When's the last time you looked at your Leave and Earnings Statement (LES)? If you're anything like my husband, you probably never really pay it much mind. Luckily he has me watching our financial six at all times and I set aside a little bit of time every month (seriously, like five minutes max) to make sure everything on his LES looks A-OK.
Keeping an eye on your LES, or your spouse's LES, is an important and easy item you should put on your money management to-do list each month. If you’re a service member, you already know that you can access your LES right from your home computer by logging in to the MyPay portal. But, if you’re a military spouse, like me, 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.
Did you know? 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.
Your Five-Minute Monthly LES 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.
- Quickly scan the top section that includes the service member’s personal information.
- Check over entitlements, deductions, and allotments in the middle.
- The almost bottom: boxes galore.
Right below the middle section is what looks like a mess of tiny boxes. Even though this section is a total pain in the rear to decipher, you can find some really interesting information there. The things I would 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, I would 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).
- The very bottom: fine print that nobody reads but really should.
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.
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).
At the very bottom is super-fine, tiny print that most people ignore, but in my opinion is THE most important section you need to 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.
I can’t tell you how many times service members have been overpaid, didn’t bother checking their LES, and spent the money, only to be hit with an overpayment notification months later (that they didn’t bother reading) stating that they had 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! Keeping an eye on your LES is an easy way to make sure that your personal finances are in ship shape at all times!