The GI Bill is one of the most valuable benefits that most veterans are able to take with them when they leave military service and transition into civilian life. The value of a college education vs. not having a college education can be well over a million dollars throughout the course of a lifetime. Using the GI Bill to pay for your education, or reduce the number of student loans you need to pay your tuition can make your investment a lot more valuable.
If you are eligible for the GI Bill, here are some things you need to know:
You have 10 years to use your GI Bill benefits
The day after you separate from the US Armed services, the clock starts. From that day, you have 10 years to use all of your GI Bill benefits – or you lose them forever. There are a few exceptions to this rule, most notably if you rejoin Active Duty status. If you rejoin AD service for more than 90 days at any time during the 10- year period, your 10-year clock is reset. This most often comes into play when Veterans transfer into the Guard or Reserves and are activated for more than 90 days. At that point, your GI Bill is reset to 10 years; even if you only had a few months remaining. Sweet deal! Remember – 10 years after your last discharge from AD and it’s gone. So use it or lose it!
The GI Bill is not considered Federal Student Aid
The GI Bill is intended to be used for tuition and college expenses, but it is paid directly to the student, not the school. Because of this, the GI Bill is not considered Federal Student Aid in the traditional sense. Many college and university financial aid departments may require you to sign an agreement to use your GI Bill funds for tuition costs, or require you to apply for student loans to pay tuition and fees in advance. What you do with your GI Bill payments is actually up to you. Hopefully you will use it to pay your tuition and fees.
There are benefits to the GI Bill not being considered Federal Student Aid. In addition to receiving the GI Bill, you may be eligible for student loans, scholarships, Pell Grants, employer tuition assistance, and other grants or student financial aid.
A “term” is a month, but that doesn’t always mean a month
The GI Bill provides 36 months of education benefits. This can be measured in two different manners. For veterans, this means receiving 36 months at the maximum payment rate (currently $1,101 per month). To calculate the number of months when receiving your entitlement, divide the total amount you receive by the monthly payment rate. For example, if you receive a check from the VA for $5,505 and divide it by the max rate of $1,101, you will be charged for 5 months time against your GI Bill benefits.
GI Bill terms are calculated slightly differently for those on Active Duty. If you use your MGIB while on AD and you go to school full-time, you will be charged the number of months you attended school, regardless of how much the tuition cost. In this example a “month” actually does mean a month. The best way to use your GI Bill on AD is to use your service’s tuition assistance program and use your GI Bill as tuition assistance “top-up” if your tuition costs exceed your tuition assistance level.
GI Bill rates are based on the number of credits you take
GI Bill payment rates are prorated based on the number of credits you take. Full time students receive up to $1101 a month (FY ’08 rates), and rates are prorated downward from there. Payments can be broken down into full-time, ¾ time, ½ time, etc. A full rate schedule can be found at the VA’s GI Bill rate page.
It is important to recognize that if you do not receive full time MGIB payments, you will not be charged a full month of credits against your MGIB eligibility. As noted above, your GI Bill credits will be charged based on the total payments received, divided by the full time rates. So if you only take half time courses, you will only be charged half a month from your GI Bill eligibility.
You do not have to use the GI Bill all at once
You have a 10 year window of opportunity to use the MGIB. The GI Bill has 36 months of eligibility, but that does not mean you are required to use it all at once. In fact, you can start and stop your MGIB benefits as often as you wish, provided you do not exceed the 36 months of eligibility, or the 10 year window.
For more information
Be sure to visit the VA’s Montgomery GI Bill page, or contact your local VA office. Whatever you do, don’t pay someone to help you get the GI Bill information you need. It is all out there and available free of charge!