What is CONUS-Based COLA and Who Gets It?

CONUS COLA is a taxable supplemental allowance that helps offset prices for necessities like groceries in areas with a high cost of living.
Advertising Disclosure.

Advertiser Disclosure: Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone. This article may contain links from our advertisers. For more information, please see our Advertising Policy.

family buying groceries
Table of Contents
  1. Basics: What is COLA?
  2. How is CONUS COLA Calculated?
  3. Why is CONUS COLA taxed when OCONUS COLA isn’t?
  4. What CONUS Locations Receive COLA?
    1. California COLA Locations
    2. Colorado COLA Locations
    3. District of Columbia COLA
    4. Massachusetts COLA Locations
    5. Minnesota COLA Locations
    6. New York COLA Locations
    7. Virginia COLA Locations

CONUS COLA is the acronym for the ‘Cost of Living Allowance in the Continental United States. It is a taxable supplemental allowance that helps service members maintain purchasing power throughout their careers, regardless of where they serve.

There is no standard cost of living in the United States. Just as the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) adjusts to cover higher housing costs in different areas, the COLA exists to cover higher living expenses. Like BAH, it is a monthly entitlement.

This differs from the COLA, which refers to the Cost of Living Adjustments for retirement pay and veteran benefits.

CONUS-based COLA is for active duty service members living at duty stations where the average cost of living is higher than the national average. This is most commonly found on the coasts, in areas such as California, New York, Washington, D.C., Virginia, and several other major cities.

Basics: What is COLA?

COLA might sound more familiar to you if you’ve served overseas.

The Overseas Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) helps offset higher costs of non-housing goods and services while living overseas. OCONUS COLA is calculated by comparing the average prices overseas with similar products in the continental United States (CONUS).

However, even in the United States, costs of living can vary significantly by city, state or duty station.

For example, a gallon of milk might cost $2.75 in Killeen, Texas, but $4.50 in New York City. That’s where CONUS COLA comes into play to ensure you can buy necessities like groceries, whether you’re stationed in Texas or New York.

How is CONUS COLA Calculated?

The Department of Defense calculates and compares transportation costs, groceries, utilities, income taxes, sales taxes, and miscellaneous expenses to determine the average CONUS cost of living.

Then, it subtracts benefits like BAS and cost savings at base commissaries and exchanges. In other words, the benefits the member receives for having access to the duty station are deducted from the average civilian’s cost of living in the area.

The result is what is called the CONUS COLA index.

Rather than do the math, service members can input the necessary data into the CONUS COLA calculator. This tool takes the index from the duty station and calculates it alongside the service member’s pay grade, years of service, and whether or not they have dependents.

Monthly payments range from $32 to $60 a month for service members with dependents and $22 to $46 for those without dependents.

Why is CONUS COLA taxed when OCONUS COLA isn’t?

In 1986, legislation required all new allowance programs to be taxed. The Department of Defense started distributing OCONUS COLA in 1947, so the allowance is not taxed. However, CONUS COLA is taxed because it was established in January of 2002, so it is taxable. To make up for the difference, CONUS COLA incorporates a 14% increase.

Another significant difference between the two is that OCONUS COLA can be adjusted monthly. In contrast, CONUS COLA changes only once a year.

What CONUS Locations Receive COLA?

COLA rates update at the beginning of each new year. The chart below has the CONUS COLA locations for 2021, along with their index.

This list includes Military Housing Areas (MHA) as well as non-MHAs.

California COLA Locations

CALIFORNIACOLA Rate
Oakland2%
San Francisco4%
Marin/Sonoma2%
Bridgeport2%
Inyo County2%

Colorado COLA Locations

COLORADOCOLA Rate
Boulder2%
Broomfield County1%
Clear Creek County1%
Gilpin County1%
Lake County1%
Park County1%
Pitkin County1%
Summit County1%
Washington County1%
Yuma County1%

District of Columbia COLA

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIACOLA Rate
Washington1%

Massachusetts COLA Locations

MASSACHUSETTSCOLA Rate
Nantucket4%
Boston4%
Worcester4%
Fitchburg1%
Plymouth1%
Essex County1%
Hampden County2%
Martha’s Vineyard2%
Hanscom AFB1%
Franklin County1%

Minnesota COLA Locations

MINNESOTACOLA Rate
Duluth1%
Aitkin County1%
Cook County1%
Itasca County1%
Kanabec County1%
Koochiching County1%
Lake County1%
Pine County1%

New York COLA Locations

NEW YORKCOLA Rate
Long Island6%
New York City7%
Westchester County1%
Staten Island4%

Virginia COLA Locations

VIRGINIACOLA Rate
Warrenton1%
Isle of Wight County1%
Southampton County1%
Surry County1%
Sussex County1%
Get Instant Access
FREE Weekly Updates! Enter your information to join our mailing list.

About Hope Griffin

Hope Griffin is the wife of a Veteran, an author, marketing professional, and freelance writer. Her family moved to Florida after her husband medically retired as a Combat Engineer, in order to take advantage of the strong VA benefits and healthcare. To learn more about Hope visit www.HopeNGriffin.com.

Reader Interactions

Leave A Comment:

Comments:

About the comments on this site:

These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

The Military Wallet is a property of Three Creeks Media. Neither The Military Wallet nor Three Creeks Media are associated with or endorsed by the U.S. Departments of Defense or Veterans Affairs. The content on The Military Wallet is produced by Three Creeks Media, its partners, affiliates and contractors, any opinions or statements on The Military Wallet should not be attributed to the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, the Dept. of Defense or any governmental entity. If you have questions about Veteran programs offered through or by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, please visit their website at va.gov. The content offered on The Military Wallet is for general informational purposes only and may not be relevant to any consumer’s specific situation, this content should not be construed as legal or financial advice. If you have questions of a specific nature consider consulting a financial professional, accountant or attorney to discuss. References to third-party products, rates and offers may change without notice.

Advertising Notice: The Military Wallet and Three Creeks Media, its parent and affiliate companies, may receive compensation through advertising placements on The Military Wallet; For any rankings or lists on this site, The Military Wallet may receive compensation from the companies being ranked and this compensation may affect how, where and in what order products and companies appear in the rankings and lists. If a ranking or list has a company noted to be a “partner” the indicated company is a corporate affiliate of The Military Wallet. No tables, rankings or lists are fully comprehensive and do not include all companies or available products.

Editorial Disclosure: Editorial content on The Military Wallet may include opinions. Any opinions are those of the author alone, and not those of an advertiser to the site nor of  The Military Wallet.