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Basic Allowance for Housing: Ten Questions Answered

Basic Allowance for Housing: Ten Questions Answered

For the first time in 13 years, the overall average military BAH rates across the country have decreased. The 0.6 percent drop in BAH rates for 2011 is indicative of a reduction in the average rental costs across designated military housing areas.

However, around 400,000 active duty service members’ BAH will be protected from the drop Jan. 1 due to “individual rate protection,” which was adopted by Congress nine years ago.

The Veterans Benefits GI Bill recently received a comment on our Post 9/11 GI Bill post regarding Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and thought it due time to address some of the questions concerning the BAH program the Post 9/11 GI Bill provides.

The Department of Defense’s Military Compensation site has a section addressing the Basic Allowance for Housing program.

1. Do I qualify for Basic Allowance for Housing?

If you meet one of the following qualifications, you are entitled to BAH (stipulations also listed by each criteria):

  • If you are assigned to permanent duty in the United States (the 50 states, specifically) and you are not furnished with government housing, you are eligible for BAH, based on your dependency status at your duty station’s zip code.
  • If you are stationed overseas (except Hawaii and Alaska, as these are within the perimeters above), including U.S. territories and possessions, and you are not furnished with government housing, you are eligible for an Overseas Housing Allowance (henceforth OHA) based on your dependency status.
  • If you are serving in an unaccompanied overseas tour (save for a member paying child support), you are eligible for BAH at the “with dependent” rate, based on the dependent’s U.S. residence zip code, plus FSH at the OCONUS PDS, if you are not furnished government housing overseas.

2. What if I am pursuing my education online?

Military personnel using their Post 9/11 GI Bill to pursue a distance learning education are not entitled to a housing stipend. Take a look at our article on how to choose a  Military Inclusive College to find a school that offers traditional campus-based programs so that you can make sure you’re eligible to collect your benefits.

3. I just looked at the annual benefits published; my BAH benefits are less than last year!

BAH rate protection ensures that you will not receive a reduction to your BAH as long as you maintain uninterrupted eligibility. This means you get the January 1st rate for the following year or December 31st’s rate from last year, whichever is larger. A servicemember who is already attached to a unit and receiving BAH will receive any published BAH increase, but will not be subject to a decrease. Once new BAH rates take effect, rate protection assures that the servicemember’s out-of-pocket costs may be less, but never more, than upon their reporting date. Use the DOD’s BAH calculator to calculate your benefits.

4. Will I ever lose BAH rate protection?

There are three conditions that can make you lose it, or have “interrupts in your eligibility:”

  1. You PCS to a location with a housing cost that is less than your current duty station. At the new duty station you get a lower housing allowance, but this should not be difficult to deal with, since the allowance is driven by the housing costs there.
  2. If you are demoted, your housing allowance reverts to the then-current published table of allowances for your lower grade. Promotions will not do this, however.
  3. If your dependency status changes (from with-dependents to without-dependents, or vice versa), your housing allowance will be re-determined by your new dependency status.

5. What about all of these additional out-of-pocket expenses?

Your benefits are determined by a median. If you rent above the median rate for your grade/profile, you have to deal with additional expenses this luxury demands.

6. What if my allowance does not even begin to cover my mortgage payment?

BAH is based on rental data. If you are a homeowner, you will incur additional expenses due to your long term investment, and the BAH does not take this into account. Homeowners have higher economic hardship than renters because their investment pays out long term.

7. What is included in the “median housing costs” that determines BAH rates?

Current market rent, average utilities and renters insurance. The process involves defining BAH rates by zip code. According to the Defense Travel website, DoD and the Services conduct on-site evaluations at various locations to confirm and ensure reliability and accuracy of the cost data.

8. Does the size of my family make a difference?

No. BAH is determined on if you have dependents or do not have dependents, but beyond that, benefits are based on average family size, not specifically on the amount of dependents in your household.

9. Do these benefits give me the equivalent of what I would live in if I were in government quarters?

No. It’s based on civilian housing, given a civilian with a similar income.

10. Where can I find out my rates and learn more about BAH?

Visit this section of the Department of Defense’s website.

BAH for Online Schools

Distance learning students will finally be able to collect their benefits as of October 1st, 2011! Meaning, if you’re still enrolled in a campus-based education program, but looking to reduce costs by cutting down on the driving, or save time by cutting down on classroom attendance, there’s hope for you continuing to remain a recipient of BAH.

BAH will not be available to online students who are also active-duty service members, but other military students attending online schools will finally be able to access a portion of the BAH regularly available to traditional learners. BAH for Online Schools will be set at 1/2 the national average BAH for an E-5 with dependents, which in 2011, would be $673.50.

If you’re not already enrolled in a distance-learning degree program for military students, consider checking out our list of the factors to consider when choosing a Military Friendly College to find an online program that suits your needs!

  • Adam Carroll

    I don’t like the fact the people who go to school online do not receive the same benefits. Why is this? Whether you receive a degree online or from going in person, its still looks the same to me.

  • David Eckert


    If they would give BAH benefits to someone who is studying online, they could live in a place that is very cheap to live like Oklahoma or New Mexico, paying 400 dollars a month for a cheap apartment with all bills paid. At the same time, they could be studying online with a college in San Francisco, earning 2756$ a month for BAH. This would not be very fair to a student who is studying on campus in San Fransisco, using almost all of the BAH for living expenses. This is why you only have to be enrolled in at least one on site class at a time, so that they know you are actually living in the area you are receiving BAH for. So you could get most of your degree online, but not all of it, to receive BAH.

  • Katie

    I agree with Adam. My husband had to outprocess and go to seminary school in order to become an Army chaplain. We already own a house in WA state, so it would not make sense to move. However, there are no seminaries close by, so he decided to go with an on-line seminary in VA. We would be thrilled to get BAH for eastern WA where we are currently living. It would really come in handy since we are a family of 6! Wondering why we can’t get BAH for here?

  • john martin

    Very nice information. Thanks for this.

  • Jim Taylor

    I have read Mr. Eckert’s comments, but still have some questions and concerns. There must be a great percentage of soldiers and sailors completing online classes, especially with the unique hours associated with serving. The problem with the 1 class requirement is that online degrees usually are not accepted at face value by most traditional universities. The military friendly school that I received my Associates from had a partnership with Thomas Edison that is also in NJ where I retired to. Now, Thomas Edison does not offer a traditional classroom environment, only on-line and Kean is hard pressed to recognize my military experience.
    Wouldn’t it be possible to drive to the local VA office with your cable bill, current/ past yrs taxes, drivers info, insurance papers, vet bills, cell phone bill, gas bill, electric bill and so on so they can verify your state residency? Seems to me that someone had trusted us to serve with honor and integrity, but now there might be an issue…..Hmmm seems like something could be done.

  • Alison L

    I agree that not receiving BAH for online is not right! I cant attend the University I choose, UMUC because my family is in VA and PA. I started w/ UMUC while active duty and want to finish with them now that I am no longer active. But military moves around!! Come on VA!! So I have relocated to a state where UMUC is not “on base” so I take the online. I still pay bills, I still raise children, I still study, I dont understand why online is different from going to a classroom. If its the verify residence or location thing for people cheating the system, well, that doesnt make sense. I live in the country where its cheap…I dont care to beat the system, I just want help too while I better myself through education. It would actually be more costly to go in classroom because of more child care costs so taking online is super helpful.
    Not understanding this BAH thing…

  • Lara

    Seriously if I get another email from military.com promoting the GI Bill I am going to throw up! The email says “You earned it!” in reference to the GI Bill. Seriously…dont send me an email telling me I earned it…I know I did, now tell the VA that and maybe they will quit acting like they are doing me a favor and treating me like I am at the unemployment office trying to collect.

  • Tracee

    this new gi bill is crazy. they so were not ready to push this onto people. has anyone else not gotten their BAH the beginning of dec? we always get it when he gets his retirement check this time nothing. and of course the phones are ALWAYS busy. even if you call at 4am. they say all representatives are busy at this time. they are just not answering phones. guess we should have stayed on the other gi bill.

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  • Tamika

    I am in the military and my husband just got out and we live in Alaska base housing. I am trying to understand the situation because I was told that if I lived off post, which i am paid BAH, then my husband can get the BAH, but because I live onbase, which they still pay the BAH and take it away,then he is not entitled to BAH.

  • Tamika

    I am in the military and my husband just got out and we live in Alaska base housing. I am trying to understand the situation because I was told that if I lived off post, which you are paid BAH, then my husband can get the BAH, but because I live onbase, which they still pay the BAH and take it away,then he is not entitled to BAH. Don’t agree with this at all. He wants to finish his last 2 years of schooling and it would have helped with daycare expenses.

    • nice

      BAH is to pay for HOUSING not child care. If you already recieve FREE housing you are making out better than the rest of us!!!! Be grateful for what you have.

    • Ejanica10

      Hi Tamika, my husband is currently AD in the Navy and I’m a Navy veteran. We lived on base and before I got discharged I sent in my application for the Post 9/11 Gi Bill. I went to school on the base and I received all my BAH benefits with no problems. His BAH continued and so I was able to pocket mines and use it to make payments on my car.

  • WWEB

    Is it true with all the automation and new technology used by the VETERANS AFFAIRS ADMINISTRATION that V.A. FORMS will be merged into one GENERAL PURPOSE form and directed to appropriated department?
    Walter(Durham, N.C.)