As you probably know, the Post 9/11 GI Bill is a valuable benefit of military service. And the ability to transfer benefits to eligible dependents can make it even more valuable for you. But HAVING the GI Bill is only part of the issue – you have to take certain steps use it. The process isn’t difficult, but it isn’t necessarily obvious and there are some tips and tricks that can make it easier for you.
A side note before we get into using the Post 9/11 GI Bill: This post is not about eligibility for Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, percentages of eligibility, and what programs are covered. It’s also vitally important to remember that transferrability of benefits is a retention tool, and as such has rules and limits. That’s not the subject of this post, but be sure that you understand how this all works and that you’ve met the eligibility criteria and fulfilled the paperwork and service requirements. In almost all cases, you must complete a service obligation for your transfer of benefits to be effective.
Certificate of Eligibility
The first step to using GI Bill benefits is to obtain a Certificate of Eligibility from the Department of Veterans affairs. This is not difficult but can take a few weeks to arrive by regular mail. The CoE is applied for by the student, not the parent who transferred benefits.
Step by step instructions, with screenshots, can be found in this article: How To Get A GI Bill Certificate of Eligibility
Once you receive your certificate of eligibility, make a copy and provide it to the School Certifying Official at your school. They may be located within the financial aid office, or the financial aid office will know where to find them. They will submit it to the VA, along with your enrollment information, so that the VA can process the tuition payment, which is submitted directly to the school.
The GI Bill pays tuition up to the cost of full tuition and fees, for an in-state student, at a public college or university, or up to a set dollar amount at a private or international school. For 2021, the maximum payment at a private or international school is $26,042.81.
Keep in mind that the GI Bill is typically the last payer for tuition expenses – so any other tuition-only financial aid does not reduce the student’s out-of-pocket costs, but simply reduces the amount paid by the GI Bill. For example, if the student has tuition-only scholarships or grants, they may not provide any financial benefit to the student because they simply reduce the amount that the GI Bill pays for tuition. How this all works out will vary by funding source (grant, scholarship, etc.) and also by the school’s policies and procedures. Talk to your specific school to understand how various payments will be applied to your account.
In-State Tuition Rates
If you are using the GI Bill to pay for college, you may be eligible to receive in-state residency rates even if you don’t meet the state’s usual requirements for in-state rates. As with everything, there are rules and limitations. Check with your specific school to see how your situation fits in with the federal law and the school’s interpretation of the law.
Yellow Ribbon is the name of a program that provides extra tuition benefits when the cost of tuition exceeds the amount regularly covered by the GI Bill. Schools get to choose whether they want to participate in the Yellow Ribbon program. You can find participating schools at the VA website – look carefully because even within the same university, benefits may vary between programs. Schools may choose to offer a limited number of Yellow Ribbon spots, and they can offer anything from a small dollar amount up to the full difference between regular GI Bill benefits and the cost of the school’s tuition.
The GI Bill Monthly Housing Allowance, aka Room and Board
The SCO applying for, and you receiving, tuition benefits unlocks two other payments: monthly housing allowance and books payments.
Monthly housing allowance payments are based upon the zip code of the school, or a flat rate if the student goes to an international school or attends classes exclusively online. The payment is paid in arrears, i.e. at the end of the month that it covers. The MHA payment is made directly into the bank account designated when you applied for the Certificate of Eligibility, or you can update your bank account information via the VA website.
One thing that often surprises folks new to the GI Bill is that if the student is living on campus, the bill for room and board typically needs to be paid upfront. Students, or their parents, have a variety of options for paying the room and board bill – cash on hand, payment plans, student loans, or even a credit card. One popular strategy is to pay for the first semester’s room and board up-front, and then save the monthly housing allowance payments as they are received. Depending on the amount of your monthly housing allowance, and the cost of your room and board, you may have enough saved to pay the second semester’s bill, and then continue doing this for each semester.
Another surprise is that the monthly housing allowance payment is only paid when school is actually in session, and is pro-rated by the day. For example, if classes start on 22 August, the student would receive 10 days of monthly housing allowance for August, and there is no payment over the break in between school terms.
The GI Bill Book Allowance
The Post 9/11 GI Bill pays a book allowance in the amount of $41.67 per credit hour, up to 24 credit hours per year, which equals $1,000 per year. If you are taking a larger course load in the fall semester, you will receive a larger payment in the fall and then the remaining amount in the spring.
The book allowance is usually paid one to three weeks before the beginning of the semester, based upon your registered class load. If you reduce the number of classes you take, you will have an overpayment for the book allowance.
The GI Bill Rural Transportation Allowance
There is a one-time benefit of $500 to students who are physically moving at least five hundred miles, or in an area that is only accessible by air transportation, from an area designated as “highly rural” – meaning that the county has a population of less than 6 people per square mile.
Those 36 Months Can Last A Long Time
A full Post 9/11 GI Bill benefit is 36 months’ worth of benefits – which equals four years if the college goes to school for 9 months per year. In reality, most college semesters last 3 ½ to 4 months….that means that you may be able to get more than four years out of those 36 months of benefits.
There May Be Some Strategy Involved
If you have more than one student using the GI Bill, or that student intends to go to college for more than 36 months, then there are some specific tactics that can help you get the most from the GI Bill benefits.