Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP)

Regular Air Force: Retired

Benefit Fact Sheet

Summary

Military pay, including active duty pay and allowances and retired pay, stops upon a Service member’s death. The Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) is a program through which the Department of Defense provides monthly, cost-of-living-adjusted income to eligible survivors of Service members who die on Active Duty in the line of duty, including Reserve Airmen and National Guard Airmen who die on Federal Active Duty in the line of duty and Retired Service members who choose to continue participating in the program after they retire.

Service members who retire due to a service-connected disability incurred while on active duty, whether Regular or Reserve, may participate in SBP.

Reserve and National Guard Airmen may participate in the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan (RCSBP) when they complete 20 years of qualifying service for non-regular retirement.

The following table illustrates which program applies to whom, depending on one's duty status and retirement eligibility:

Service member Status

Survivor Benefit Plan Eligible For

Regular Air Force and Space Force on active duty

SBP. Benefits calculated as if retired with 100% disability. Death must be in the Line of Duty unless retirement-eligible. If retirement eligible and found not in the Line of Duty, benefits based on years of active service. SBP coverage provided at no cost and beneficiaries determined by law.

Regular Air Force and Space Force retired

SBP, if they enroll upon retirement. Line of Duty determination not applicable. If coverage elected must choose SBP beneficiary category and pay part of the coverage cost.

Reserve and National Guard Airmen in non-drilling status with less than 20 years of service who die in a non-duty status

No SBP or RCSBP

Reserve and National Guard Airmen on Inactive Duty for Training

RCSBP. Benefits calculated as if retired with 100% disability. Death must be in the Line of Duty. If retirement eligible and found not in the Line of Duty, benefits based on what retired pay would have been calculated as a non-regular retirement. Coverage provided at no cost if found in the LOD and beneficiaries determined by law.

Reserve and National Guard Airmen on Federal Active Duty, regardless of years of service

SBP. Benefits calculated as if retired with 100% disability. Death must be in the Line of Duty. If retirement eligible and found not in the Line of Duty, benefits based on years of active service. SBP coverage provided at no cost and beneficiaries determined by law. If retirement eligibility based on 20 creditable years toward non-regular retirement and found not in the LOD, RCSBP coverage applied with beneficiaries determined by law.

Reserve and National Guard Airmen in non-drilling status with at least 20 years of service

RCSBP. Only if they enrolled with Option B or Option C when they received 20-Year Letter; or received the 20 year letter, are within the 90 day period, but have not made an RCSBP election; or should have received a 20 year letter. Death does not need to be in the Line of Duty.

Reserve and National Guard Airmen at age 60 who had enrolled in RCSBP with Options B or C

At age 60 RCSBP for non-regular Retired Airmen becomes SBP. Line of Duty determination not applicable. Must pay RCSBP premiums at non-regular retirement.

Reserve and National Guard Airmen at age 60 who had not enrolled in RCSBP (elected Option A)

SBP. Only if they enroll in SBP upon receipt of retired pay. Line of Duty determination not applicable. Must pay SBP premiums if SBP coverage elected.

Reserve and National Guard Airmen over age 60 who had not enrolled in either RCSBP or SBP

No SBP or RCSBP. Retired pay stops at the death of the Service member.

SBP premiums are deducted from retired pay and since April of 2018, DFAS will deduct SBP premiums from Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) when retired pay is not sufficient to cover the full amount of the premiums. This deduction is due to a change in the law which requires DFAS to deduct SBP premiums from CRSC. Click here for more information.

Phase-Out of the SBP-DIC Offset:
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 modified the law that requires an offset of Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) payments for Surviving Spouses who are also entitled to Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Under the previous law, a Surviving Spouse who receives DIC is subject to a dollar-for-dollar reduction of SBP payments, which can result in SBP being either partially or fully offset. The repeal phases in the reduction of this offset and started on January 1, 2021 and culminating with elimination of the offset in its entirety on January 1, 2023. Some survivors who are subject to the "SBP-DIC Offset" saw a change in their SBP annuity payments on February 1, 2021 or February 1, 2022, while others will not see a change until February 1, 2023.

For more information on the Phase-Out of the SBP-DIC Offset, please visit:
https://www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary/survivors/SBP-DIC-News

Eligibility

Regular Air Force/Space Force Service members, who are covered under SBP at no cost while on active duty, are eligible to continue participating in SBP when they transfer to the Retired List. If they have eligible dependents whom they could name as SBP beneficiaries but do not do so, they will never be able to enroll for those SBP categories in the future. If a Retired Service member is recalled to active duty, their original SBP election cannot be changed upon subsequent release from active duty.

Benefit Highlights

Prior to retirement, Service members receive counseling by an installation Retirement Services Officer before making their SBP elections (DD Form 2656, Data for Payment of Retired Personnel). Enrollment in SBP requires the Service member to forfeit a small portion of their retired pay monthly (referred to as a "premium") until they pay 360 SBP premiums and are at least age 70. SBP premiums are only paid for as long as the beneficiary remains eligible to receive benefits. Elections are made by the category of beneficiaries discussed below.

At time of retirement, Service members select how much of their retired pay they wish to cover when they select their "Base Amount". A Base Amount can be any amount between $300 and full retired pay (Service member's retiring under the REDUX Retired Pay Plan may elect an SBP base amount equal to the amount retired pay would have been under the High 3 Retired Pay Plan) (Service members retiring under the Blended Retirement System who elect at retirement a lump sum payment may elect as a base amount what retired pay would have been without the lump sum election.) Maximum benefits are 55 percent of the Service member's Base Amount (referred to as an "annuity"). Any election that provides less than maximum SBP benefits for the Service member's spouse allowable under the law, requires the spouse's written notarized concurrence. Base amounts increase at the same time and at the same rate as cost-of-living adjustments to retired pay.

If a Service member does not have an eligible dependent, spouse and or child, for an SBP category at time of retirement, the Service member has one year from the date of first acquiring an eligible beneficiary in that category after retirement to notify the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) and make an SBP election. If the Retired Service member does not elect coverage for an eligible beneficiary within one year of acquiring them, that category of beneficiary is closed for that dependent and all future dependents.

Beneficiary Categories:

There are six categories of survivors who may be named as SBP beneficiaries:

1. Former Spouse - with court ordered former spouse SBP

2. Spouse and Child(ren)

3. Spouse Only (No Child(ren)

4. Child(ren), Spouse Excluded (Effective January 1, 2023, this will not be an option)

5. Child(ren) Only (No Spouse)

6. Insurable Interest

Spouse: A spouse named as beneficiary must be married to the Service member on their date of retirement. The spouse is immediately eligible to receive benefits, regardless of how long they have been married. A Service member who is unmarried on their date of retirement may enroll in SBP later if they marry. The spouse election must be made within one year of the date of the first marriage following retirement, and the spouse becomes eligible to receive benefits after one year of marriage (or immediately following the birth of a child if the spouse is the parent of that child). If no action taken within one year of marriage, SBP is closed for that spouse and any future spouse.

A spouse election applies not only to the spouse a Service member has at time of enrollment but also to any future spouse. If a participating Retired Service member loses their spouse through death or divorce, the Retired Service member still has spouse coverage, but it goes into a "suspended" status. If the Retired Service member remarries, the spouse election reactivates, and the new spouse automatically becomes an eligible beneficiary after one year of marriage or upon the birth of a child of that marriage, if sooner. Remarriage to a spouse previously covered at retirement will receive immediate spouse. During that first year of remarriage, the Retired Service member has three choices: (1) Allow the previous SBP election to resume (which happens automatically if the Retired Service member does nothing); (2) Terminate spouse SBP (which forever prohibits spouse SBP participation in the future); or (3) Increase coverage if the previous election was for less than maximum benefits. Under the third option, the Retired Service member would be required to pay premiums for the increased coverage retroactively to the date of initial enrollment for all periods of previous spouse coverage, less any premiums already paid. The retroactive coverage must be paid prior to the first anniversary of the marriage.

A surviving spouse can receive SBP benefits for life, but remarriage before age 55 suspends eligibility to receive benefits. If such marriage later ends by death or divorce, eligibility is restored.

Integration with Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC): Surviving spouses and minor children of surviving spouses and minor children of Service members and Retired Service members whose deaths are determined to be service-connected by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are entitled to tax-free compensation from the VA. This benefit is called Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). Currently, the SBP payment to a surviving spouse is offset (reduced) by one-third of the spouse DIC compensation until the offset is eliminated January 1, 2023.

If the SBP entitlement is $1,500 and the spouse DIC amount is $1,437.66 (Effective December 1, 2021 and 1/3 of $1,437.66 = $479.22), then the SBP annuity is reduced to $1,020.78 ($1,500 - $479.22 = $1,020.78). The DIC payment of $1,437.66 is tax-free and the SBP amount will be $1,020.78. Children are also eligible to receive DIC, but their SBP annuities are not reduced by DIC.

A surviving spouse whose SBP annuity is offset by DIC is entitled to a monthly Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) from the Department of Defense. In calendar year 2022, the monthly payment is $346. SSIA is not payable to children because children's SBP annuities are not offset by DIC.

Spouse-and- Child(ren): The spouse is the primary beneficiary. Benefits pass on to eligible child(ren) only if the surviving spouse dies or remarries before age 55.

Child(ren) Only: Eligible children are the beneficiaries. Benefits are divided equally among all eligible children. If the SBP annuity is divided among multiple children, as each child ages beyond the eligibility limit or marry, whichever comes first, the annuity is reapportioned among the remaining eligible children. Ultimately, one child ends up receiving the entire annuity, which then terminates when that child reaches the eligibility limit or marries, whichever comes first. Eligible children include natural children, adopted children, stepchildren, and foster children who lived with the Service member in a normal parent-child relationship. Children may receive SBP benefits until age 18, or age 22 if enrolled full-time in high school, college, vocational or technical school, or another recognized educational institution as long as they remain unmarried. An exception is that if a child reaches age 22 while in school, and their birthday is before July 1 or after August 31 of a calendar year, eligibility continues until the earlier of the child's cessation of full-time studies or the 1st day of July following that birthday. A child who becomes incapable of self-support due to a physical or mental disability before age 18, or before age 22 while a full-time student, may receive benefits for life, as long as they remain unmarried. Prior to electing SBP coverage for an incapacitated child, the retired or retiring Service member should research the effect of the SBP income on other benefits to which the incapacitated child may be eligible under state or local welfare or support programs. An irrevocable election to pay the SBP annuity for an incapacitated child to a special needs trust set up for the benefit of the child may be made at any time.

Former Spouse: A Service member may name a former spouse as beneficiary at time of retirement, which can be done either voluntarily, in compliance with a court order, or written agreement. After retirement, a former spouse can be named as beneficiary only if the former spouse had been an eligible spouse beneficiary. To do so, the Retired Service member must change the spouse election to a former spouse election within one year of the date of divorce using the DD Form 2656-6, SBP Election Change Certificate and DD Form 2656-1, SBP Election Statement for Former Spouse Coverage, with a copy of the divorce decree and any other court order awarding SBP. To ensure that a court-ordered election is carried out, a former spouse has a one-year period from the date of the first court order awarding SBP to request that a former spouse election be deemed by submitting DD Form 2656-10, SBP/RCSBP Request for Deemed Election to DFAS.

If the former spouse remarries before age 55, the former spouse becomes ineligible to receive benefits, but the former spouse election remains in force and reactivates if the former spouse's marriage ends by death or divorce. When the former spouse remarries prior to age 55, the Retired Service member does not have to pay SBP premiums for the period of that marriage but must provide DFAS a copy of the marriage certificate. A former spouse election can be changed to a spouse election if the former spouse election was made voluntarily, the former spouse's concurrence is not required, but if the former spouse election was made pursuant to a court order, a subsequent court order relieving the Retired Service member of the obligation would be necessary to make the change.

If a former spouse beneficiary dies, a remarried Retired Service member may change their election to spouse coverage for a subsequent spouse within one year of the date of the former spouse's death. If the Retired Service member is unmarried at the time of the former spouse's death and later remarries, the Retired Service member may change their SBP election to spouse coverage, naming the subsequent spouse as beneficiary, within one year of the date of remarriage. If the former spouse died before 25 November 2015, and the Retired Service member had remarried prior to that date, the Retired Service member only had until 24 November 2016 to elect coverage for that subsequent spouse.

Former Spouse-and-Child(ren): This is identical to the spouse and children option in costs and benefits, except that only the Service member’s or Retired Service member’s children of the marriage to the former spouse may be named as beneficiaries. This is true even if the child had been a beneficiary under a previous child(ren) only or spouse and child(ren) election if the children were not adopted by the former spouse.

Insurable Interest: A Service member who is unmarried and has no children at time of retirement can elect coverage for a person who has an insurable financial interest in the Service member's continuing life. An insurable interest is presumed for all Family members related more closely than a cousin (parents, stepparents, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, half-brothers and half-sisters, and non-dependent children or stepchildren). Documentation of a financial interest is required for all other beneficiaries. This option may be cancelled at any time or changed to cover a spouse or child later within one year of acquiring them. Upon the death of an insurable interest beneficiary, the Retired Service member may elect a new insurable interest beneficiary within 180 days of the previous beneficiary's death. If a new insurable interest beneficiary is elected, premiums will be paid for the entire 180-day period and the difference of additional premiums all the way back to initial election. If the Service member retired due to disability, the Service member must live for at least one year after retirement or die from a cause unrelated to the disability for benefits to be paid. Insurable interest beneficiaries receive benefits for life. See the paragraph in the next section about insurable interest premiums and annuities.

SBP Premiums:

Spouse and Former Spouse Premiums : SBP premiums for spouse and former spouse coverage are the same: 6.5% of the designated Base Amount.

Service members who entered active duty before 1 March 1990, Reserve Component Airmen whose retirement is non-regular, and disability Retired Service members regardless of when they entered service, will have their premiums calculated under an alternate, two-part formula if it results in a lower premium.

2.5% of the first $919* of the designated Base Amount,

Plus 10 percent of the remaining Base Amount

For example:

Base Amount

$1,000

Minus Threshold Amount

- 919

x

.025

=

$22.98

Remaining Base Amount

$81

x

.10

=

+ 8.10

TOTAL SBP Premium:

$31.08

Premiums for Base Amounts of less than $1,969.29 are lower under this two-part formula.

*Threshold. Increases with active duty pay rates.

Spouse-and-Child(ren) Premiums: The premiums for spouse and child(ren) coverage (as well as former spouse and child(ren) coverage) are calculated by adding the cost for spouse coverage (described above) to a very small, actuarially determined cost for the "child(ren)" portion of the coverage. This additional cost is extremely inexpensive because benefits are payable to the children only in the uncommon situation in which both parents have died, or the Retired Service member has died and the surviving spouse remarries before age 55 while the youngest child is eligible to receive benefits. The ages of the Service member, the Service member's spouse and the age of the youngest child on their birth dates nearest to their date of enrollment are all factors in determining the cost. An accurate premium calculation can be obtained at the DoD Office of the Actuary website or on the MyAirForceBenefits Retirement Calculator, but the following table illustrates some examples for selected age combinations, assuming both the Service member and the spouse are the same age:

For each $1,000 Base Amount, the monthly premiums for spouse and child(ren) coverage would be $65.00 (6.5% of $1,000 Base Amount) under the new 6.5% of the selected base amount, plus the appropriate cost shown in the table below:

Premiums

Premiums for "Child" Portion of "Spouse-and-Child(ren)" Coverage

per $1,000 of Base Amount

Member and Spouse Same Age

Youngest Child's Age

2

4

6

10

14

17

25

$0.01

$0.01

$0.01

$0.01

$0.01

$0.01

30

$0.01

$0.01

$0.01

$0.01

$0.01

$0.01

35

$0.01

$0.01

$0.01

$0.01

$0.01

$0.01

40

$0.01

$0.01

$0.01

$0.01

$0.01

$0.01

45

$0.05

$0.03

$0.02

$0.01

$0.01

$0.01

50

$0.19

$0.12

$0.08

$0.03

$0.01

$0.01

55

$0.67

$0.46

$0.31

$0.12

$0.04

$0.01

Child(ren) Only: The premiums for SBP child(ren) only coverage are very modest and are based upon actuarial factors determined by a combination of the Service member's age and the age of the Service member's youngest child based on date of enrollment. Round up in age if within 6 months of the next birthday. It doesn't matter how many children there are since the one 55 percent benefit is divided equally among all eligible children. An accurate premium calculation can be obtained at the DoD Office of the Actuary website or on the MyAirForceBenefits Retirement Calculator, but the following table illustrates some examples for selected age combinations:

SBP Premiums

SBP Premiums for "Child-Only" Coverage

per $1,000 of Base Amount

Member's Age

Youngest Child's Age

2

4

6

10

14

17

25

$1.70

$1.50

$1.40

$1.00

$0.70

$0.40

30

$1.80

$1.50

$1.30

$1.00

$0.60

$0.40

35

$2.30

$1.90

$1.60

$1.10

$0.70

$0.40

40

$3.50

$3.00

$2.50

$1.60

$0.90

$0.60

45

$4.90

$4.00

$3.30

$2.10

$1.20

$0.70

50

$8.50

$7.00

$5.70

$3.50

$2.00

$1.20

55

$16.90

$14.00

$11.50

$7.20

$4.00

$2.30

Insurable Interest: Premiums for this category of coverage are calculated much differently than they are for all other categories. First, only one's full retired pay can be selected as the Base Amount. Monthly premiums are 10 percent of the Base Amount, plus an additional 5 percent for each full 5 years that the beneficiary is younger than the member. For example, a 40-year-old retiring member with retired pay of $3,000 per month who wants to name his 24-year-old sister as his insurable interest beneficiary would pay 10 percent of his $3,000 Base Amount ($300), plus another 15 percent of his Base Amount ($450 -- 5 percent for each full 5 years, and she is 16 years younger than he is), for a total cost of $750 per month (25 percent of his retired pay) per month. The maximum premium is 40 percent of retired pay.

Monthly SBP annuities for insurable interest annuities are also less than those for all other categories. To calculate the annuity, first subtract the monthly premium from the Base Amount to determine an "Adjusted Base Amount". The monthly annuity is then 55 percent of the Adjusted Base Amount. In the example above, the monthly annuity would be $1,237 ($3,000 Base Amount - $750 Premium = $2,250 Adjusted Base Amount x 55% = $1,237).

Additional Benefit Provisions: SBP elections are generally irrevocable. However, the program includes provisions that allow certain changes to be made to accommodate changes in the status of Service members and their dependents.

Terminating Coverage: SBP participants have the option to terminate their elections between the 25th and 36th month after enrolling with their spouse’s concurrence. They cannot make any changes to their elections during this period - only terminate it - so it is important that they give careful consideration to their elections before they make them. Spouse concurrence is required. Declining coverage or terminating coverage is rarely a good idea because Family circumstances can change over time. If a member’s full SBP coverage for the spouse at time of retirement is not needed or desired, it might become appropriate for a subsequent spouse if that marriage ends by death or divorce. Those who terminate will never be able to re-enroll, regardless of any changes in their health or marital status.

Service members retired due to disability have the option of discontinuing participation in SBP if they have been rated by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as being totally disabled for 5 or more continuous years since last time on active duty, normally retirement or for 10 or more continuous years commencing after last time on active duty (because such deaths are presumed to be service-connected, thereby entitling the surviving spouse to DIC, which did offset SBP dollar-for-dollar, however this offset is phasing out). Spouse concurrence is required. Upon the Retired Service member's death, the surviving spouse would be entitled to a refund of all premiums paid. If the Retired Service member's disability rating is withdrawn or reduced, the Retired Service member may resume SBP coverage within one year after the VA rating has been withdrawn or reduced. Premiums paid for spouse SBP coverage will be refunded to the spouse at the death of the Retired Service member. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 modified the law that requires an offset of Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) payments for surviving spouses who are also entitled to Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The SBP offset by DIC will be phased out completely by 1 January 2023 and the reason to withdraw from SBP due to a totally disabled VA rating will no longer apply.

Retired Service members who become employed under the Federal Civil Service System and subsequently choose to waive their military retired pay in order to have their years of service credited toward Federal Civil Service retirement will have their SBP election terminated if they elect the Federal Civil Service survivor benefit. If they do not elect the Federal Civil Service survivor benefit, they must continue participating in SBP, paying premiums by direct remittance to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS).

SBP premiums are payable for a total of 30 years (360 months) and attainment of at least age 70: Premiums paid for any beneficiary category count toward paid-up status (spouse, child, former spouse, etc.). Periods during which there are no eligible beneficiaries, and therefore no premium payments, do not count. For example, if a Service member enrolled in SBP and then got divorced and remained single for 5 years, they would not pay premiums during those 5 years, nor would they during their first year of remarriage (because premiums are only paid during periods in which there is an eligible beneficiary, and a new spouse does not become eligible until after one year of marriage). Those 6 years, therefore, would not count toward paid-up status. However, if the member has spouse and child coverage and continues paying child(ren) only premiums during those 6 years, they will count.

SBP premiums are paid with pre-tax dollars: Since SBP premiums are paid in the form of a reduction in retired pay, they are not included as taxable income. If, for example, one's SBP premium is $100, and they are in the 28 percent marginal tax bracket, their true out-of-pocket cost would be only $72 ($100 - 28% = $72). That is important to know if one is considering purchasing life insurance as an alternative to SBP based upon their relative costs.

SBP annuities are taxable income to survivors: Retired Service members get the tax break on the premiums while they are alive (and likely in a higher income tax bracket than their survivors), but their survivors' SBP benefits are taxable (usually at lower rates) at the federal level and in most states.

Continuing Eligibility:

Retired Service members continue to be eligible to participate in SBP if they have maintained coverage since retirement for all beneficiaries who were eligible when they retired or for whom they acquired after retirement, i.e., if a Retired Service member declines coverage for a spouse acquired after retirement, the Retired Service member will never be able to cover a subsequent spouse. Similarly, if a Retired Service member has no children at time of retirement but subsequently acquires children through birth, adoption, marriage, or as a foster parent, the Retired Service member has one year from the date of acquiring them to name them as SBP beneficiaries. If the Retired Service member does not do so, the Retired Service member may never elect coverage for a child thereafter. If a Service member elects coverage for children at time of retirement, ALL children subsequently acquired are automatically immediately eligible as SBP beneficiaries, without option. There are no provisions to terminate coverage for Children, except during the 1-year period between the 25th and 36 th month immediately after retirement.

Surviving spouses remain eligible to receive SBP benefits for life unless they remarry before age 55. In such cases, their eligibility is "suspended", rather than terminated, and will resume if their remarriage ends by death or divorce. SSIA would also be terminated because it is payable only when an SBP annuity is being offset by DIC. SSIA and DIC are restored if the remarriage ends by death or divorce.

Additional Information

For more information, please contact Air Force Retiree Services at 800-525-0102 or visit the web page at: 
https://www.retirees.af.mil/Library/SBP/

To obtain a detailed estimate of your survivor benefits, including SBP payments to eligible dependents, visit the MyAirForceBenefits Survivor Calculator (CAC or DS Logon account needed):
https://www.myairforcebenefits.us.af.mil/Benefit-Calculators/Survivor-Benefits

To obtain a detailed estimate of your retired pay and SBP premium costs visit the MyAirForceBenefits Retirement Calculator (CAC or DS Logon account needed:
https://www.myairforcebenefits.us.af.mil/Benefit-Calculators/Retirement

Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military Compensation SBP website:
https://militarypay.defense.gov/Benefits/Survivor-Benefit-Program/

Air Force Casualty:
https://www.afpc.af.mil/Airman-and-Family/Casualty-Operations/

DFAS "Manage your SBP Annuity" website:
https://www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary/survivors/manage/

DFAS "Manage your SBP Annuity" website:
https://www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary/survivors/manage.html

DFAS “SBP-DIC Offset Phased Elimination News”:
https://www.dfas.mil/RetiredMilitary/survivors/SBP-DIC-News/

Document Review Date: 29 March 2022