What Are Military Enlistment and Reenlistment Bonuses?

Definition & Examples of Military Bonuses

Military officer with a recruit signing enlistment paperwork
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Military enlistment and reenlistment bonuses are incentives offered to new recruits and formerly enlisted officers to encourage them to enlist in certain jobs within the military.

These bonuses often target jobs in need of more volunteers, and the pay varies by position and length of commitment. Learn more about the bonus opportunities available for both new and formerly enlisted officers.

What Are Military Enlistment Bonuses?

Each of the United States military services uses enlistment bonuses to attract recruits into jobs that are experiencing shortages in new recruit volunteers. Generally, these are set-cash amounts in exchange for agreeing to serve anywhere from four to six years in a specific military specialty.

These bonuses are in addition to the officer's normal pay. There may even be additional bonuses available for a "quick ship" if the officer goes to training within 30 days of enlisting.

In some cases, these bonuses are offered to formerly enlisted offers in order to recruit them to reenlist in highly skilled roles or jobs that have a short supply of officers.

Enlistment bonuses can range from $1,000 to 40,000 depending on the job, your years of service, and the length of your commitment.

How Enlistment Bonuses Work

There can be several reasons why the service may have problems attracting new recruits to some military specialties. Most often, it's because the job has very high qualification standards or it simply doesn't sound attractive.

Enlistment bonuses are usually paid once initial training is complete (basic training and job training), upon arrival at the first duty station. Some of the services pay the entire bonus in one lump sum, while other services pay a portion of the enlistment bonus upon arrival at the first duty station, and the remainder of the bonus in periodic payments.

If a recruit fails to complete their entire contracted enlistment period in the job they agreed to, they typically must return any "unearned" portion of the bonus in a prorated amount. For example, if a recruit enlists in a specific job for four years with an enlistment bonus of $8,000 and becomes medically unqualified for the job after the first two years, they would have to return half of the bonus amount for the second two years.

How Reenlistment Bonuses Work

Reenlistment bonuses, on the other hand, are used to entice troops to reenlist in a job for which the military is experiencing recruiting shortages. Generally, this is because the job is difficult or otherwise unattractive, but it may also happen when the job is in high demand in the civilian job market. Reenlistment bonuses are computed by "multipliers" assigned to specific jobs in "reenlistment zones."

For example, Zone A is for those with less than six years of service. If a job has a reenlistment bonus multiplier of three for Zone A, that means those reenlisting with less than six years of service would triple their base pay, then multiply that by the number of years for which they are reenlisting, and that would be their re-enlistment bonus amount.

Fifty percent of the reenlistment bonus is usually paid at the time of reenlistment, with the remainder paid in equal annual installments for the remainder of the enlistment period. As with enlistment bonuses, if the member fails to stay in that job for the entire reenlistment period, they must repay a prorated portion of the bonus they already received.

Both enlistment bonuses and reenlistment bonuses are taxable income with one exception. If you reenlist in a combat zone and qualify for a reenlistment bonus, the entire bonus amount is tax exempt. This can also apply even if you reenlist in a non-combat zone job if you reenlist during the same month in which you were already in a combat zone.

Key Takeaways

  • Military enlistment and reenlistment bonuses are incentives offered within each military service branch to promote recruitment into high-skill or low-demand roles.
  • Bonuses can reach as high as $40,000 depending on the role, length of commitment, and previous experience.
  • Officers who do not complete their time of committed service will typically have to repay a prorated portion of their bonus.

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Army. "Benefit Fact Sheet." Accessed Sept. 11, 2020.

  2. U.S. Navy. "Enlistment Bonuses." Accessed Sept. 11, 2020.

  3. National Defense Research Institute. "Cash Incentives and Military Enlistment, Attrition, and Reenlistment," Pages 45-49. Accessed Sept. 11, 2020.

  4. United States Department of Defense. "Combat Zone Tax Exclusions (CZTE)." Accessed Sept. 11, 2020.