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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Servicemembers are being encouraged to complete a cost-of-living-allowance survey used to determine how much extra money they’ll get to equalize their spending power overseas compared to the United States.

The online survey, available at http://175fincom.korea.army.mil, determines where and how much money servicemembers spend in the South Korean economy. The survey runs through Feb. 9.

About 98 percent of eligible servicemembers — some 11,000 — took part in an April 2003 COLA survey. The results netted the first-ever COLA paid to troops in South Korea. Since then, command officials have pledged to keep the survey current.

Servicemembers complained for years that Seoul — and South Korea — was rated as one of the world’s most expensive places in which to live and that while their counterparts in Tokyo and in German cities received plump COLAs, they received no COLA.

The allowance is paid when the average cost of living in an area outside the United States exceeds the average cost in the United States. It’s based on spendable income and how much of that income is spent in the local economy, as opposed to base commissaries, for instance.

The price of goods bought on the economy are surveyed and compared to the same items in the United States. Indexes are generated comparing South Korean and U.S. prices for 120 items.

The indexes are weighted individually and summarized to determine a particular location’s COLA index. The Per Diem Committee incorporates fluctuations in the local exchange rate; the index is recalculated every two weeks.

Currently, Seoul has the highest index at 116. The index went down from 118 to 116 on Jan. 16. That means Seoul is 16 percent more expensive that the average U.S. location.

Other posts’ indexes rated lower: Camp Humphreys, 112; Chunchon, 112; Kunsan, 108; Osan, 112; Taegu/Waegwan, 108.

Under the current rate, a staff sergeant with 10 years in service and no dependents, living off post in Seoul, would get $284 COLA per month. A major with 16 years in service and no dependents would get $425.33, according to a Per Diem Committee calculator.

Command officials present the survey’s results to the Defense Department’s Per Diem Committee, which determines new COLA rates.

The U.S. government spends about $1 billion per year to pay COLAs to about 320,000 servicemembers at 600 overseas locations, according to the Per Diem Committee Web site.

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