29 May How to Read a Military LES (and Understand It)
Looking at your Leave and Earnings Statement (LES) isn’t top of mind for most service members (or spouses). It’s a square filled with a bunch of blocks that quickly start to run together. But those blocks are a complete accounting of your earnings and entitlements. Understanding what they mean can help you find mistakes that if go unchecked too long can cost you time and money.
A Leave and Earnings Statement (LES) is a comprehensive statement of your military pay. It’s a military pay stub that includes a record of your pay, deductions, tax withholdings, and other entitlements. Your most recent LES can be found in your MyPay account.
You’d be surprised how many service members I help with financial problems caused by an LES error. Finding out you have zero pay due will definitely throw your life and monthly budget into chaos. I’m not knocking DFAS, but mistakes happen—humans work there. That’s why frequently checking your LES is crucial. It will help you catch and resolve problems early. Here’s what you should know about your LES.
Table of Contents
What is a Military LES
Your LES is a statement of your military pay. It’s the military’s version of a paystub or a payslip. It tells you how much money you make in a pay period, the amount of taxes withheld, your leave balance plus a bunch more. It’s basically a detailed report of your pay and benefits. It typically comes out a few days before each payday to update you on your current leave and earnings for the pay period. Reviewing your LES is an essential part of your monthly money management.
More on DFAS: What is DFAS?
How to Read Your LES
An LES has 78 fields. Yes, you read that right. There are 78 blocks on an LES for you to know and understand. You don’t have to memorize them all, but you should be familiar with your LES to recognize when there’s a problem. Your LES fields are broken up into 11 main sections which are:
- Personal Identification (Fields 1-9)
- Entitlements, Deductions, Allotments, Retirement Plan (Fields 10-24)
- Leave Information (Fields 25-32)
- Federal Tax Withholding Information (Fields 33-38)
- FICA Information (Fields 39-43)
- State Tax Information (Fields 44-49)
- Additional Pay (Fields 50-62)
- Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) Data (Fields 63-75)
- Remarks and More (Fields 76-78)
1.NAME: The service member’s name (last, first, middle initial).
2. SOC. SEC. NO.: The service member’s Social Security Number.
3. GRADE: Your current pay grade.
4. PAY DATE: The date you entered active duty in YYMMDD format (also known as Pay Entry Base Date).
5. YRS SVC: Your actual years of creditable service written in two digits.
6. ETS: Your Expiration Term of Service, better known as your separation date, is written in a YYMMDD format.
7. BRANCH: Your current branch of service (Air Force, Army, Marines, or Navy).
8. ADSN/DSSN: Your disbursing or finance office Disbursing Station Symbol Number.
9. PERIOD COVERED: This is the pay period the LES covers which is typically one calendar month unless separating.
Entitlements, Deductions, Allotments, Retirement Plan
10. ENTITLEMENTS: This is a list of all your entitlements and allowances paid like basic pay, BAS, and BAH.
11. DEDUCTIONS: This is a list of all deductions from your pay like taxes, SGLI, and mid-month pay.
12. ALLOTMENTS: This is a list of all allotments being deducted like transfers to savings or your rent payment. It also lists your non-discretionary allotments like child support.
13. +AMT FWD: This field will only show pay or allowances unpaid from your previous LES.
14. TOT ENT: The total entitlements and/or allowances that make up your pay for that pay period.
15. -TOT DED: The total of all deductions for the pay period or that month.
16. -TOT ALMT: All your allotments that are being taken from your pay for the month.
17. = NET AMT: This figure will be the result of taking all of your pay and allowances and subtracting all of your deductions and allotments due for the month.
18. CR FWD: If you have any, this is the amount of unpaid pay and allowances due to you. The dollar amount will reflect on your next LES as the +AMT FWD.
19. = EOM PAY: This is the magic number everyone’s looking for. It’s the amount of the pay you receive on End-of-Month payday.
20. TOTAL ENTITLEMENTS: The total of all your entitlements and/or your allowances.
21. TOTAL DEDUCTIONS: The total of your deductions.
22. TOTAL ALLOTMENTS: The total of your allotments.
23. DIEMS (Date Initially Entered Military Service): Your DIEMS is only used to determine the retirement plan you fall under. The date comes from your personnel command, not DFAS.
24. RET PLAN: This field will show the retirement plan you fall under (Final Pay, High 3, REDUX, or BRS).
25. BF BAL: This stands for “brought forward leave balance.” It’s your leave balance at either the beginning of the fiscal year, or when your active duty commitment began, or the day after you were paid Lump Sum Leave (LSL).
26. ERND: You earn 2.5 days of leave each month. This field is the total number of leave days you’ve earned for the year.
27. USED: This field is the total amount of leave you’ve used in the current fiscal year.
28. CR BAL: Most service members and their spouses keep a close eye on this number. It’s your current leave balance as of the end of the pay period for the Leave and Earnings Statement-LES.
29. ETS BAL: This field is the projected leave balance to your Expiration Term of Service (ETS).
30. LV LOST: This doesn’t happen too often, but it’s the days of leave that you’ve lost.
31. LV PAID: The number of your leave days paid to date.
32. USE/LOSE: Also known as “use or lose.” This is the projected number of days of leave you’ll lose if you don’t use them in the current fiscal year.
Federal Tax Withholding Information
33. WAGE PERIOD: Your total earnings for the pay period that are subject to federal tax withholding.
34. WAGE YTD: Your total earnings for the year to date that are subject to federal tax withholding. Pay like Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS) that aren’t taxable won’t be included in this number.
35. M/S: Your marital status that’s used to determine your FITW.
36. EX: The number of exemptions you can claim for tax purposes. It’s also used to compute your FITW.
37. ADD’L TAX: Any additional amount of taxes you’d like withheld from your pay.
38. TAX YTD: Your total amount of federal taxes withheld for the year.
39. WAGE PERIOD: The amount of your earnings for the pay period that are subject to the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA).
40. SOC WAGE YTD: The amount of your earnings year-to-date that are subject to FICA.
41. SOC TAX YTD: This is the total amount of FICA that has been withheld from your pay for the entire calendar year.
42. MED WAGE YTD: The amount of Medicare tax you’ve paid year-to-date.
43. MED TAX YTD: The total amount of Medicare taxes you’ve paid year-to-date.
State Tax Information
44. ST: The two-digit postal abbreviation for the state you’re paying state taxes in.
45. WAGE PERIOD: The amount of your earnings for the pay period that are subject to State Income Tax Withholding (SITW).
46. WAGE YTD: Your year-to-date earnings that are subject to SITW.
47. M/S: Your marital status used to calculate your SITW.
48. EX: Your total number of exemptions used to compute your SITW.
49. TAX YTD: The year-to-date total amount of state income tax you’ve paid.
50. BAQ TYPE: The type of Basic Allowance for Quarters (BAQ).
51. BAQ DEPN: This field lists your dependents by code.
52. VHA ZIP: If it applies to you, the zip code used to calculate your Variable Housing Allowance (VHA).
53. RENT AMT: If it applies, the amount of rent paid for housing.
54. SHARE: The number of people you share housing costs with.
55. STAT: Here annotates your VHA status—whether you’re accompanied or unaccompanied.
56. JFTR: The Joint Federal Travel Regulation (JFTR) code for your location to determine your Cost of Living Allowance (COLA).
57. DEPNS: The number of your dependents to determine your VHA.
58. 2D JFTR: This is the JFTR code for your dependent’s location for COLA purposes.
59. BAS TYPE: This field contains a code to indicate the type of BAS you’re receiving. It will be empty for officers.
60. CHARITY YTD: Your total charitable contributions for the calendar year.
61. TPC: If you’re a member of the Reserves or Guard, this field is your Training Program Code. It identifies the training you’re under like Funeral Honors or Normal Pay Status.
62. PACIDN: If you’re active-duty Army, this field is your activity Unit Identification Code (UIC).
63. BASE PAY RATE: This field shows the percentage of your base pay you elected to contribute to the TSP.
64. BASE PAY CURRENT: This field is being reserved for future use.
65. SPECIAL PAY RATE: The percentage of your Specialty Pay being contributed to your TSP.
66. SPECIAL PAY CURRENT: Another field that’s being reserved for future use.
67. INCENTIVE PAY RATE: The percentage of your Incentive Pay contribution to your TSP.
68. INCENTIVE PAY CURRENT: An additional field reserved for future use.
69. BONUS PAY RATE: The percentage of your Bonus Pay elected to TSP contributions.
70. BONUS PAY CURRENT: Also reserved for future use.
71. Reserved for future use: This field is being saved for future use.
72. TSP YTD DEDUCTION: Here are your total TSP contribution deduction for the year.
73. DEFERRED: This field is the total amount of your tax-deferred TSP contributions.
74. EXEMPT: The total amount of your TSP contributions that are tax-exempt and reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as such.
75. Reserved for future use: A future use space.
Remarks and More
76. REMARKS: As a financial coach, I will say this is the most important field on your Leave and Earnings Statement – LES. It’s basically a bulletin board of what’s going on in the military, your branch of service, your command, and your pay. The remarks also include crucial explanations of changes to your entitlements, deductions, and allotments.
77. YTD ENTITLE: The total of all your entitlements for the calendar year.
78. YTD DEDUCT: The total of all your deductions for the calendar year.
How to Understand Your Leave and Earnings Statement – LES
Your LES is key to understanding your military pay. Your statement gives you a clear picture of:
- Gross pay – How much money you make
- Deductions – How much money is taken out
- Net pay – How much money you get to take home
Once you understand those building blocks, it’s easier to understand your LES and how much money will ultimately be deposited into your bank account each month.
Military Entitlements (Gross Pay)
The Entitlements field of your LES lists all of your gross pay. Gross pay is an accounting of all of your base pay, special pays, and allowances listed together.
You should review your Entitlements to double-check you’re receiving all of your pay but also to make sure you’re not receiving pay you shouldn’t be. Getting over payment something you aren’t entitled to is the quickest way to get a zero pay due LES.
If you don’t catch an overpayment, DFAS will! It may not be right away, but they’ll find it eventually, and when they do, they’ll want their money back ASAP. You don’t get a vote on paying the money back. They’ll take it directly from your pay, and most of the time, it will leave you with little to no pay due for the month.
If you do get overpayment, DON’T SPEND THE MONEY! I repeat, don’t spend the money. I know it can be tempting, but it will just cause you financial problems later. Keep the money in your checking account and let your finance office know right away.
FYI, the Entitlements section is labeled “Earnings” on Coast Guard pay statements. And remember, all Allowances like BAH and BAH are not taxable income.
Field 11 on your LES is all of the deductions from your total gross pay. Deductions include taxes, insurances, and your TSP contributions. It’s always good to review your deductions to make sure nothing is being taken out of your pay that isn’t supposed to be. If you do find something being deducted that shouldn’t be, let your personnel or finance office know STAT. Catching it early can mean less money you’re out, and the sooner you can get the money you’re owed back from DFAS.
Part of your deductions will include your tax liability to the federal government and your state (if they collect income tax). The amount deducted for tax is based on different factors like how much you make and your exemptions. If you’re into that sort of thing, you can use the 2021 Wage Bracket Tables to estimate your federal tax withholdings for your wage and the number of exemptions.
Tax for Federal Insurance Contributions Act or FICA are also taken out of your pay. You’ll see FICA broken into both Social Security and Medicare tax on your LES.
Your insurance deductions will include your Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI). If you’re married or have children, Family SGLI will be deducted from your pay as well.
One of the most common questions I get about the Deductions on a military LES is: What is AFRH? It’s another type of insurance. If you’re enlisted, the DoD takes out $.50 per month for the Armed Forces Retirement Home.
Investments in the Thrift Savings Plan
If you’re making contributions to your TSP account, there will be a deduction for the amount of money you’re contributing each month. Field 63-75 of your LES provides more details about your TSP contributions. Examples of Deductions are:
- Federal Tax
- State Tax
- FICA-Soc Security
- AFRH (Armed Forces Retirement Home)
- Family SGLI
- Mid-Month Pay
Read more on debt payments: The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act – SCRA
Summary (Net Pay)
This field is where it all comes together. The formula to determine your net pay is Entitlements – Deductions – Allotments = Net Pay. The result is better known as your End of Month (EOM) Pay. Your EOM is the net pay that you get to take home for the month.
The Remarks section of your LES is a treasure trove of information on your pay. Whenever I review a service member’s LES, the Remarks section is the first thing I look over. It’s the current events sections of your pay and lets you know quickly recent or upcoming changes to your leave and pay. The Remarks include information from your bank’s name to the zip code your BAH is based on. Taking a few moments to read your Remarks will help you avoid financial problems in the future.
Here’s the Bottom Line
A Leave and Earnings Statement – LES covers a lot each month, but you need to review and if there are issues to get them fixed quickly. Make it a habit to check your LES ever 1st and 15th of the month. If you review and find your pay or another field of your LES is significantly different talk with someone in your finance office ASAP. Frequently reviewing your LES will help you catch and resolve issues quickly.
Want to learn more about your Leave and Earnings Statement – LES and personal finance in the military? Check out the latest episodes of the Military Money Show below.
If you want to “kickstart” your finances in the military, you can get access to my free Financial Kickstart Kit here.