What exactly is Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)?
Soldiers who are married in the Army obviously know that they receive extra pay for their housing. This additional pay is to provide suitable housing requirements for the family members so that they do not have to live in a small barracks room. The extra payment received in called Basic Allowance for Housing, also known as BAH. This pay varies by location and rank and is supposed to go off of the local market rents. If the family chooses to live on the military installation, then housing is provided, and the full amount of BAH is automatically withdrawn from the soldier's pay. If the soldier chooses to live off post, then the BAH is paid out to the soldier in two equal payments at the same time as their regular pay. It is then up to the soldier to find a place to live, negotiate terms, and make payment arrangements with the property manager.
Living in on-post housing communities.
My wife and I lived off post first before ever moving to on post. We both personally were opposed to the idea in the beginning. During my second deployment, my wife had moved back with her parents. About a month before I returned, we were having trouble finding an apartment off post, so we decided to take an on-post apartment for the time being. I was kind of glad we did this because it was nice living on post now that our family had begun to grow. These are the things we liked best about living on post:
1. Close to work.
Living on post meant that I was only about five minutes from where I worked and allowed me more time with the family after PT, during lunch, and in the evenings. Also, if I forgot something at home, I could quickly run home to get it.
2. Close to medical facilities.
Almost all military bases have on post medical facilities where you and your family will receive all their medical care. Living on post means that it is just down the street, and you don't have to wait in the long lines to go through the gates.
3. Local Community Centers.
Our housing community, along with all the other housing communities, each had a main community center complete with an indoor and outdoor playground, gym, and great room that could be reserved for parties and events for free. There was also a skate park, water park, football fields, basketball courts, dog parks, baseball fields, and more all within walking distance.
4. Safer community.
Living on post, you know that everyone is military or military families that live around you. There are the occasional acts of theft or drunken belligerence, but for the most part, you will not find any real criminals in your neighborhood. Also, the majority of the community looks out for each other and is also quick to help out.
Living in an off-post neighborhood:
Although we did enjoy living on post, we needed to upgrade when our second son came along. We were on the waiting list for a three-bedroom, but there were over 70 people ahead of us; the list was not moving fast enough. We decided to look at our options for off-post. Here is what we like about living off post:
1. More variety.
Living off-post offers an extensive range of homes such as mobile homes, apartments, duplex, lofts, studios, whole houses for rent, or the option to buy your own home. We found a great three bedroom home for rent with a detached garage, basement and fenced in yard for the same amount of our BAH.
2. Save money.
When you live on post, your BAH is deducted in full from your paycheck, but when you live off post, you get to keep your full BAH whether your rent is more or less. If you find a home that rents for less than your BAH, including utilities, then you can pocket the remainder.
3. Live a more civilian style of life.
Living on post means your always around the military, and everywhere you go, there are soldiers in uniform. I like to get away from all that occasionally, and living off post allows me to blend in with society.
4. Ability to turn your BAH into equity.
If you decide to purchase a home, then it is almost like the army is paying for it with BAH. Instead of throwing that monthly allowance into rent each month, you can use it to pay down a mortgage over the years, and eventually, you will have a large amount of money in equity saved up. When it comes time to PCS, you can either rent out your home or sell it and get some money back in your pocket. This is not possible if you rent or live on post.