Retired marine in uniform.

Normally, military retirement kicks in after 20 years in the armed forces. Between 2012 and Dec. 31, 2018, however, the Temporary Early Retirement Authority lets some military members with at least 15 years of service apply for early retirement. The military has full discretion to deny TERA requests.

Your Retirement Pay

If you take TERA, the military will cut your retirement pay to reflect your reduced service. After 20 years, retirement pay usually equals 50 percent of the average of your highest 36 months of pay. Under TERA, you multiply the result by a reduction factor. If you retired three months short of 20 years, for example, the factor is .99750. Retire at exactly 15 years and you get .95 times your 20-year retirement pay, or 95 percent.

Who Qualifies

TERA is designed to cut the military budget by letting the U.S. military trim its ranks. The early retirement option is mainly reserved for officers and NCOs facing "involuntary separation" after being passed over twice for promotion. If you work in an understaffed specialty, the military can still turn your TERA request down. National Guard and military Reservists don't qualify for TERA. Neither do military members taking disability retirement.