Table of Contents
- Basics: What is COLA?
- How is CONUS COLA Calculated?
- Why is CONUS COLA taxed when OCONUS COLA isn’t?
- What CONUS Locations Receive COLA?
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
Colorado COLA Locations
|Clear Creek County||1%|
District of Columbia COLA
|DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA||COLA Rate|
Massachusetts COLA Locations
Minnesota COLA Locations
New York COLA Locations
|NEW YORK||COLA Rate|
|New York City||7%|
Virginia COLA Locations
|Isle of Wight County||1%|