1. GI Bill benefits belong to the servicemember/veteran until used.
The GI Bill benefit is yours and you control its distribution until it has been used or it expires. GI Bill benefits for those leaving service prior to January 1, 2013 expire 15 years after separation or retirement for the veteran and their spouse. Those serving after January 2013 have non-expiring GI Bill benefits for the veteran and their spouse. All dependent children who have the benefit transferred to them must use it by age 26. At least one month of benefit must be transferred to eligible beneficiaries prior to leaving service – new beneficiaries cannot be added after separation or retirement. However, the Forever GI Bill allows transfer changes if the veteran or a beneficiary with transferred benefits dies – the veteran or family may make transfers to another beneficiary if either occurs.
2. Transfer at least one month of benefit as soon as possible so you can start the 4 year service commitment clock.
I talk with too many veterans who thought they had completed a successful transfer of benefits to a spouse or children, only to discover after separation or retirement that they failed to complete the required 4 year service commitment and the transfer of benefit was revoked. Once a transfer has occurred additional transfer(s) can be made -- but the “service commitment clock” continues based on that first transfer.
3. Use your books and supplies stipend wisely.
The average estimated full-time undergraduate budget for books and supplies for the 2018-2019 school year was $1240* exceeding the $1000 annual GI Bill stipend by a whopping 24%. You can get significant savings on expensive textbooks purchasing used textbooks, or shopping online, and many institutions are going to eTextbooks to reduce student costs. However beware, many schools bundle textbooks with expirable “access codes” to required workbooks and tests in addition to the textbook itself.
4. Maximize your Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA)**
The MHA affords most GI Bill beneficiaries the flexibility to attend college programs full time – negating the need for employment to pay housing bills. However, you can only receive the full MHA stipend when you are attending at what your institution considers “full time” credit hours. For most schools, that is between 12 to 16 credit hours. If your college considers 16 credit hours to be “full time,” you must take at least 16 credit hours that term to receive 100% MHA. If not full time, you must attend at greater than ½ of the full time rate to receive a portion of MHA. If your college considers 12 credit hours to be full time, you must take at least 7 credit hours to receive a proportional MHA stipend. The VA will round up or down to the nearest 10% - for this example 7/12 = 58.3% - this individual would receive 60% of the MHA rate for that campus. The GI Bill comparison tool will provide the MHA for each program campus.
5. Declare a major sooner rather than later
The Post 9/11 GI Bill benefit is more than sufficient to complete a 4 year college degree. Some beneficiaries may run out of the benefit prior to reaching specific degree requirements because they take too many unnecessary classes prior to picking a degree field.
*College Board, Annual Survey of Colleges
**MHA is based on E-5 Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) (with dependents) for the campus zip code where you attend the majority of classes.