Understanding Guard and Reserve Points – How to Earn Points, and How they Affect Your Retirement

Members of the Guard and Reserves earn Retirement Points for their service. These Retirement Points are used to determine your "Good Years" of service and help to determine your military retirement pay. This article helps you understand how much your Points are worth and how you can earn more to boost your retirement. 
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.

National Guard / Reserve Points Summary

Members of the Reserve Corps (the National Guard and Reserves) have a different pay and retirement system than Active Duty servicemembers. The Reserve retirement system is set up with the same principals as the Active Duty system, but instead of calculating the retirement based on years of service, it is calculated using Retirement Points.

Understanding how Retirement Points are earned is essential to understanding when you will be eligible for retirement, and how to calculate the value of a Reserve pension.

The purpose of this article is to give you an idea of how points are earned and how they are used to calculate your retirement.

Understanding Guard and Reserve Points – How to Earn Points, and How they Affect Your Retirement

Qualifying for a Military Retirement

Before we jump into Points, we need to look at retirement – because the only time Points really matter is when they are used to calculate a “Good Year” of service that counts toward retirement, or when they are used to calculate a retirement pension.

In general, servicemembers need a minimum of 20 qualifying years of service to be eligible to retire. There are some exceptions, such as those who receive a medical retirement, or those who are eligible for retirement under Temporary Early Retirement Authority (TERA). But for this article, we will refer to 20 years as the standard.

Active duty retirees need to have 20 years of active duty service to qualify for retirement. An active duty pension starts immediately upon retirement. Members of the National Guard or Reserves also need 20 Good Years* of service – this can be any combination of qualified service in the National Guard, Reserves, or Active Duty. A Reserve pension generally doesn’t begin until age 60, unless the servicemember qualifies for early retirement based on their active duty time.

*Defining a Good Year in the Guard/Reserves: A “Good Year” in the Guard or Reserves means the servicemember earned a minimum of 50 Points. Service that results in fewer than 50 Points in a given year will not count as a Good Year. The Points still count toward retirement, but the servicemember doesn’t get credit for a Good Year.

Earning Annual Participation Points

Annual Participation Points - Guard and Reserves

National Guard and Reserve members earn 15 Points for each year they participate in the Guard or Reserves. This includes service in the Regular Reserves, or in the Inactive Ready Reserve (IRR).

The Regular Reserves are what comes to mind when most people think of the Guard or Reserves. This is the “One Weekend a Month, Two Weeks a Year” you probably heard your recruiter or retention officer mention when you joined the military or were out-processing. (Note: While “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” is the common refrain, many members of the Reserve Corps serve many more days than the minimum or serve under a different schedule).

The IRR is the Reserve organization many servicemembers are required to join when they leave active duty. Almost all initial military contracts are 8-year contracts. If you joined active duty on a 4-year contract, you most likely had 4 years of required duty in the IRR.

For many servicemembers, joining the IRR doesn’t come with any additional duty requirements – the military simply keeps your information on file in the event they need to do a recall or mobilization. Recalls aren’t common, but they do happen from time to time (for example, it happened to some people in the Post-9/11 era). That said, most people in the IRR never get called back to active duty. However, since they are on the Individual Ready Reserve manning roster, they earn 15 Participation Points per year, even if they don’t do anything else.

Earning Additional Points through Service

Guard and Reserve members earn additional Points through their annual participation. Participation is broken down into Active Service and Inactive Service. Examples of the types of service include:

  • Active Service – Active Duty (AD), Active Duty for Training (ADT), and Annual Training (AT)
  • Inactive Duty Service – Inactive Duty Training (Paid and Non-Paid), membership, and Non-residential correspondence courses.

Active Service – Members on Active Service are paid active duty rates and benefits and earn one Point for each calendar day they serve in one of these categories. Additional retirement Points cannot be awarded for other activities while in an active duty status.

Active Service includes Active Duty (AD), Active Duty for Training (ADT), and Annual Training (AT). AD and ADT days are self-explanatory. This is when the Reserve member is called to active duty, including being mobilized, deploying, training, etc. AT days are the annual two-week training requirement, or the “two weeks a year.” Servicemembers earn 1 Retirement Point per day while in these statuses.

Inactive Duty Service – Members on Inactive Duty Service can be in a paid or unpaid status, depending on their type of service. The number of Points they earn can also vary depending on the type of service they are performing.

Common Inactive Service Duty includes the weekend Drills, performing in the Honor Guard for Funeral Honors Duty, completing correspondence courses, and other statuses. Drills are a paid status. Serving in the Honor Guard is often an unpaid duty.

Correspondence courses may be paid or unpaid, depending on the course and the availability of unit funds. Correspondence courses also earn the member varying amounts of Points, depending on the completed course. Military correspondence courses are normally worth 1 Point for every three hours of course credit.

Drill Periods – Each Drill Weekend consists of 4 Drill Periods. There is a morning Drill and an afternoon Drill for each day on the weekend, each of which is 4 hours long. Members receive an equivalent of 1 day’s pay for each Drill (Based on 1/30th of the base pay for their pay grade and time in service). They also earn 1 Point per Drill (not to exceed 2 Points per calendar day). So a typical Drill weekend is worth 4 days pay and 4 Retirement Points.

Points Breakdown:

  • 1 Point for each day on Active Service (AD, ADT, and AT)
  • 1 Point per Drill Period (Each Drill weekend normally has 4 Drills, so this is good for 4 Points on a normal Drill weekend).
  • 1 Point for serving in an Honor Guard for Funeral Honors Duty (normally capped at 1 Point per day, regardless of the number of funerals in which you serve as an Honor Guard).
  • 1 Point for each three study hours of qualifying military correspondence courses.

Keep in mind these are guidelines, and there may be exceptions or other opportunities for earning more Reserve Retirement Points.

Retirement Points Earned Per Year

Reserve Annual Retirement Points

A “normal” year in the Guard or Reserves should be worth approximately 78 Retirement Points. This is broken down as:

  • 15 Points – Annual Participation
  • 48 Points – 12 Monthly Drills (4 Drill Periods per month)
  • 15 Points – Annual Training (this can vary based on your unit)
  • Additional Points as earned (training, correspondence courses, Honor Guard, mobilizations, etc.).

*Normal is subjective. The math above applies to the standard “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” that applies to a “normal” year in the Guard or Reserves. However, the “normal” year may not apply to everyone. It’s very common to earn more Points, or fewer Points, depending on your specific situation and the needs of your unit.

Maximum Points in a Given Year

The maximum number of Retirement Points a servicemember can earn in any given year is 365 (366 in leap years). This corresponds to serving every day on active duty (or an equivalent number of service Points). You will note that you cannot double dip on Retirement Points and do correspondence courses or other service to earn more than 365 Points in a given year.

By law, there is a cap on the number of inactive duty points that can be accrued for retirement in a given year.

  • Reserve year ends on or after 30 Oct 2007: max of 130 Points
  • Reserve year ends on or after 29 Oct 2000: max of 90 Points
  • Reserve year ends on or after 23 Sep 1996: max of 75 Points
  • Before 23 Sep 1996: max of 60 Points

These limits apply across all branches of the military.

Tracking Retirement Points

Your individual Reserve year begins on your Retirement/Retention Year (typically the first day you joined the Reserves) and ends the day prior to the annual anniversary. For example, I enlisted in the IL Air National Guard on August 07, 2014. My Reserve year runs from August 7, 2014, through August 6, 2015. To qualify for a Good Year, I need to earn 50 Points within that period.

All Retirement Points should be maintained by your parent service and can be accessed in your service’s personnel website. It’s a good idea to review these Points on a regular basis to ensure your service is correctly credited. This is highly recommended if you have a break in service, are mobilized or called to active duty, or if you complete any correspondence or unpaid duty that results in earned Retirement Points. It’s also a good idea to print and maintain copies of your Point Credit Summaries each year so you have a physical record.

Here is an example of a Point Credit Summary:

National Guard / Reserve Points Summary

Counting Good Years

As mentioned above, you need to earn 50 Points per year in order to have a “Good Year” that counts toward retirement. This is fairly easy to do as a Drilling member of a National Guard or Reserve Unit. As mentioned above, just doing the standard “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” should be good for around 75+ Retirement Points per year. It’s even possible to miss your entire two-week Annual Training (AT) period and still satisfy the 50 Point requirement for a Good Year.

Most members of the IRR won’t earn a Good Year toward retirement unless they served a partial year on active duty or in the Regular Reserves either before or after joining the IRR.

This actually happened to me. I joined the Active Duty Air Force on a 6-year contract, but I extended 6 months on my contract to go on another deployment to help out with our squadron’s low manning in my career field. After I separated from active duty, I transitioned into the IRR. Those 6 months of extra service on Active Duty earned me approximately 180 Points, in addition to the 15 Participation Points, I earned through the IRR. This gave me roughly 195 Points on the year and another Good Year toward retirement.

I finished out another year in the IRR to satisfy the 8-year contract I signed. That earned me another 15 Participation Points. But I didn’t qualify for a Good Year since I didn’t reach the required 50 Points. So my 6.5 years on Active Duty, plus my 1.5 years on the IRR worked out to 7 Good Years toward retirement. (I then had a long break in service before I joined the Air National Guard).

It Takes 20 Good Years to Qualify for a Reserve Retirement

20 Good Years to Qualify for a Reserve Retirement

Based on the information above, you should have a good idea of what it takes to qualify for a Reserve retirement. And you can also use this information to make back of the envelope estimations regarding how many Retirement Points you will earn in a given year, and how many Retirement Points you will have when you retire (keeping in mind that you may have additional duties, training requirements, and mobilizations that could considerably affect the final numbers).

When I make rough estimates of my potential number of Retirement Points, I start with my active duty service as a base, then I add only the minimum number of Points I would earn by completing the “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” requirement. Actually, I round down slightly – I use 75 instead of 78, because it’s faster to do the math in my head.

Here is how the Points break down for my service:

  • 6 full years of active duty service = 2,191 (there was one Leap Year in there)
  • 6 additional months of active duty = 180 days
  • 2 years in the IRR = 30 days
  • Equals = 2,401

Note: these numbers are before I joined the Air National Guard last year.

Good Years of Service. I have 7 Good Years of service toward retirement based on my Active Duty service. I will soon reach 8 Good Years after I complete my first full year in the Guard. This means I will need to earn 12 more Good Years toward retirement before I am eligible to retire.

To estimate the Points I will have at retirement, I can take the 2,401 Points that I currently have, then multiply the 75 estimated Points per year by 13 years to get a rough estimate of what I will have at retirement. The reason I use 75 as my estimated number is because 75*4 = 300. Three groups of 4 = 12 good years. So that would be 900 Points. Then add 75 more Points for the 13th year.

The quick math says I will earn approximately 975 more Retirement Points in the process of reaching 20 Good Years of service.

In my situation, I should have roughly 3,500 Points when I reach 20 Good Years of service, provided I only do the minimum each year.*

*This is a very conservative estimate since I used a lower multiplier, and it’s very likely that I will be required to serve additional days or complete additional active duty training at some point in my service. However, I prefer to estimate things on the low side, rather than overestimating the number of Points I will have if/when I reach retirement.

Using Points to Calculate a Reserve Retirement

Using Points to Calculate a Reserve Retirement

I mentioned in the opening paragraphs that we would give an overview of how Points are used to calculate a Reserve retirement. I’ll give a very brief overview because this article is already lengthy and this topic is best served as its own article so we can better explain the nuances of how everything works together. But here is a brief overview:

A Reserve retirement is based on the Points we have discussed throughout this article. For the purpose of retirement, we can equate 1 Point to the equivalent of one day of Active Duty service.

An Active Duty retirement is worth 2.5% of your base pay for each year you served (for the High Pay and High-3 retirement plans). For example, a 20 year retirement is worth 50% of your base pay (20 years times 2.5% = 50.0%). Partial years are calculated in a similar manner Months are worth 1/12 of a year, and days are worth 1/30th of a month.

The Reserve retirement starts by taking your total number of Points and dividing by 360 (Remember, the military considers a month as 30 days for pay purposes, so each day is worth 1/30th of a month; 12 months would then equal 360 days).

So if you take my example above of an estimated 3,500 Retirement Points, we would come up with 9 years, 8 months, and 20 days. This would then be calculated against the pay scales to determine the value of the pension (there are also pay scales that show the actual dollar value for each Point, depending on your rank and time in service; these charts can be found in the Guard and Reserve Fact Sheets).

But since I’m fond of using rough estimates when I make my calculations (especially since I am so far away from actually reaching retirement), I would round up to 3,600 Retirement Points before making my calculations. 3,600 / 360 equals the equivalent of 10 years on Active Duty for retirement purposes. Based on this estimate, I can take the 10 years and multiply that by 2.5% and come up with a pension that would be worth roughly 25% of the active duty base pay, based on my pay grade and years of service at retirement.

Again, these are all rough estimates, but for my purposes, it works very well to get a big picture idea. If you need a more exact reference, then you should use the Guard / Reserve Retirement Calculator for your branch of service (most of them are behind login screens on the official military websites, so I don’t have a good link right now).

Did I leave anything out? There is a lot to cover on this topic. Please leave a comment or a question if I missed anything, or if part of this explanation wasn’t clear. I’ll update the article accordingly.

Get Instant Access
FREE Weekly Updates! Enter your information to join our mailing list.

About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of The Military Wallet. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free Personal Capital account here.

Featured In: Ryan's writing has been featured in the following publications: Forbes, Military.com, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, Reserve & National Guard Magazine (print and online editions), Military Influencer Magazine, Cash Money Life, The Military Guide, USAA, Go Banking Rates, and many other publications.

Reader Interactions

Comments

    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.

  1. Jim Van Sickle says

    Ryan,
    If I have 16 years of active duty (4 years active, 12 years AGR) and four years of federal points all collectively coming to a total of 7305 points when I retire with 30 years commissioned service! Could I qualify for a 20 year retirement? Or do I have to wait until age 60?
    Thanks for listening!
    Jim Van Sickle

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Jim,

      You can only receive an immediate retirement if you have 20 years of active duty service. Simply having enough combined active and inactive points to equate to 20 years of service is not sufficient to earn an active duty retirement. It sounds like you will need to wait until age 60 to receive your retirement pay, unless you serve a few more years of AGR service.

      Best wishes!

  2. Alicia Howard says

    I would love to chat with you one:one if you are able to? I am in the Navy now as an active duty LT. I am prior air force active duty for 5 years and 11 years of air national guard. I am having a horrible time with all the systems talking and giving me credit towards retirement. I’d love to chat with you and see if you can assist and help me understand more so I can explain to my Navy systems how our ANG points work.

    Thank you,

    LT Alicia Howard

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello LT Howard,

      Thank you for your comment. To start with, this is a privately run site, so we don’t have access to any military records. As for getting the systems to talk together, I’m not sure how to do that. You will most likely need to elevate your support request above the base level, and likely up to the HQ level. You may need to get copies of all of your Points Summary Statements to ensure your points are properly credited. Make sure you keep copies for yourself.

      As for how the points work, all of your active duty time that you served on active duty in the Air Force and any active duty time served in the Guard/Reserves will count as credit toward your active duty retirement. You need 2o years of active duty service to qualify for active duty retirement benefits.

      All of your other Guard/Reserve points count as credit, but not toward the 20 years required to earn an active duty retirement. Once you reach 20 years of active duty service, your Guard/Reserve points are tacked onto your service time at the end, with one point equal to one day of service. You never lose your inactive service time, it just doesn’t count toward active duty retirement until you have reached 20 years of service.

      Your inactive time does, however, still count toward Guard/Reserve retirement. So if you transition away from active duty and back to the Guard/Reserves, then you can count those points and years toward a Guard/Reserve retirement.

      I hope this answers your questions. Best wishes!

Load More Comments

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.