Dual-Military Couples FAQ
When one military member marries another, the couple becomes a “dual military” couple, also known as mil-to-mil marriages. Different branches of service may use other terms.
Dual military couples are common, and the number of same-service couples may be larger than those who marry someone from a different branch of service. Army spouses, Air Force husbands and wives, Navy couples, Marine Corps families, and Coast Guard couples know there are more pay and higher allowances offered to married couples.
BAH Benefits For Married Troops
Consider the “with dependents rate” for BAH (the military housing allowance–a higher amount of housing money paid to the service member with one or more dependents. For this purpose, a spouse is considered a “dependent”, technically speaking). The single service member does not get this elevated rate, only married couples (dual military or not).
When a mil-to-mil couple draws BAH, a table is required to determine the couple’s BAH rates (per individual). Federal regulations governing BAH are found in the government publication Joint Travel Regulations, Chapters 8 through 10, which includes guidance on how BAH is paid to dual-military couples.
In mil-to-mil couples without dependent children, both spouses are paid without the dependents rate. If the couple has children, one spouse receives the with-dependent BAH rate, the other gets the single-rate BAH.
Better Housing For Married Troops
This is the bread and butter of dual military couples right here. Your Basic Allowance for Housing rate depends on your location and rank. The more expensive of an area you live in and higher ranking you are, the more BAH you’ll receive. Additionally, BAH is untaxed, which is an enormous advantage.
When both spouses are active duty military and have no children, both of the spouses will receive BAH without dependents. If the couple has a child, the higher ranking member will claim the child as a dependent and their BAH rate will increase accordingly. It’s worth noting that your BAH rate will not increase with multiple children.
Here’s an Example
My wife and I recently transitioned away from Camp Pendleton, CA, so we’ll just go with that area and our ranks when we departed. We were both E-5s living in Carlsbad, CA. An E-5 at that location without dependents receives $2,172/month. An E-5 with dependents makes $2,592/month. We didn’t have our son at that time, so with no dependents we were earning $4,344/month in untaxed BAH!
While living in Carlsbad, we rented a two bedroom apartment for $1,780/month. Right away we were saving just under $31,000 each year.
That’s Not All
At our new duty station, we are AirBNB hosts. We charge around $35 per night and earn up to $950 each month. In Carlsbad, we had an extra bedroom in our apartment that we used FOR STORAGE (what a huge mistake). This bedroom could have been rented on AirBNB for a minimum of $65 per night. With an average of 20 occupancy nights each month, we would have been earning $1,300, or an additional $15,600 annually.
Two Quick Tips
- Dual military couples should request the MOST expensive duty station possible. This allows for the highest BAH rates. In turn, the couple can save huge sums of money by maintaining affordable housing.
- Get creative, especially if you don’t have children. Have roommates, rent a room on AirBNB, or even rent a basement or bedroom in a house. House hacking with 2 BAH payments is like throwing rocket fuel on your FIRE!
A “Hidden” Mil-To-Mil Couples Benefit
Assuming both halves of a dual-military spouse situation have put in the required time-in-service requirements to qualify to apply for a VA home loan, a dual military couple has some unique alternatives that a single service member does not have quite the same access to. What does this mean?
VA loans require you to have full VA loan entitlement for the loan. Generally, if you have never used your VA loan benefits before, you have 100% of your entitlement remaining once you have your VA Certificate of Eligibility.
Dual military couples have a choice to make when it comes time to apply for a VA mortgage. They can both use their entitlement for the loan, and the borrower’s financial commitment to the loan is matched by the amount of entitlement. If two members apply and both use their VA loan entitlement, they are both charged half of that entitlement.
But a dual military couple has the option to use only one person’s VA loan entitlement, which means the other spouse has the ability to apply for another VA mortgage later on (assuming the borrower is financially qualified to do so).
The option of two VA home loans is a definite advantage.
Basic Allowance For Subsistence
Depending on where you are assigned, the cost of living in the area, and other factors, you and your dual military spouse may qualify to draw an allowance known as BAS, the Basic Allowance for Subsistence. BAS is intended to aid meal costs for service members. Both halves of the mil-to-mil couple can draw this allowance, effectively doubling it.
For military couples looking to invest in real estate during their careers, having two VA loans available could be beneficial.
By using one spouse’s VA loan to purchase a house and live there, the couple can move out one year later, use the second spouse’s loan and utilize their first house as a rental.
On top of that, you are permitted to purchase a property with up to four units. Therefore, a military couple could own a total of eight units in a short period of time by utilizing both VA loans.
Join-Spouse Or Joint Spouse Assignments
Military members often get reassigned to a new military base, installation, or even a deployment without the option to bring families along (i.e., military duty in parts of South Korea are “no dependents” tours, and all deployment situations are strictly “no dependents”.)
When a dual military couple faces the next round of PCS orders, they have the option to apply for a Join Spouse or Joint Spouse (the preferred term of the Air Force) assignment so that both can be given PCS orders to the new gaining base.
This is not always possible, and some reassignments involving mil-to-mil couples have them assigned to different bases roughly within a 100-mile radius or less. There are instances of mil-to-mil couples who have been deployed to war zones together or those who wind up in the same country at the same time but have to commute to be together.
Military couples must keep in mind that they are subject to the needs and whims of the military assignment system and it is best to have a detailed conversation with your detailer, Senior Chief, Chief of Personnel, or any other position that may have a direct effect on where you are assigned next as a couple or as an individual.
Ask the advice of your current assignments person to learn how to apply for joint assignments, but also talk to your unit orderly room to discuss how to claim the higher rates or added allowances if you are soon to be married, or recently married and in need of an update to your military records.
When You Cannot Be Assigned Together As A Mil-To-Mil Couple
Plenty of military blogs discuss the benefits of the Join Spouse assignment option, but not everyone gets to take advantage. The mission comes first and the needs of the military may not include letting a mil-to-mil couple be reassigned to the same base.
In such cases, there is a Family Separation Allowance you may qualify for as a married service member (even if you are not a dual military couple). However, there are specific rules for claiming this allowance as a dual military couple:
You must be sent away from your family for more than 30 days due to receiving military orders.
The couple must be living together as a couple before the duty begins.
Only one person in the dual military couple can receive the allowance.
A dual military family that receives orders for each spouse is paid only once, to the highest-ranking service member of the couple.
Child Care Issues For Mil-To-Mil Couples
The military does not have a specific policy that offers childcare benefits to married couples.
All families are required by their branch of service to provide documentation outlining a childcare plan for contingencies such as deployments, TDY, etc.
One of the biggest advantages of being a military parent is the ability to use on-base childcare options such as Child Development Centers, Family Child Care offered in regulated private on-base homes, etc.
Childcare expenses are huge challenges for families, and CDC costs are based on rank among other factors. Lower-ranking (and lower-paid) enlisted service members won’t carry the same financial burden their more experienced and higher-ranking co-workers will.
In this area, the dual military couple has a distinct advantage. DoD school centers may prioritize dual-military family enrollment. There may be other resources DoD might offer as well. Check with your Family Readiness Group or Work Life Program for information to support you and your children’s transition.
An E-7 who retires after 20 years of active duty service is paid an average of $24,000 per year ($19,200 if opted into the Blended Retirement System). Double that for the dual military couple for $48,000 annually. Can we agree on a name for that? How does Auto-FI sound to you?
Double Retirement Pay For Dual Military Couples
This does NOT refer to a special program offering to double military retirement pay for mil-to-mil couples; at the time of this writing, such a program does not exist.
However, assuming both military members choose to remain in uniform until retirement-eligible, it’s easy to see that when both spouses draw military retirement pay, that effectively doubles the amount assuming the time-in-service, time-in-grade, and other variables match up.
Mil-to-mil couples who do not retire at the same rank and time-in-service (among other variables) may not draw the exact same amount of retirement pay.
Other Factors You Should Know
The benefits of being a dual military couple can include being assigned together, drawing higher allowances (the “with-dependents” rate), getting better housing options, and better retirement pay numbers (assuming both spouses retire from military service).
But being a dual military couple has downsides, too–it’s important to anticipate these as much as it is to know your benefits and making sure you take everything you are entitled to.
Some military-related blogs have encouraged dual-military couples to do things like apply for reassignment to the highest-cost-of-living areas possible to maximize BAH payments and other benefits.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News.