6 Ways to Maximize Your GI Bill® Benefits

Your Guide to Getting the Most from Your Earned Educational Benefits

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Ron Kness Read bio

The GI Bill® is an education benefit managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and made available to military members and veterans. While most of the GI Bills are aimed toward currently serving members and veterans, the Post-9/11 GI Bill can also be used by spouses and dependent children under certain situations, which will be discussed later in this guide.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA). More information about educational benefits offered by the VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.

Getting the Most From Your GI Bill Benefits

The Forever GI Bill encompasses 34 changes to the previous bill from 2008. Below are six of the biggest game changers to keep in mind while using your GI Bill benefits.
  • Elimination of the 15-year limitThe biggest change requested by veterans is the provision of this Bill that eliminates the Post-9/11 GI Bill 15-year delimitation date. However, it does not affect all veterans; effective immediately, the provision removes the 15-year limitation for veterans separating from service after January 1, 2013, but unfortunately does not remove the limitation for veterans discharged before that date. Their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits still expire 15 years from their date of discharge. If a veteran’s delimitation date was lifted by this legislation, that same action filters down to any benefits that were transferred by the veteran.
  • Restoration of benefits due to school closureAnother major provision included in the Bill is the restoration of entitlement lost due to school closure. In the last few years, several for-profit schools unexpectedly closed or lost their accreditation.As a result, veterans going to these schools at the time could not get credit for the classes taken, nor could they get GI Bill entitlement restored that they used to get the worthless credits. Affected veteran students who attended one of these schools after January 1, 2015 will get their lost entitlement restored effective immediately. Prior to that date, the restoration of benefits does not apply.
  • Increased GI Bill eligibility for Selected ReservistsBefore this change, the time Selected Reservists spent on active duty when mobilized under a certain type of active duty order did not count toward Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility. However, that same time did count for permanent active duty personnel because they were under a different type order.For many caught in this web, this can add up to a year or more of eligible time, depending on the number of mobilizations under the affected type of order. Effective August 1, 2018, the time Selected Reservists are ordered to duty counts toward Post-9/11 eligibility and is retroactive back to September 11, 2001.
  • Eligibility tiering change for Selected ReservistsAs noted earlier, Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility is a tiered system based on the number of months served on active duty. Before this change, a minimum of 90 days and up to six months of active duty time earned an eligibility tier of 40 percent. Under the change, that same amount of time for Selected Reservists will increase their tier to 50 percent. For time between six months, but less than 18 months, the tier percentage increases from 50 percent to 60 percent.This change for new Selected Reservist enlistees is effective on August 1, 2020 and on average will result in an increase of $2,300 more per year paid in tuition for each eligible individual. For current members, it is retroactive back to September 11, 2001.
  • Changes transferability rulesFrom the beginning of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, only the veteran could revoke and reallocate unused transferred benefits. However, if the veteran passed away, there was not a process in place to change the ownership of unused benefits from one individual to another. They either had to be used up by the individual holding them at the time of passing or lost.This change effective August 1, 2018 allows a family member, such as a surviving spouse, to revoke and/or reallocate remaining unused benefits to another dependent child or keep them for themselves in cases where the veteran died on or after August 1, 2009.
  • Tuition AssistanceWhile active duty personnel can use their GI Bill benefits while serving, there is a better way to maximize their use. Each military branch has its own twist to this Department of Defense mandated program, and basically, each military branch will pay up to a certain amount per credit for tuition with a specified per year cap. Using Tuition Assistance, a military member can take college classes, accrue college credits (and even earn a four-year degree) and have their military branch pay for the tuition. They can then save their GI Bill benefits to use for an advanced degree once out of the military. In the case of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, they could instead make a transfer of benefits to an eligible family member.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Forever GI Bill

Who is eligible?

Eligibility for each GI Bill differs slightly as noted below, however two traits they all share is that a service obligation is needed to qualify and a specified amount of time to use the benefits. The Forever GI Bill eliminated the time limitation to use Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Also known as Chapter 30, it is a paid program meaning enlistees must choose the program at the time of enlistment and agree to pay $100 per month for their first 12 months of service. In return, they can get up to 36 months of a monthly education benefit, provided they meet the minimum service obligation which depending on the enlistment is at least 24 or 36 months. With three years or more of qualifying service, the current monthly pay rate for a full-time student is $1,928 for up to 36 months. With less than three years of service, the full-time student amount drops to $1,566 per month; Under some extenuating circumstances, the service time can be less than 24 months; in those cases, the number of months of coverage is typically based on one month of benefit for one month of service.
Under Chapter 1606, Selected Reservists going to school full-time can get up to $375 per month for 36 months in exchange for a six-year enlistment; MGIB-SR does not have an initial cost like the MGIB-AD. This GI Bill does not have any residual benefit after separation, so its benefit must be used while in the Selected Reserve and usually within the first 14 years of service. Selected Reservists using the MGIB-SR typically also qualify for Federal Tuition Assistance and even some State Veteran Education Benefits depending on their state of residence. Under both Montgomery GI Bills, students are paid a flat rate each month and must pay their own tuition, fees, books and other education-related expenses from these funds, out-of-pocket or through other education funding sources, such as scholarships and grants.
When Chapter 33 came out it was a radical departure from all the other GI Bills before it. Under this GI Bill, a minimum of 40 percent eligibility is authorized with as little as 90 days of service. From there, coverage incrementally increases 10 percent based on each additional six-month period of service, with eligibility topping out at 100 percent with 36 months of service. Also, this GI Bill uses a different payment system. Up to this point, veterans were paid a fixed amount monthly when going to school. Under the New GI Bill, the VA pays the student’s tuition (at the resident rate) and certain fees directly to the school and the student receives a book stipend and a monthly housing allowance. More on how that works in a minute.

Can I combine GI Bills?

Many veterans coming out of the military today (both active duty and from the Selected Reserves) have both MGIB and Post-9/11 GI Bills. While veterans with both GI Bills and having at least three years of service do not end up with 72 months of education benefits (36 months from each GI Bill), they can get up to 48 months of combined benefits, provided they use them in the correct order. The way to maximize combined GI Bill benefits is to first exhaust all 36 months of the MGIB and then switch to the Post-9/11 GI Bill to collect the additional 12 months. The process does not work in reverse – using the Post-9/11 first and then the MGIB. Of course, there is a tradeoff using combined benefits as the MGIB does not pay nearly as much as the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Some veterans use their MGIB first to get their four-year bachelor’s degree and the additional 12 months to help pay for a graduate degree. Since graduate degree tuition can cost as much as three times the cost of a bachelor’s degree, using it this way maximizes the benefit.

What does the GI Bill pay for?

Under both MGIBs, students get paid a flat rate and can use the money as they wish. As noted earlier, students are responsible to pay their own tuition, fees, books, and other education-related expenses. Once set up, all that is required to get paid on a monthly basis is for the student to check in once a month through the VA’s notification system to let them know they are still enrolled in school. Also noted earlier, under the Post-9/11GI Bill there are three different payments: tuition/fees, book stipend and monthly housing allowance.
This expense is paid by the VA directly to the school and includes common fees applicable to all students. If attending a public school, 100 percent of the resident tuition is paid provided the veteran is at the 100 percent tier. If at the top tier and attending a private or foreign school, then the tuition and fees are capped at $23,671.94 per year, based on the 2018/2019 academic year. If the student is not at the top tier, then the amount paid by the VA is prorated down to the percentage tier matching the equivalent months of service. The table below better explains the relationship between months of service and tier percentage.
Aggregate months of active duty service after September 10, 2001 Tier Percentage
At least 36 months 100%
Service-connected disability with at least 30 continuous days of eligible service 100%
At least 30 months, but less than 36 months 90%
At least 24 months, but less than 30 months 80%
At least 18 months, but less than 24 months 70%
At least 12 months, but less than 18 months 60%
At least six months, but less than 12 months 50%
At least 90 days, but less than six months 40%
Note: Disabled veterans, whose disability is service-connected, are 100 percent tier qualified provided they have at least 30 days of continuous service. All other months of service relate directly to a tier percentage.

How long can the GI Bill be used?

With the MGIB-AD, the number of months of benefits must be used up by the 10th anniversary of the veteran’s discharge date. For the MGIB-SR, as noted earlier in this guide, it must be used up while still serving before the end of the 14th year of service. However, for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the time was recently stretched out to 15 years from the discharge date. This changed under the Forever GI Bill for some veterans as noted below. In the case of Post-9/11 GI Bill transferred benefits, spouses can start using their transferred benefits right away and are usually constrained under the same 15-year limit as the serving member making the transfer. Dependent children can start using their benefits once the serving member has reached at least 10 years of service and the child in question has reached 18 years of age or graduated from high school, whichever comes first; they must finish using their benefits by age 26 or lose them. Unused benefits, regardless of whether the holder is a veteran, spouse or dependent child, will be lost at the end of these constraint periods; in the case of transferred benefits, they can be revoked and reallocated as explained below.

Can you use your parents’ GI Bill?

Under either MGIB, education benefits cannot be passed to spouses or dependent children. However, under certain conditions, Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits are transferable. Generally, the transfer request must be made while the military member is still serving, has served for at least six years and agrees to serve an additional four years. While the member’s 36 months of benefits can be divided in any way, the smart way to maximize the use of these benefits is to transfer at least one month to a spouse and at least one-month to each dependent child. This is why: After separation from the military, a transfer of benefits cannot be made to a family member not having already received a transfer of benefits while the member was serving. After getting out, veterans can revoke and reallocate to another eligible family member or keep the revoked benefits for their own use. So, if one family member needs more benefits, or one is not going to use their benefits, the unused benefits can be moved around to a family member already having received a transfer of benefits. Which brings up another point … children born or adopted after the member gets out are not eligible for a transfer of benefits. A transfer of benefits, which is done while the member is serving, is different from a revoke and reallocate after the member gets out; these terms are sometimes confusing and should not be used interchangeably as they mean different things.

Additional Resources and Help to Maximizing GI Bill Benefits

There are many other ways to maximize GI Bill benefits not previously mentioned in this guide. Use these additional resources to help get the most bang for your GI Bill buck: Use the tips in this guide applicable to your specific situation to make your GI Bill benefits last as long as possible and work the hardest for you. After all, you earned it!

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