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Five Simple GI Bill Facts to Know

August 7, 2012

It can be confusing when trying to figure out all the ins and outs of America's military benefits programs. There are actually two GI Bills and each one promises different types of aid, but you may not know a few majors things about these programs that can actually give you more money for school, for a longer period of time. In addition, if you are a family member of a GI Bill recipient, you're eligible to receive aid as well. However, there are some differences that are going to determine which GI Bill you want and how you will use each for your education.

1. You can use your benefits up to 10 to 15 years after you receive them.

While you may want to go to school right after you finish your duty or while you're still on duty, it's not always possible. You have time to go to school, however. You just don't want these benefits to run out, so if you plan on spending additional time in school, then you may want to get a head start. In addition, the Montgomery GI Bill only gives you 10 years, while the Post-9/11 GI Bill gives you 10 years of benefits. However, if you ever go back on active duty for a 90 day period, your 10 years can be reset.

2. You don't count the GI Bill as federal financial aid.

Believe it or not, this prevents many from applying for additional financial aid through FAFSA. The GI Bill is a completely separate aid program and it's not counted as financial aid by colleges and universities. For one, MGIB payments are made directly to the recipient. However, most schools require that you sign a promissory note or apply for student loans to pay for tuition up front, which you then pay off with your benefits. You are still eligible to receive a Pell Grant, student loans, scholarships and other programs offered through federal programs.

3. You can stop and start again whenever you want.

Even if you apply for benefits, you don't have to remain in school for the duration of the degree. If you need to leave, for whatever reason, you can start again at any time when you're ready. You just have to re-apply in order to use it later. By planning out when you use your GI Bill payments, you can extend their use until graduate school.

4. It's not always considered a 'month.'

While you may think a month of benefits is 30 days or 31 days, it's actually not. The GI Bill states that it provides 36 months of benefits, but that's a confusing term to use since that doesn't mean you have to use it all in 36 months. For veterans, every time you use a current maximum payment rate of MGIB benefits, you use a month of your 36 months of benefits. If you are active duty, and you go to school for full time for four months, yet your tuition is just $2,000, then you'll still be charged for four months of your 36 month entitlement. This does go by the traditional "month."

5. The number of credits matters to the amount of your payments.

You're not going to get the same payment if you're not full time, and you may not qualify for any aid at all if you don't take enough credits. GI Bill payments are determined on several factors. A full-time student can get up to $1,426 a month while half-time students, as you can imagine, only get half of this amount. MGIB payment rates will also increase each year.

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