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How do General Schedule 'Steps' Work?

Created: February 29, 2016 Last Modified: March 17, 2021

General Schedule is determined based on many different factors. One of the more confusing factors in "Step." Step ranges from 1 to 10 with step 10 being the highest. In the GS Pay Chart, steps increase from left to right while GS Grade increase from top to bottom.

In the GS Pay System, Step is related to how long you have worked for the federal government. This is often called "Time-in-Service."

Step increases are automatically given to employees when the meet the time-in-service requirement. As long as minimum performance requirements are met, step increases are awarded with no questions asked.

Important Notes

There are few important notes and caveats about how Steps are assigned. First, if you receive a grade-increase, your "Time in Current Step" restarts. For example, if you are at GS-12, Step 5 and after 1 year you receive a promotion to GS-13, Step 5 you will have to wait another whole 2 years to get Step 6.

Second, starting step does not have to be Step 1. In some cases, a higher step can be given to a new employee. For example, if a new employee qualifies for GS-9, but the employee was making more than GS-9, Step 1 pay at their previous job, a higher starting step can be given to match the their previous pay.

The table below shows the GS Step increase schedule. Note that due to these caveats, "Minimum Time-in-Service" will likely incorrect in application. You can either start at a higher grade which would throw off the minimum time-in-service, or you can receive a grade increase which would reset your "Time in Current Step" and thus change the minimum time-in-step calculation.

General Schedule (GS) Step Increase Schedule

Current Step Time in Current Step Minimum Time-in-Service
1 1 Year
2 1 Year 1 Year
3 1 Year 2 Years
4 2 Years 3 Years
5 2 Years 5 Years
6 2 Year 7 Year
7 3 Years 9 Years
8 3 Years 12 Years
9 3 Years 15 Years
10 18+ Years

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