If you are or were an active duty service member wondering will the military pay for college, then the GI Bill is about to become your new best friend. But before you take advantage of this great benefit, it’s important to take a few minutes to understand the complexities.
Read on to learn about GI Bill college benefits and how to choose the best way to use them.
Will the military pay for college?
There are many different ways to qualify for GI Bill benefits that will enable you to go to college for free. 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 or use this comparison tool to see which is right for you. You can also read these additional resources to see if your desired school works with your benefits.
Montgomery GI Bill
The Montgomery GI Bill is available to those who served at least two years of continuous enlistment, have completed high school, and contributed $100 per month for their first year of active duty. If you didn’t make the $100 monthly contribution, you may still be eligible if you meet the criteria outlined here.
In general, you have ten 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 after 9/10/01 or 30 days of continuous service if discharged for disability. In general, you have 15 years from the last day of active duty to use this program.
Benefits from The Post 9/11 GI Bill are paid directly to your school and max out at 36 months. Check out this pamphlet from The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs 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 out-of-state university. Just make sure your desired school participates with The Yellow Ribbon Program.
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. Try using this tool to search for programs local to you.
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 nearly $1,000 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 go to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
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 to do if you run out of GI Bill benefits
A confusing thing about these programs is that they sound like they only cover three years of education. Fortunately, the 36 months of benefits offered typically covers four academic school years.
That said, 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. Just make sure you turn in your application by the deadline 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.
Aim 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. Go to FastWeb to search for scholarships specific to your background.
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.
Get the most out of your education
Just like boot camp is a good foundation but not the basis of all your learnings in the military, a lot of education you’ll get in college happens outside of the classroom.
Therefore, it’s important to make sure you get the most out of your education by trying for internships, networking like crazy, and seeking out mentors in your field who can help turn your education into a solid career path. No one is going to do all this for you – but if you’re proactive this is all for the taking!
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2019!
|1 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicants ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
2 Important Disclosures for CollegeAve.
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.
Information advertised valid as of 2/1/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
3 Important Disclosures for Discover.
* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.
4 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
5 Important Disclosures for SunTrust.
Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. To view and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans, visit https://www.suntrust.com/loans/student-loans/private.
Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue this loan program without notice. Availability of all loan programs is subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.
SunTrust Bank, Member FDIC. ©2019 SunTrust Banks, Inc. SUNTRUST, the SunTrust logo and Custom Choice Loan are trademarks of SunTrust Banks, Inc. All rights reserved.
6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Additional terms and conditions apply. For more details see LendKey
7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.
Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.
Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.
Remember also that like government loans, most private loans cannot be discharged if you file bankruptcy unless you can demonstrate that repayment of the loan would cause you an undue hardship. In most bankruptcy courts, proving undue hardship is very difficult for most borrowers.
8 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|4.23% – 13.23%1||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.20% – 11.44%2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.84% – 13.49%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.50% – 10.11%*,4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.25% – 13.25%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|5.85% – 6.99%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.95% – 9.81%7||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.45% – 12.42%8||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|