How to Take Advantage of the GI Bill for a College Education

 September 22, 2020
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If you’re an active duty service member or veteran of the military, you could use GI Bill college benefits to help pay for your higher education. But before you use your GI benefits, it’s important to take a few minutes to understand the complexities.

To learn about these military benefits and how to make the most of them, let’s answer the following questions:

What GI Bill college programs are available?

There are many different ways to qualify for GI Bill college benefits that will enable you to go to college. Especially relevant are the two we’ll focus on here: The Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Before we get started, it’s important to note that each of these programs has different benefits and eligibility requirements. You can find out more about them from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). You can also read these additional resources to see if your desired school works with your benefits.

With that said, let’s get an overview of each:

Montgomery GI Bill

The Montgomery GI Bill is available to those who served at least two years of continuous enlistment, entered active duty for the first time after June 30, 1985, completed high school and had military pay reduced by $100 a month for the first year of active duty. If your military pay wasn’t reduced by $100 a month, you may still be eligible if you meet the criteria outlined here.

In general, you have 10 years from the last day of active duty to use this program. Benefits from the Montgomery GI Bill are paid directly to you and max out at 36 months.

Post-9/11 GI Bill

The Post-9/11 GI Bill is available to those who served at least 90 days of active aggregate service on or after September 11, 2001, or 30 days of continuous service if discharged for service-related disability. If your service ended before Jan. 1, 2013, you have 15 years from the last day of active duty to use this program. If your service ended on or after that date, your benefits won’t expire.

Benefits from The Post-9/11 GI Bill may be paid directly to your school and max out at 36 months. Check out this pamphlet from the VA for more details on this bill.

Which program should you choose?

If you find yourself eligible for both, it can be difficult to figure out which to choose. Hopefully, a few of these considerations will make your decision easier:

The Post-9/11 GI Bill offers more benefits

With the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you receive a stipend for housing, books and supplies. The Montgomery GI Bill college doesn’t come with an additional stipend for these costs.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill makes it easier to attend private schools

Thanks to The Yellow Ribbon Program, you can potentially obtain additional funding should you choose to attend a private school or an out-of-state university. Just make sure your desired school participates with The Yellow Ribbon Program. Try using this tool to search for programs.

The Montgomery GI Bill offers more programs

If a four-year college or university isn’t part of your desired path, then you might want to consider the Montgomery GI Bill. This bill covers certain approved vocational programs, certifications, apprenticeship, correspondence courses and flight training. The Post-9/11 GI Bill doesn’t cover any of these.

Both offer a ‘kicker,’ providing additional funds

Whichever bill you choose, you can potentially receive additional funds with a “kicker.” The title may not sound like much, but the kicker – also called the “college fund” by some branches of the military – can be pretty significant. Some branches offer up to $950 per month.

The thing about the kicker is this: it varies depending on the branch you serve in. To learn more about the kicker and the qualifications you need to receive it, review your enlistment contract, the information on your branch’s website or visit a VA location.

The cost of your school matters

At first glance, it may seem like the Montgomery GI bill is a better deal since it’s paid to you directly, which means you can pocket the difference if there is any. But the amount you receive under this bill is capped at a certain rate. If your school tuition, housing and books aren’t covered under that amount, you could fall short.

On the other hand, the Post-9/11 GI Bill pays your full tuition at any public school – plus extra for housing, books and supplies.

What can you do if you run out of GI Bill benefits?

GI Bill college benefits typically cover four academic school years. But sometimes a life event or change in major can add more time to your education. If that happens to you, here are a few things you can do to keep your education as cheap as possible.

Apply for the FAFSA

In case your GI Bill runs out, you can see if you’re able to obtain grants and/or loans for your education. To access federal loans and grants, you need to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). And if you take out loans, don’t take more than you need. After all, the loans are a debt you’ll have to repay.

Look for additional state benefits

Depending on the state you live in, there may be additional education benefits available to you. The American Legion has a list you can use to search your state.

Load up on courses

If you will need additional time in school, you can keep the costs low by loading up on courses. Take as many as you can feasibly handle and consider winter break and summer break courses as well. As a result, you could shave off an entire quarter or semester of college – and quite a bit of tuition as well.

Apply for scholarships

In addition to the ideas above, don’t forget to apply for scholarships. You don’t have to be an incoming freshman or a star student to earn them. There are many scholarships out there for people of different skill sets, demographics and more. Use scholarship search tools to find scholarships specific to your background or that are earmarked for military members.

Besides that, there are quite a few scholarships for military members. Start out by going to your branch’s website and searching the education section. There, you’ll likely find a variety of scholarships based on the profession you wish to enter. Not all branch’s offer these, but be sure to check just in case.

Consider low-cost student loans

If you’re still falling short, you might consider student loans. But make sure to shop around to find a loan with a low interest rate. Federal student loans are usually your best bet, since they come with relatively low rates and a variety of repayment plans and borrower protections.

But if you max out the limits for federal loans and need a private one, compare multiple options so you can find a loan with the lowest costs of borrowing.

Rebecca Safier contributed to this report.

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1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

CollegeAve Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a first year graduate student borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7.10% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $141.66 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $16,699.21. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 11/24/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on the creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.


2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.

3 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

  1. Rates include 0.25% Auto Pay Discount
     
  2. Explanation of Rates “With Autopay” (APD)
    Rates shown include 0.25% APR discount when client agrees to make monthly principal and interest payments by automatic electronic payment. Use of autopay is not required to receive an Earnest loan.

    Available Terms
    For Cosigned loans – 5, 7, 10, 12, 15 years. 
    Primary Only – 10, 12, 15 years

    In school deferred payment is not available in AL, AZ, CA, FL, MA, MD, MI, ND, NY, PA, and WA).


4 Important Disclosures for Ascent.

Ascent Disclosures

Ascent loans are funded by Bank of Lake Mills, Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs.

Rates are effective as of 10/01/2021 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes income-based loans). Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentFunding.com/Rates.

1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions, please visit AscentFunding.com/Cashback. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student borrowers must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest APRs are available for the most creditworthy applicants and may require a cosigner.


5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

Sofi Disclosures

UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 2.99% to 10.66% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 0.95% to 11.18% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.08% to 10.90% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.00% to 11.29% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 10.66% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.15% to 11.18% APR (with autopay). For the SoFi variable-rate product, the variable interest rate for a given month is derived by adding a margin to the 30-day average SOFR index, published two business days preceding such calendar month, rounded up to the nearest one hundredth of one percent (0.01% or 0.0001). APRs for variable-rate loans may increase after origination if the SOFR index increases. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 11/01/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. Loans originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).


6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.03% – 11.01% (1.03% – 10.24% APR). Fixed interest rates range  from 3.23% – 11.70% (3.23% – 10.83% APR).

Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 10.66% (1.89% – 10.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.64% – 11.23% (4.64% – 10.95% APR).

Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 9.22% (1.89% – 8.50% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.24% – 9.74% (4.24% – 9.02% APR).

Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 8.02% (1.89% – 7.72% APR). Fixed interest rates range  from 4.18% – 8.54% (4.18% – 8.24% APR).

Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.97%-7.06% (1.97%-7.06% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.55%-7.58% (4.55%-7.58% APR).

Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.44% – 9.58% (4.44% – 9.52% APR). Fixed interest rates range  from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.39% – 12.82% APR).

Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.53% – 7.03% (3.53% – 6.75% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.08% APR).

Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates advertised are based on the one-month London Interbank  Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business  day, of the preceding calendar month. As of November 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.09%.  Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will  vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. Your final variable rate may  be based upon the 30-day average SOFR index, as published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%.

Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.

Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates are only available for the most creditworthy applicants, require a  5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate or medical degree (where applicable), and  include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the  Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and  conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to  applications taken after the effective date of change.

Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer.  Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.

Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.

Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.

Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.


7 Important Disclosures for Funding U.

Funding U Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are made by Funding University which is a for-profit enterprise. Funding University is not affiliated with the school you are attending or any other learning institution. None of the information contained in Funding University’s website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by Funding University or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.