Calculating A Reserve Retirement

How To Calculate A Reserve Retirement

I recently answered a couple of questions on calculating the amount of a Reserve retirement for both Final Pay and High Three pay systems. If you’re eligible for a Reserve/Guard pension then let me repeat the questions & answers so that you can confirm your own math. If you’ve had a different experience, please post about it in the comments!  I’ve read the references and checked them with an expert, but I haven’t personally gone through the process.

When you’re in the Reserves or Guard, your time toward a pension is credited on two factors: the number of points you build up, and the number of “good years” you’ve completed. You accumulate points for drill weekends, active duty periods, and some special circumstances like online/correspondence courses or funeral honors detail. Each service is a little different in their point calculations– for example a Navy Reserve drill weekend awards two points per day because a Reserve weekend counts for four drill points.


Points accumulate from both active duty and the Reserve/Guard system. Each day of active duty counts as one point. Each drill counts as one point, as do the days of active duty in the Reserve/Guard for training or mobilizations. It’s possible to get points for other purposes but they’re generally limited. (It’s possible for officers commissioned from NROTC to receive points for the days they were on active duty for midshipman summer training, but they’ll need to supply the documentation.) You’re also limited by the number of points you can get in a category– you can’t do 52 drill weekends in one year and get points for every one. Of course you can certainly be mobilized during a leap year and receive 366 points of active duty.

Good year

A “good year” ensures that you show up each year for a certain minimum amount of work. Again each service has their individual requirements, but generally if you show up for drills on at least 10 of the 12 months (or complete enough other assignments) then you’ve met the intent of a good year. You may be required to earn a certain minimum number of points within 12 months, and to maintain your mobilization readiness (like completing the medical checklists). When you do that, you’re credited with your “good year”.

This status is tracked in your service’s Reserve/Guard databases, and you may be issued occasional updates. Every year you can earn a certain number of points and get a “good year”. However you’ll still have to verify that your service correctly credits you with that accomplishment.

You’re considered eligible for retirement when you’ve completed 20 “good years” of service. (But of course you can usually choose to continue to serve.) If you have a combination of active duty and Reserve/Guard duty, then your active-duty service time counts toward the 20 good years. There are also special circumstances (mainly medical) when you may be eligible to retire before reaching 20 good years. However for purposes of this post we’re going to assume that your retirement eligibility is based on the main requirement of 20 good years.

When you reach 20 good years, your service will eventually formally notify you that you’re eligible for retirement. (You may still have to finish other obligations like an enlistment, a minimum time in rank, or a set of orders.) When you complete those requirements (or have them waivered, or agree to retire at a lower rank) then you can apply for retirement. The key to your retirement is that “notice of eligibility”.

Retire awaiting pay, or resign

There are two ways to retire, and they require you to consider a certain amount of risk. The first option is to “retire awaiting pay”. Over 99.99% of Reserve/Guard retirees choose this option. When you retire awaiting pay you’re not required to perform any duties or maintain any readiness in the “gray area” between the time you retire and the start of your retired pay, but the risk of this option is that you could still be recalled to duty for a full mobilization. A full mobilization requires the President and Congress to declare a war that’s bad enough to require the entire armed forces, and it’s more severe than the Presidential mobilization that was declared after 9/11.

Most Reserve/Guard retirees are willing to take this risk because the Department of Defense pays for it. If you retire awaiting pay then your seniority within your rank continues to accumulate, and when you reach your pension start date (generally age 60) then your retirement pay will be drawn at the active-duty pay table in effect that year. In other words, DoD covers you on both seniority and inflation.

If you’re not willing to accept the risk of a full mobilization, then the only way to completely avoid it is to resign. You’ll still receive your pension at your start date (generally age 60) but it’ll be at the seniority you had in that rank when you resigned– and in the pay scale in effect when you resigned. This may not be much of a difference if you resign at age 59, but if you resign at age 37 then you’ll be facing over two decades of inflation erosion before your pension starts.

For the purposes of this post, we’re going to assume that you “retire awaiting pay”.

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  1. Deserat says

    Excellent article – one of the best explanations I’ve seen…I never knew how they came up with that multiplier – thanks!

      • says

        Hi Doug,

        Thanks for your article, it is very informative! I enlisted in AD USMC in 1977, completing 3 years of honorable service in 1980. In 1985, I entered AD USAF as an officer and served 7.5 years – again I was honorably discharged in 1992.

        In 2001, I joined the USAF reserves, again as an officer. Later I was passed over twice for promotion to Major (04) and was discharged in 2006. The absence of USAF OPRs between 1992 to 2001 (inactive USAF reserves) hindered my chances for promotion to Major. Anyway, I was honorably discharged from the USAF Reserves in 2006, and I joined the US Army reserves as an E5. I was promoted to E6, have obtained my 20 year letter and I am still serving as an IMA reservist in Korea.

        My question: I have approximately 26 good years for reserve retirement, with 13 good years as an officer, 9 years as an O3. I fall under the Final Pay retirement plan (I enlisted before 6 Sept 80). Do I qualify to retire at my highest grade (O3) held, or do I retire as an E6 (that’s if I don’t get promoted in my present reserve position)?

        Ok, thanks for your help.


        • says


          Congratulations on your service– there’s not many Final Pay members still on duty!

          You’re wise to consider this question before you apply for retirement. My first piece of advice is: consult a military lawyer from a base legal service office. They’re familiar with both federal law and DoD retirement rules and can figure out the details. By enlisting before 6 Sep 1980, your retirement comes under legacy rules that today’s personnel staffs may not see very often.

          As I understand the DoD Financial Management Regulation (, you’re eligible to retire as an O-3. Sections 010501(E) and 030105 include the phrase “of the highest grade held satisfactorily at any time in the Armed Forces.” You’re over 10 years of commissioned service, so the key question will be whether your broken service affects the rules which apply to your officer or enlisted status.

          The problem is that Title 10 U.S. Code sections 3914 and 3963 apply to Army Reserve enlisted who were “previously administratively reduced in grade not as a result of the member’s own misconduct” and refer to retirement in an enlisted paygrade. You’ll be retiring through the Army’s HRC, and they may not be familiar with your USAF service. It’s critical that your USAF records be reflected in the Army’s electronic database (not just your paper service record) or else the Army computers won’t recognize your commissioned service.

          As you go through the determination process (which I recommend you start now), make sure the HRC staff refer you to the applicable regulations. If an Army regulation (or federal law) supersedes the FMR and Title 10 paragraphs that I’ve mentioned above, then you’ll want a lawyer to help you figure out which takes precedence. Even if HRC agrees that you’re retiring as an O-3, you still should ensure that they can quote the applicable regulation– and avoid a later unpleasant surprise. It’s absolutely essential that you resolve these questions now, before you apply for retirement, in order to avoid having to resolve them through a corrections board after retirement.

          Hopefully another reader can chime in on these regulations. I’m going to check with a few other servicemembers & veterans who may be able to help with this question. If you get an answer first, please let us know!

          • Terese LeFrancois, Ret USAFR says

            Before deciding which rank (O or E) to retire, recommend you do the calculations for each and consider the final numbers. If O-3 for 10 years gets you more/less than E6/7 for 26 years or the opposite, then take that into account. One must also consider personal values – is it more important for you to retire as an officer with perhaps less retiree pay than a senior enlisted with more pay? Definitely check with a good attorney first!

  2. Tara says

    Great article. I think you did a much better job of explaining these issues than the actual Navy Reserves! So, maybe you can assist me with a couple problems. 1. Where can I get my calculations for points earned (14 Active/14 Reserve). Also, I need to get a copy of my DD214 for my Active time (2001-2002) but only have a Member’s copy and my Federal job won’t accept this for credit. Any ideas? Thanks again. Tara

  3. Bimmerbill says

    Nords, don’t forget the “APPROXIMATE Point Value For Retirement Benefits” charts (

    For instance, I have 1826 points and have point value of .426 (O3 with 22 years). So1826* .426 = $777 a month (estimated- before tax, SBP, RCSPB, etc). If I recall correctly, a point was valued at .38 when I retired in 2007 so you can see the yearly COLA raise we enjoy as gray area retirees.

  4. Steve Tyahla says

    Thanks for putting this in English, but I do have one particular question:
    If you enter the retired reserve well before 60 (“gray area”) but have not achieved the minimum time in grade at your retirement rank in order to qualify for that retirement pay, do you actually lose the rank you were promoted to? I’m guessing not-seems illogical, but…never know. Basically, I want my ID card to still show the rank I reached even though I realize I’ll receive retired pay based on the next lower rank at which I did meet TIG.

    • says

      Steve, thanks for your question and my apologies for my delayed response. FINCON12 is sucking up all my brainpower this week.

      I don’t know the answer to the ID card, but it depends on whether that decision is made by the DEERS staff (who furnish the info for the ID card) or the DFAS pay system (which decides what rank is used for your retired pay).

      My guess is that if you retire before time in rank that you’d have a gray-area ID with your final rank, but when you reached age 60 then your new ID card would reflect the lower rank.

      Reaching TIG may be easier than you think. In a drawdown, the services will frequently waive their TIG requirements from three years down to two or even one. Keep an eye on your service’s Reserve personnel website or ask them about it.

      If you’re Navy then I’d join the Association of the U.S. Navy ( and e-mail their staff with the ID card question. Or maybe one of the other readers will chime in with the answer!

  5. Sean says

    Can anyone show me in writing where it says you can or cannot get credit for your Midshipmen summer cruise? You are on active duty orders, wearing a uniform, and getting paid. So unless there is something specific that says you can’t get credit, I don’t see why you can’t?

    • Doug Nordman says


      You’re absolutely right, there is something specific that says you can get credit. But it’s buried in BUPERSINST 1001.39F of 17 Sep 07, “Administrative Procedures for Navy Reservists”. I’m looking this up on website of the Association of the U.S. Navy (, which is an excellent advocacy group for Navy Reserve servicemembers. According to the Navy Personnel Command website, 1001.39F is undergoing major revision. If you’re on active duty or in the Reserves then you’ll probably have a better chance than me of figuring out when .39G will be released. (Or an alert reader will let us know here on the blog.) What I’m about to describe is from .39F, and I sincerely hope it’s fixed in .39G.

      The “problem” is that most officers are given an active duty service date (the date that they actually started active duty as an officer) of the day they’re commissioned. (If they’re in ROTC then that date may be even later– the day that they start their first active duty.) Since this date doesn’t count ROTC midshipman training that happened before their starting date, officers have to submit a record of that earlier training.

      Article 2600.3 (Chapter 20, page 20-8), says:
      3. ROTC Summer Training Credit. Per 10 U.S.C., section 971, graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy (or other service academies) are not eligible for summer training credit. Members that participate in ROTC Midshipman/Cadet summer training are eligible for retirement point credit (one point per day under orders). Because the actual number of days served on summer training can vary, it is necessary that training be properly documented as a prerequisite to awarding retirement point credit. Proper documentation consists of one or more of the following and should be submitted to NAVPERSCOM (PERS-911):
      a. Standard ROTC Summer Cruise/Training Orders (prior to 1978 – NAVPERS 2500, after 1978 – NAVEDTRA 1320/1) issued for each period of a midshipman summer training and endorsed upon
      the member’s arrival and departure.
      b. Leave and Earning Statements (LES) or NAVCOMPT 2120, Pay Voucher.
      c. Ship’s Deck Logs or Ship’s Diaries, which show the dates the member (by name) embarked and debarked.
      d. A letter from the ROTC Unit CO certifying the actual dates of summer training.
      e. A letter from DFAS Cleveland, OH, certifying the actual dates of summer training.
      f. NAVPERS 1070/613 (Administrative Remarks) prepared by the ROTC unit, which states that the member is being discharged to accept a commission. These standard Administrative Remarks usually list the summer training completed while enrolled at that particular ROTC unit.

      Most officers find out about this opportunity years (even decades) after their NROTC summer training. They may no longer have their midshipman orders or their LESs, and there’s just no easy way to get a certification letter from an old CO or DFAS. It’s remotely possible that they still have their page 13 admin remarks. After those options are exhausted, though, the only remaining opportunity to obtain credit is the ship’s deck log. By this point you’re praying that the command recorded your report/detach dates in the deck log, and that the deck log is legibly filed at the Naval Archives.

      Hope this helps. I’ve been around the block a few laps and I have the spare time to research this information. However if any of you other readers have an update, I’d appreciate it!

  6. CWOK says

    Nice article. Just oficially hit “Retired awaiting pay” this 1Apr. Whata PITA to calculate. I’d just like my reduced pension rate now please, instead of at 60. Ahh well. Last deployment was in 05, so I missed the ‘early pay’ too. A couple years is a big deal. The Green Weenie strikes again.

  7. Margie Wilson says

    If my ex husband was active duty for 10 years and 20 years reserve and he has 5300 retirement points how much will he receive, I will receive 50%

    • Doug Nordman says

      Sorry about the divorce, Margie, but the amount of the pension is a complicated and confusing question for many people. State divorce decrees and federal law (for military pensions) make it even more complicated. I’m sending you an e-mail and I’ll follow up with a full post on your question. I should have the e-mail headed your way later today.

        • Doug Nordman says

          The post is up at:

          Please let me know if you have any questions.

          I recommend that you review your divorce agreement with a lawyer to make sure you’re covered for your ex-spouse’s military disability, Survivor Benefit Plan, Tricare, and Social Security. A little time and expense now can save you thousands of dollars of frustration and litigation later.

          If he has a significant degree of disability then he’ll receive a portion of his pension from the Veteran’s Administration, and your divorce agreement may not cover that situation. If that happens then you’ll get less than $1975/month. He may be able to make changes to his SBP beneficiary, too, unless that’s covered in the divorce agreement. It’s possible that you’ll be eligible for Tricare healthcare when he turns age 60, and Tricare For Life at age 65. And finally, you’ll need to check whether it makes sense for you to eventually draw Social Security benefits based on your own earnings record or his. I cover these issues in more detail in the post.

          Please let me know how this works out. Thanks for asking the question– I think it’ll help a lot of readers.

  8. says

    Excellent article, thank you. It cleared up my retired pay questions One thing I didn’t see mentioned was that about 4 months before a gray area naval reservist turns 60 they should receive a package to be completed and returned to NPC. These can be obtained (if they don’t get them like I didn’t) from One should look for the DD108, W4, 1059 2656 and the instruction NAVPERS 1800.

    I have another question. Is a remarried ex-spouse entitled to any of my USNR retired pay.

    • Doug Nordman says

      Thanks, Cliff!

      Good point about the deadlines and the packages. Each service has their own procedures on their Reserve/National Guard websites, and they’re all just different enough (and changing frequently enough) to be extremely confusing.

      The answer regarding remarried ex-spouses is “It depends”. The Uniformed Servicemembers Former Spouse Protection Act provides guidance on when an ex-spouse is entitled to a portion of a military pension, even if they (and you) have to wait until you turn 60 years old. However that’s just guidance for the state courts, and your specific situation depends on your divorce agreement.

      It’s not “just” your retired pay. It’s also whether the ex-spouse is entitled to any of your other military benefits (like Tricare and base access) and whether they’re entitled to be covered by your Survivor Benefits Plan.

      I recommend that you start with this post:
      and follow up on all of the links. Most important of all, check your analysis with a lawyer who’s familiar with military divorce.

  9. ChaplainG says

    So I have gotten conflicting information. I commissioned in 1994. I spent three years as a designation 1305 in the Chaplain Candidate program. All three years were 50-point years. In April 1998, I had to raise my hand again. I served 4.5 years on active duty. I left active duty, had one bad year in the reserve, and have since had all good years. I am over 18 for seniority and pay. One person says that my three years as a chaplain candidate count towards pay and seniority, but not towards retirement. Another says that a good year is a good year. Both know policy inside and out. Both are very senior reservists.

    Your thoughts? Chapter and verse would be helpful.


    • says

      Thanks for your comment, ChaplainG! My response is turning into a complete blog post, so please check your e-mail for a message from NordsNords [at] Gmail.

  10. Moondoggie says

    Great article! Plain English is very appreciated. Perhaps you can help with this issue… I heard a Reservist’s “grey period” could be reduced (start receiving retirement pay before age 60) by becoming a Civil Servant employee after separating from Active Duty (but transitioning into the Reserves with no break in service). Is there any truth to this? Thanks!

    • says

      Thanks, gotta love a comment from anyone named “Moondoggie”!

      I’ve never heard of the program you describe, but I know that there are some “critical skill” civil-service or contractor jobs which require the employee to also hold a billet in the Reserve or National Guard.

      Right now the only way that I’m aware of to receive a Reserve pension before age 60 is to deploy to a combat zone for at least 90 days in a fiscal year.

      I’m going to forward your comment to He’s also a Reservist in a civil-service billet, and if he doesn’t immediately know then answer then he’ll know where to find out. I’ll let you know the word either way.

  11. czinkie says

    Thank you so much for all the useful and interesting information! I’m 2 years away from age 60 and trying to calculate whether I can retire from my civilian job (high school teacher at a private school – no pension) a little earlier so I can spend my time volunteering to teach adults to read. Your blog helps enormously!!!!

  12. Dennis G. Allison says

    My name is Dennis and I served 12 years in the Marine Reserves and I got out with 4.5 years time in grade as a E-6 Staff-SGT back in 1988. I worked a non-goverment job until I was hired at the United States Postal Service on Dec. 1st,2000. No one anywhere can tell me how or who can help me calculate my retirement points into time so that I can buy back this time towards my federal retirement. I am only intending to work 6 more years and retire and the time served in the military can make a difference. I had all good years and never missed any drills and also pulled extra duty as well.

  13. lisa says

    I have 10 years of just Reserve time. I’m planning on going back on active duty to complete another 10 years. If I do that, will I get my retirement when I complete my 10 years of active duty time or will I have to do more time to get my retirement right when I retire?

    • says

      Excellent question, Lisa! The answer is “Yes”– you can get either one.

      For the vast majority of servicemembers, 10 “good years” of Reserve duty is halfway to a retirement. When you add another 10 years of active duty to that Reserve record, you’ll reach 20 good years and have over 4000 points. At that point you’ll be eligible for a Reserve retirement.

      Your Reserve retirement doesn’t start right away, but it will start no later than age 60. (For every 90 days that you deploy to a combat zone during a fiscal year then your retirement age will be reduced by 90 days.) The active-duty services may not know to send you a Notice of Eligibility, so you may have to query your Reserve force headquarters to produce one before you leave active duty for “retired awaiting pay” status. You can read more about leaving active duty for a Reserve retirement at this post:

      If you want an active-duty retirement then you’ll have to stick around for 20 years of active duty or a Temporary Early Retirement Authorization at 15-20 years (these are generally only used during drawdowns). Medical or disability retirements are another possibility but way beyond the scope of your question. You could also separate anytime between 10-20 years of active duty and still enjoy the extra points on your Reserve retirement, but if you take any separation incentive payments then you’ll have to repay them once you start receiving your pension.

  14. says

    I have a friend who is trying to straighten out his Active Federal Service (AFS) time as an Army Reserve AGR officer. He’s looking for the regulation that defines AFS and specifies what the calculation includes. As this deals with pay and thousands of folks have gone through this process (and the DOD being a bureaucratic beast) I’d imagine this is spelled out in detail. At stake is whether he’s forced to a mandatory retirement date or gets to retire. Could use some help! Thanks,

    • says

      Thanks for your comment, Chris!

      The definition of active federal service is in federal law. I’ll start by disclaiming that I’m not a lawyer, and your friend definitely needs the services of one. The lawyers know how to page through the federal law’s revisions, amendments, updates, and other minor changes. They also have the tools to research previous cases for legal precedents that might not be reflected in the actual text of the law. As you say, I’m sure that there have been many lawsuits in this area over the last few decades, but I’m not sure how to find them. As for finding the lawyer: they should contact their unit’s lawyer or base legal officer or even see if they can find someone in their unit who has a civilian practice. Just about any lawyer or paralegal should have the tools to research the law and the case history, although a military lawyer will be more familiar with recent precedents.

      The definition of active federal service starts in Title 10 of the U.S. Code, parts 101(d)(6) and (7). In the “Notes” tab of the Cornell law website ( it says “In clause (22), the definition of “active duty” is based on the definition of “active Federal service” in the source statute, since it is believed to be closer to general usage than the definition in 50:901(b), which excludes active duty for training from the general concept of active duty.” That’s generally the contentious issue: ADT and AT (or anything else with the word “training” in it) does not count as active duty. Even if it involved a mission supporting active-duty forces (for example, flying fuel tankers for refueling jets flown by active-duty pilots) it’s still “training”. This is how Reserve servicemembers can still conduct drills and AT/ADT (for points and credit toward “good years”) without exceeding 18 years of active duty service and reaching sanctuary.

      Army National Guard active duty could also occur under Title 32 of the U.S. Code, which allows states to mobilize their Guard members with federal funds. It’s generally used to for homeland security missions but may have different definitions of “active federal service”. I’m going to immediately defer to the lawyers on this one.

      To further confuse the issue, your friend could have had their orders citing the wrong federal law codes. If personnel branches cite the wrong clause in your friend’s orders then that error can’t be held against the military for pay or retirement purposes. In general, under Title 10 anything less than 30 days is considered “training” and anything 30 days or more (when a new ID card is issued) would be considered “active duty” no matter what federal law is cited in the orders. I’m not sure about Title 32 limits.

      I hope this clarifies the situation without adding to the confusion. Please e-mail me more details if it would help refine the answer. I’ll also add this to a future “ask the readers” post where we might hear from others who have been in this situation.

  15. David L. McDonald says

    Any thoughts on how to get my officer retirement? I was on active duty for over 16 years Navy, RIF’ed after Gulf War One. Joined the MN Army National Guard, as an enlisted man, deployed to Iraq for 2 years, entered Sanctuary Program, and retired from Army with over 20 years of active federal service. I have been retired for 2 years now and still cannot get anyone to explain to me why title 10 Sections: 1370, 3926 and 3911 do not apply to my situation. I held my commission for 10 years and 08 months in the Navy.
    The Army retired me under 3914 and 3964 of title 10.

    I don’t get it.


    • says

      Good to hear from you again, Dave! I just re-sent you my response to your 4 July “Contact me”; please check your e-mail (and perhaps your spam folder) for my NordsNords at Gmail address.

      I’m not sure how the Army arrived at their determination of your retirement rank, and you made good points in your 4 July message. If you have not already seen a military lawyer at a local military base then that still seems to be your best option. If no military base is nearby then the next choice would be to consult a civilian lawyer (preferably a military veteran) with experience at having retirement records corrected by military review boards. You already seem familiar with the DoD Financial Management Regulation so the lawyer might be willing to offer a free hour to review your FMR references and your service record. Please let us know what you’ve learned from that and what other assistance we can offer.

      • David L. McDonald says

        Unfortunately I have hired a lawyer to sue the government for my benefits. Both of the elected officials I have contacted about my retirement have been dead ends. I will keep you posted on the results.


  16. says

    Great article! Thanks. You just convinced me to get out of the reserves and sell my points to a federal job. As an 0-4 with 7 years active and 13 projected reserve years, I’ll only have 3205 points after 20 years. My multiplier is only 22.3%, which means my projected High-3 monthly retirement pay is only $2388 a month. That is only slightly more than Social Security. Thank you for saving me from 2-3 more long deployments away from my family. Anyone would do better with TSP invested into moderate stocks.


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