners in a dual-military couple without children or dependent parents can each receive BAH at the single service-member rate. If a married couple has children or a dependent parent, only one service member can receive the BAH “with dependents” rate. The other will continue to receive the single rate. (If you are married in this situation, you’ll receive a greater benefit if the higher-ranking service member takes the BAH “with dependents” rate
Unmarried service members living together who each have children or dependent parents can continue to receive the BAH “with dependents” rates.
More Information About BAH and BAH Rates
Here are some official sources for BAH regulations, rates and additional information:
- Defense Travel Management Office (official DoD Resource for BAH, rates and other information)
- Chapter 10 of the Joint Travel Regulations.
- Title 37 USC § 403 covers BAH law.