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Military Psychologist Pay: 2022

Considering the military for a psychology career? Here's what you could make.

Key points

  • Military compensation surpasses that of the majority of civilian clinical psychologists.
  • In addition to competitive pay, the military offers other benefits, such as a pension, tax-free allowances, and free health care.
  • Ten years of service as a military psychologist can qualify individuals for student loan forgiveness.

For those considering a psychology internship or career in the military as a clinical psychologist, it is only natural to wonder about salary. One of the benefits of military service is that salary is not a mystery. Because there are no pay negotiations, and pay, allowances, and other benefits are concretely defined and transparent, interns and psychologists know before signing up how much they can make.

 Karolina Grabowska/Pexels
The military offers competitive pay and benefits.
Source: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

For psychologists, serving in the military is one of the higher-paying jobs around. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists in 2019 was $78,200 with the top 10% of psychologists earning over $132,670. Early career psychologists in the military, who are board-certified, earn on the high side of the civilian range, while interns make 2.5-3 times as much as their civilian counterparts. This post will explain the various aspects of military psychologist pay and benefits.

Basic Pay

Basic pay is the core pay that all service members earn and is dependent on rank and how much time one has served. Both psychology interns and first-year psychologists enter the military as O3s (a Navy Lieutenant or Air Force or Army Captain). In CY 2022, a psychology intern or first-year psychologist is earning $55,638 annually in basic pay (for the military pay charts, go here). Service members receive a raise at two, three, and four years and then every two years after that, as well as in conjunction with promotions. The pay increase for O3s who make their two-year mark in 2022 is $7,428.

Allowances

On top of basic pay, service members receive both a food allowance (Basic Allowance for Subsistence or BAS) and a housing allowance (Basic Allowance for Housing or BAH). BAS is the same for all officers, specifically $3,363.48 annually, and BAH varies depending on rank, geographic location and whether or not that psychologist has dependents. BAH is designed to cover 95% of housing costs for the service member and their dependent family members. (For specific BAH rates for specific locations, use this calculator). It is notable that allowances are not taxed.

Special Pays and Bonuses

Psychologists can earn three professional pays: incentive pay, board certification pay, and a retention bonus. A psychologist may receive one, two, or all of these simultaneously. Incentive pay is $5,000 annually for licensed active duty military psychologists. Board certification pay is $6,000 annually and is predicated by board certification through the American Board of Professional Psychology. Retention bonuses range from $10,000 to $35,000 annually depending on the service and how many years a psychologist commits to. For example, a psychologist committing to four years in the military earns a $20,000 per year bonus.

To calculate actual pay, add the basic pay to the allowances and then add the special pays. Take this example. A married, licensed psychologist, who is stationed at Joint Base Lewis McChord near Tacoma, Washington, has two years in the military and as an O3 makes $63,072 in basic pay, $3,363.48 in BAS, and $31,716 in BAH. That’s a total of $98,151.48. Add another $5,000 because of the license, resulting in annual pay of $103,151.48 with only 2 years of experience. The psychologist may increase their pay further by getting board certified (add $6,000) and/or signing up for a retention bonus (add $10-35,000 per year for committing to two to six years).

While the pay is considered good in comparison to other psychology jobs in the U.S., there are other financial considerations.

Student Loan Forgiveness

Ten years of military service qualifies active duty psychologists for loan forgiveness. Given the costs of the psychology doctoral program, this can be substantial. On average, Ph.D. students graduate with $75,000 of debt, while Psy.D. students graduate with $200,000. When taking the interest on these loans into consideration, this benefit may be significant.

Retirement Investment Program and Pension

Service members are provided a lifelong military pension if they serve for 20 years. Service members may also participate in the Thrift Savings Program (TSP; the government version of a 401K), which includes a 5% match (assuming you contribute at least 5% of your base pay). Basically, service members have the opportunity for dual-retirement pay. For those who decide not to stay in for 20 years, they retain any money in their TSP.

Continuing Education and Training

The military provides advanced training for psychologists. Between the Air Force, Army, and Navy, there are fellowships offered in child psychology, forensic psychology, neuropsychology, operational psychology, and psychopharmacology (prescribing psychology). Some of these fellowships are provided by civilian universities and some via established programs offered through the military. During fellowship, the active-duty fellow continues to draw their military salary while training full time.

Additionally, service members qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill with which they can pursue additional formal education while serving (e.g., Master’s of Business Administration, Master’s of Public Health) or after leaving military service.

Health Care

Service members receive free health care and their family members receive health care at little to no cost, depending on which health care plan they choose.

Leave

The military provides 30 days of annual leave to all service members. Additionally, the military provides maternity and parental leave to new parents, convalescent leave if you are recovering from a surgery, illness, or injury, and time off for routine sickness, none of which are charged against the annual leave.

Commissary

The military maintains its own grocery stores on many military bases and is able to provide food and other staples for significantly less than public grocery stores. On average, shopping at the commissary saves military members 24% off their grocery bill. This is before coupons, sales, etc.

These are just some of the financial perks of serving in the military. Service members also receive low-cost life insurance, tax-free earnings in certain locations, special pays such as sea pay or flight pay depending on their duty station, funded moves, retail store discounts, travel perks, and so on. For those who crave a little adventure and want to work with our nation’s military, the financial compensation is competitive.

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