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Tips and tricks to using your GI Bill

How to get the most out of your government-funded training

Learn the differences between Montgomery GI Bill and the post-9/11. Photo credit: Military Times

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Since it was first introduced in the 1940s, the GI Bill has been helping veterans obtain higher education and training. Originally added as a benefit for those serving in World War II (vs. cash payouts to WWI vets), the program lets soldiers test for scholarships and free schooling. 

In the decades since, the bill has been updated so that it's available to virtually all servicemembers, not just those with a lower income. Stipends for living expenses and school supplies have also been added, as well as the ability to transfer benefits after 10 years of service.

Navigating Your GI Benefits

First thing's first. If you're still on active-duty, look into having your education costs paid for by Uncle Sam, without the use of your GI benefits. Different programs, depending on branch of service, allow for scholarships or even programs that pay for schooling while you're still "in." This is great news for those looking to use their GI Bill (for themselves or a dependent) at a future date.

Next, learn all of your benefits. In most cases, veterans can earn additional financial benefits and have college, trainings, or vo-tech programs paid for, including through scholarships, grants and housing allowance benefits.

Montgomery vs. Post-9/11

There are different GI Bill sections that are eligible for various vets. For instance, the Montgomery GI Bill is available for those still serving,  with a monthly $100 fee. It can be redeemed for 10 years, while post-9/11 is good for 15.

Contact the VA to learn about individual benefits and what you should do in order to obtain them. Another resource for deciphering the best option is to set up a meeting at the financial aid office at your school of choice or an on-base education center.

Additional Tips

Have you considered online classes? Do you understand your benefits and when they will run out? What about the necessary paperwork trail? Plenty of step-by-step instructions can be found online. However, setting up a meeting with a counselor can save you a massive headache. Check a base near you or, if no longer active-duty, ask for a phone meeting with a military education specialist.

Former GI Bill recipients are often happy to share what they've learned and how they approached earning a degree. Common advice includes taking classes online to cut down on travel time, along with the benefit of "attending" school on your own schedule.

They've also listed having a part-time job as a perk. Though school is paid for (along with rent and living expenses), it's a good idea to use your time wisely and supplement your income. This will help keep your debt level to a minimum without the stress of working full time.  

Finally, a common issue GI Bill users run into is losing benefits before a school term has ended. Be sure to follow dates, as military branches will extend to finish out a beneficiary's term.

The GI Bill offers many financial benefits. See what it can offer to jumpstart your next career.

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