Military members who serve their country as part of the National Guard or a branch’s reserve component may qualify for retirement benefits – including a Blended Retirement System pension and Thrift Savings Plan retirement payments. You can estimate what your potential retirement payments may be with the official BRS military pay calculator.
How to fill out each section of the BRS calculator
A few quick notes for using this calculator as a member of the National Guard or reserves:
- You may need to estimate information about your future service career while you’re filling out the information for the BRS calculator, and you may not know the exact answers. That’s okay – the calculator automatically puts in answers based on the experiences of other service members in your situation. And, you can change your responses at any time.
- You’ll need to know how many “retirement points” you have earned and days served on active duty. See “Reserve component BRS calculator step two” for more information on these topics.
- If you use a computer or tablet, move your cursor over underlined phrases. A small window appears with a definition. This feature is not available if you’re using a smartphone.
Select “Reserve Component,” then say that you’ll separate or retire from the “Reserve Component.” Press “Continue” to proceed.
This is the step where you’ll need to know how many retirement points you’ve earned so far.
During this step, you’ll enter:
- Your birth date
- Your Pay Entry Base Date – basically, the month and year you first got paid by the military. This can be found on your Leave and Earnings Statement.
- Your current pay grade
- Expected years of service by the time you retire
- Your total active service days to date – any time you spent on active duty before going into the National Guard or reserves, plus any time on active duty since then
- Your total “qualifying years” toward retirement and your total retirement points, which can get a bit complicated.
Basically, you can retire from military service and receive retirement payments only after 20 years of “qualifying service.” You need to earn 50 points in a given year for it to count toward that retirement minimum.
A typical year as a member of the National Guard or reserves should net you 78 retirement points. If you’re not sure about points, check out “Learn more about retirement points” on the BRS calculator. Clicking on it will bring up a pop-up window that explains retirement points in detail.
Notice that most of the responses in this section will have answers. The exception is your projected years of service. Remember, the longer you stay in, the more you’ll make in retirement – and you’ll need 20 years of qualifying service to receive the pension.
When you’re done entering all the required information, press “Continue.”
This is the step where you can start fiddling with the automatic answers the BRS calculator offers to see how choices you make today can impact your retirement income.
Here, you’ll enter your:
- Life expectancy
- TSP withdrawal age – how old you’ll be when you decide to start withdrawing money from your Thrift Savings Plan account. This defaults to 67, BRS’s “Full Retirement Age,” but you can start withdrawing at 59½ years without paying extra income taxes. The longer you can wait to withdraw, the more money you’ll earn.
- TSP contribution rate – how much you think you’ll contribute to your TSP while you’re serving, as a percentage of your basic pay. This defaults to 5%, since that’s what’s needed for the government to contribute a max of 5% of your base pay. However, you can increase or decrease this amount if you plan on deducting more or less money from your monthly pay.
- TSP rate of return – how much extra money you think your retirement account will make each year before you start withdrawing from it. This defaults to 7% average annual increase. You can decrease this percent for a more conservative estimate and a lower future TSP payment. Or, you can increase it if you think the market will perform better by the time you withdraw your funds.
- TSP rate of return after withdrawal – how much you think your account will make each year after you begin to withdraw. This defaults to 3%.
- Current TSP account balance – both what you’ve contributed so far and what the government has matched. You can find this information online at the official Thrift Savings Plan website.
Once you’ve decided on your answers, click “Continue.”
How much you contribute to your retirement account will depend on how much your basic pay is. That amount increases with promotions and years of service, as well as how many days you’ll serve on active or inactive duty.
If you’re not sure, the system automatically fills in each year’s possible pay grade following a “typical military career progression.” National Guard members and reservists also can adjust the estimated number of Inactive Duty, or ID, paid and non-paid days. These will impact retirement point counts for the given year.
After reviewing the calculator’s suggestions, you can simply continue from this step without changing anything. Or, you can override the calculator’s automatic inputs with the drop-down menus.
During your career, you may receive large bonuses. One of these is called a “continuation pay,” which you’ll receive on agreeing to serve for at least three more years. This step asks for some basic information to determine how big a bonus you might receive – and how much you might put into your TSP retirement account.
For members of the National Guard and reserves, this bonus may be anywhere from 0.5 to 6 times your monthly basic pay when serving on active duty.
Again, the calculator will automatically fill in this section for you, based on common scenarios for most service members, but you can customize it, too. Once you’re done, press “Continue” to see the results.
Understanding your projected military retirement income
Once you input your information, you’ll see what the BRS retirement calculator estimates for your future retirement benefits. The information will be presented in four tabs, each with different information. Each of these sections will display total payments for the year, so divide by 12 for your estimated future monthly payments.
You can also choose to have the data show in “today’s” dollars or “future” amounts. Today’s dollars reflect what your benefits would be worth if they were paid out today. Future amounts try to show you the actual dollar amount you’ll likely receive when they’re paid out.
This first tab shows you how much the government will pay you every year, both now and when you retire.
The first columns reflect the basic pay you receive until you leave the service – just like you do now. You might also see a “Continuation Pay” spike on top of your basic pay.
If you officially retire from military service with at least 20 years of qualifying active service, you’ll receive an annuity payment each month. This is the “BRS Pension” column series, which reflect your monthly payments until you reach the age at which you’ll start withdrawing from your TSP account, which defaults to 67 years old. Those withdrawals from your TSP account will be in addition to your BRS pension.
Remember that if you leave the National Guard or reserves before you have the right amount of retirement points or qualifying retirement years, you will receive no pension payment. But, you will receive withdrawals from your TSP account.
Remember, your TSP savings account is an actual account which uses your contributions to invest for your retirement. That means your TSP account has a real dollar amount, just like a checking or savings account. You just won’t access it before you turn 59½ unless you want to pay hefty tax penalties.
The TSP Summary tab shows you what that account will be worth each year, based on the estimates you input earlier. The chart divides itself into your personal contribution earnings and those from the government matching, but the total amount belongs to you.
Notice that your account is projected to continue growing, even after you stop contributing when you retire. That’s because the money you already put into the account will usually earn more every year through investments. The amount typically starts decreasing the year you start withdrawing from it.
Let’s say you qualify for a retirement pension when you retire from the National Guard or reserves. That is, you have the right number of retirement points to equal “years of qualifying service.”
If you do receive a pension, you can opt to take a lump sum of either 25% or 50% of the total pension value when you retire. This will reduce the amount of monthly pension payouts you’ll receive by that percentage, as you can see from this tab.
Notice how your pension returns to a “full payment” later in the chart. That’s because BRS pensions go back to full payment status once you turn 67 years old – the program’s “Full Retirement Age” – even if you took the lump sum back when you first retired from service.
Tables beneath the main bar chart discuss the final dollar amounts in more detail. It also shows you how you end up with less money over the course of your lifetime if you choose to take the lump sum upfront, instead of waiting to receive the full pension payment each year.
If reading spreadsheets is more understandable to you than bar graphs, this is the tab designed for you. It will list the calendar year and all payments made to you over the course of your lifetime.
It will include:
- Annual basic pay calculated from your projected promotions and bonuses while you serve
- TSP contributions by both you and the government
- BRS pension payments if you retire with the required 20 qualifying years of service
- The projected TSP payouts when you opt to make withdrawals
- Your total annual retirement payments
If you run through this calculator and discover that you don’t qualify for a pension, or your TSP payments seem low, don’t panic. Instead, double-check your numbers – it may be a user error. You can also play with the inputs to see if you need to stick around longer to rack up the total 20 years of qualifying service to retire. Check out these calculators if you’re in the legacy retirement system or if you’re an active-duty member in BRS.
If you’d like to talk to someone who knows a ton about how to save for the future while still living in the here-and-now, Military OneSource offers free financial counseling for all active-duty members of the National Guard and reserves. They can review the estimates provided by the calculator and tell you how to get the most out of your retirement benefits.