What You Need to Know About GI Bill Benefits

By Jason Marshall , last updated October 29, 2011

The G.I. Bill has been a great resource for generations of service members pursuing their education. While there are many provisions in the bill, including low interest home and business loan options, by far the most lucrative is its provisions for university and vocational education. Thousands of active duty service members and veterans take advantage of the bill’s provisions every year, bringing the dream of a college education closer. But recipients need to understand the G.I. Bill's benefits as thoroughly as possible in order to maximize its worth and ensure they don’t miss out.

What the G.I. Bill Covers

The G.I. Bill provides a monthly stipend of $1,426 to be applied to tuition, fees, and expenses for active duty or veteran service members enrolled full-time in college. Part-time students receive half of that allotment. The funds will be exhausted after 36 months, though not necessarily consecutively. You can use the funds for universities, community colleges, vocational and trade schools, correspondence courses, and apprenticeships and job training. Flight training is also covered, but the G.I. Bill does not pay full benefits.

Buy-Up Option

A great way to increase the benefits is through the buy-up option. This allows active duty service members to contribute up to $600 to their education fund. The government will match every dollar contributed with $8. That means someone who pays in the maximum $600 would receive a total of $5,400 back over the 36-month period of educational benefits. The contributions must occur while service members are in active duty, and the benefits cannot be used until after they leave.

Time Limits

These benefits will not last a lifetime, so be sure you use them before they expire. Most have to use them within 10 years of the date they left the service. That should be plenty of time for most, but some people will feel the time pinch. With this in mind, the government allows an extension for those who reenter the military for at least 90 days. The ten-year clock will begin to count down when they are discharged the second time. Those who cannot go to school for an extended period of time because of a disability can also apply for an extension.

You Can Still Get Financial Aid

Since G.I. Bill money is paid directly to the recipient, schools do not consider it financial aid in the traditional sense. You might have to take out a loan to pay tuition up front, but you can use your G.I. Bill stipend to pay it off. This means that you are still eligible for scholarships, grants, and loans, but your G.I. Bill money will reduce the amount you are eligible to receive.

What Does 36 Months Really Mean?

Your benefits will be exhausted after 36 months, but those months do not have to be consecutive. You can use a few months and hold off a few more before receiving benefits again. Properly planned, a student can pay for both Bachelors and Masters degrees on the G.I. Bill.

These are only some of the major things you should know about G.I. Bill benefits. It is important to understand these benefits and how you can take advantage of them. You should visit the United States Department of Veteran Affairs website if you have further questions.

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