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What the Recruiter Never Told You

Part 4 -- Enlistment Contracts and Enlistment Incentives


An enlistment incentive is different than a military benefit in that not everyone is eligible, and it must be in the enlistment contract to be valid. For example, an enlistment bonus is an enlistment incentive. Not everyone qualifies for an enlistment bonus. It depends on qualifications and job selected. Therefore, to be valid, it must be on the enlistment contract.

The Montgomery G.I. Bill, or Tuition Assistance, or military medical, or amount of base pay, ect., on the other hand, are military benefits or entitlements. They are available to everyone who enlists, and therefore you won't find them mentioned on the enlistment contract.

Keep in mind that you can't negotiate enlistment incentives. Military recruiters and the job counselors at MEPS have no authority to decide who gets an incentive and who doesn't. Incentives are authorized for specific jobs or specific enlistment programs by the Recruiting Command Headquarters for the individual service. In other words, it's either been authorized for your specific job or enlistment program, or it's not. If it's authorized, you'll be offered the incentive. If it's not authorized, all the "negotiating" in the world won't get it for you.

Following are the current enlistment incentives offered by the services. Military benefits will be discussed in later parts of this series.

Enlistment Bonus. Probably the best known of all enlistment incentives is the enlistment bonus. Enlistment bonuses are used to try and convince applicants to sign up into jobs that the service needs really bad.

When they passed the Fiscal Year 2006 Military Authorization Act, Congress authorized the services to increase the maximum active duty enlistment bonus cap from $20,000 to $40,000. Keep in mind, however, that Congress allowed the services to do so -- they didn't mandate it. The maximum amount of enlistment bonus is set by each of the services (up to the $40,000 maximum allowed by law), based on their own individual recruiting needs.

The Air Force and Marine Corps offer the fewest enlistment bonuses. At the time of this annual revision to this article, the Air Force was offering active duty enlistment bonuses to only 6 AFSCs (jobs), and the top bonus authorized was $12,000. The top Marine Corps enlistment bonus is currently $6,000.

The Navy still caps enlistment bonuses to a maximum of $20,000. The Coast Guard presently offers a top enlistment bonus of $15,000.

Of the five active duty services, only the Army has elected to increase their maximum active duty enlistment bonus cap to the $40,000 authorized by law.

Sometimes, the services will offer an additional bonus for recruits who agree to ship out to basic during a designated time-frame, or for recruits who have college credits (Note: The Army & Navy do this the most often).

In general, the greater the enlistment bonus, the harder time the service is having finding enough qualified applicants who agree to accept the job.

In most cases, this is for one of three reasons:

  1. The job doesn't sound very interesting, and the job counselors are having a hard time getting recruits to select this job.

  2. The job has high entry qualifications (ASVAB score, criminal history requirements, medical qualifications, ect.), and job counselors can't find enough applicants who qualify.

  3. The job training is extremely difficult and lots of people wash out.

The Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps will usually pay the entire bonus amount (lump sum), after arrival at the first permament duty station, following basic training and job-school (usually within 60 days of arrival at the first duty station). The Army will normally pay the first $10,000 upon arrival at the first duty station, with the remainder being paid in equal annual installments during the term of enlistment.

In most cases, if you are discharged early, or you re-train out of the job, you must repay any "unearned" portion of the enlistment bonus. For example, if you enlisted and received a $12,000 enlistment bonus for a 4-year enlistment, but only served in that job for three years, you would have to repay $4,000.

College Fund. All of the services, except the Air Force offer a "college fund." Some of the Services offer "College Funds," for individuals who agree to enlist in hard-to-fill jobs. The amount of money offered in the "college fund" is added to the amount of money you are entitled to with the Montgomery G. I. Bill (We'll talk about the G.I. Bill later). You can't have the college fund without participating in the G. I. Bill.

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