Making the GI Bill Work for You
Dec 4, 2023 | 5 min. read
Minimize college debt by maximizing military benefits and savings tools.
Whether you are a recent high school graduate or a parent planning for a child’s education, the rising costs of higher education can be daunting. According to collegedata.com, the average cost of public college tuition and fees for the 2022-2023 school year was $27,940 for in-state residents and $45,240 for out-of-state students. And the average $57,570 price tag for private school can be even more intimidating.
Despite surging costs, the demand for a college education continues to increase as well. This perfect storm has contributed to total student loan debt of $1.75 trillion in the U.S., with the average graduate owing $28,950 in student loans, according to Forbes.
To avoid joining these grim statistics, it’s important to have a financial plan that accounts for all of the resources at your disposal—including the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This program is a standout benefit that, with proper planning, can be the key to earning a college degree with limited or no debt.
This article will go over GI Bill education benefits for service members and dependents that can help mitigate education costs but you can also get started by talking to your Financial Advisor. Your Advisor can help you make the most of your hard-earned benefits and recommend supplementary resources as part of a holistic, customized plan.
For starters, the Post-9/11 GI Bill covers the full cost of public school tuition for four years. For those with their hearts set on a private college or university, it can put a dent in the tuition bill, but there are funding limits.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill can be used for undergraduate, graduate, vocational, licensing and certification classes, as long as the program is approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs. It also allows for a Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA), which is determined by the school location and the number of credits taken. Online classes are covered, but you must take at least one in-person class to be eligible for the MHA. In addition, the MHA is not available if you’re on active duty. Finally, the bill provides a stipend to assist with the cost of books and supplies.
There is also another GI Bill—the Montgomery GI Bill—that offers veterans tuition assistance benefits but with a different payment structure. Instead of paying tuition directly to the school like the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Montgomery GI Bill sends a check directly to the student. Eligibility differs for each bill but generally, the Post-9/11 GI Bill offers veteran students more assistance when pursuing a standard, four-year degree. However, there are some exceptions so learn more about the differences and be sure you are applying for the bill most beneficial to you.
Who qualifies for the Post-9/11 GI Bill? Read about full eligibility requirements here but in general, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) broadly defines eligible service members as those who “have at least 90 days of aggregate active-duty service after September 10, 2001, and are still on active duty,” or those who “are honorably discharged or discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days.” Veterans, spouses, dependents, and purple heart recipients are eligible. Another thing to note is if your service ended before January 1, 2013, your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits will expire 15 years after your last separation date from active service. However, if your service ended on or after January 1, 2013, your benefits won’t expire thanks to a law called the Forever GI Bill - Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act. More specific exceptions to eligibility can be found at www.benefits.va.gov.
Service members with at least six years of service are able to transfer education benefits from the GI Bill to a spouse or child as long as they are willing to commit to an additional four years. Recently, the Department of Defense added an additional restriction to the transfer policy—beginning on July 12, 2019, only service members with less than 16 years of service will be able to take advantage of the transfer option. So far, the only exception is for Purple Heart recipients, who are not required to meet the years of service qualification or commit to an additional period of service. To find out full eligibility requirements for survivors and dependents, read more here.
The GI Bill is a crucial piece of the puzzle towards funding higher education and it’s a benefit you have earned through your service. You can apply right through the government’s website at https://www.va.gov/education/how-to-apply/.
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