When’s the last time you looked at your Leave and Earnings Statement
(LES)? It may seem straightforward, but it’s important to ensure that your financial statements are accurate. Here are the basics of what a LES is and how to quickly review it each month.
First of all, what is a LES?
LES stands for Leave and Earnings Statement. It is a monthly statement for military service members, which covers base pay as well as additional information such as your deductions and available vacation days. Your LES is comparable to a civilian pay stub.
How to access LES
If you’re a service member, you can access your LES by logging in to the MyPay portal.
If you’re a military spouse, you have two options to access MyPay:
- Your spouse shares his/her login information with you to grant you full MyPay access.
- Ask your spouse to set you up with a limited-access account with a unique login and password just for you.
Military spouses aren’t the only family members who benefit from having a limited-access account; unmarried service members can set up limited-access accounts for a trusted family member, like a parent or grandparent, in the event of a deployment.
How to read a LES: 5-minute Checklist
Let’s talk about what you need to keep an eye out for every month on the
LES from top to bottom. The best time to check the LES is at the end of the month, right before payday on the first of the month.
1. Quickly scan the top section that includes the service member’s personal information.
There is rarely a change in this section unless you or your spouse reenlists.
The ETS box is where you’ll find his or her End of Term of Service date, which indicates the end of your spouse’s enlistment.
2. The middle: Check over entitlements, deductions, and allotments
Think of entitlements as cash coming in, including base pay, eligible allowances, and any special or bonus pay. Deductions are all items subtracted from the service members’ pay before payday, including taxes, life insurance, and any back pay or advance-pay repayments. Allotments are any automatic drafts that a service member elected to set up (like a car payment).
3. The almost-bottom: Review the checkboxes
Right below the middle section is what looks like a mess of tiny boxes. Even though this section is a bit difficult to decipher, you can find some interesting information there. The things you should pay most attention to on a regular basis are:
- Leave Data: How many days the service member has used versus the remaining balance of days off.
- Federal and state tax filing information.
- Amounts of any charitable donations monthly and year-to-date.
- Percentage of pay contributed to TSP, both monthly and year-to-date
In the event of a PCS (military move), deployment, change in marital status or birth of a child, keep an eye out for changes in the Pay Data section. The Pay Data section shows whether or not a service member has dependents (spouse and/or children), lives overseas, and what ZIP code or JTFR code (read: authority for special pay related to overseas assignment) is being applied to her or his pay to calculate housing allowances or Cost of Living Allowances (COLA is typically only applied in super-high cost-of-living locations stateside or overseas).
4. The very bottom: Read the fine print
At the very bottom of your LES is tiny, fine print in a crucial section you should read every month. If there is ever a change in your paycheck, this should be your first stop. Promotion, demotion, PCS, an increase in your housing allowance, a change in your marital status – you can find notes about how it will affect your pay there.
If you get overpaid, this is where you’ll see notes about how to go about repaying – yes, repaying – the overpayment error.
More frequently than you’d expect, service members are overpaid and spent the money without checking their LES. They then are served with an overpayment notification months later, stating that they have 30 days to arrange a repayment plan, or the entire amount would be deducted from their paycheck until the overpayment balance was repaid in full.
See? Not so painful! Knowing how to read a LES is an easy way to make sure that your personal finances are accurate and on track.