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Public service can be rewarding! Read on for a summary of the benefits and salary system for federal employees.

[Jump to: Pay Scale | Loan Repayment | Other Benefits]

Pay Scale

Most federal employees are paid according to the General Schedule, or GS, pay scale, which runs from GS-1 to GS-15. College graduates without experience enter at the GS-5 level, but high academic achievement, graduate-level studies, and experience can help move you up. Good grades alone can place you at GS-7; a Master's degree hire usually starts at GS-9.

After each year of employment, you're eligible to be moved up to the next grade, based on performance. Seniority counts too, as each year automatically moves you up one intermediate step within your GS level.

But surely you're asking, how much will I actually get paid? The GS levels are adjusted each year in keeping with inflation, and they also are adjusted geographically, based on the cost of living in different cities. In 2008, the average starting GS-5 salary was $32,000, and the average GS-9 was about $50,000.

You can view the full federal pay scale, which doesn't include cost-of-living adjustments (an additional 10 to 30% over these base salaries), by going to the Office of Personnel Management's web site.

Note: A few agencies don't work on the GS pay scale. When you apply to a non-GS agency, ask about its pay banding chart to learn about salaries and promotions.

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Loan Repayment

Got federal student loans? If you sign up to work for the same folks who loaned you money in the first place, they'll help you pay them back — to the tune of $10,000 per year. This is in addition to your salary!

Any employee who signs a three-year contract at a federal agency is eligible for the Student Loan Repayment program. Through this program, you can receive up to $10,000 annually, up to a total of $60,000, paid directly by your employer. Your other benefits will not be affected.

Repayment varies by agency, but all federally insured loans are eligible for the program: Stafford, Consolidation, and Perkins loans, subsidized or unsubsidized.

More information at

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Other Benefits

The federal government is renowned for taking good care of its workers — so even if you think that starting salary is smaller than what you might find in the private sector, remember: it's not all about the Benjamins.

  • Health Insurance: Federal employees can choose among at least a dozen health plans to best fit their needs. Dental and vision care are available, along with life insurance and flexible spending accounts (which enable you to pay for health-related costs with pre-tax income).

    More information at

  • Flexible Scheduling: Telecommuting, shifting hours around between and within weeks, and alternate scheduling are options for most positions. You've got to live your life, and the government knows you'll be a better worker if you're working when you want to.

  • Vacation Allowance: It's generous compared to much of the private sector, beginning at 2-and-a-half weeks and jumping to 4 after a few years of employment.

  • Retirement Benefits: In addition to Social Security, the federal government enrolls you in a Basic Benefits Plan and will reward your contributions to a Thrift Savings Plan, similar to a 401(K) in the private sector.

    More information at

Above all, the government as a boss respects the importance of a work/life balance. Your work doesn't follow you home, as it might in a demanding, entry-level private-sector job.

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