GI Bill Explained

A recent graduate holds a degree and smiles.

Here's What You Get With the GI Bill

You get 36 months of full-time GI Bill benefits and have no time limit on when you need to use them by. If you left the military before Jan. 1, 2013, your benefits expire 15 years from your discharge (if using the Post-9/11 GI Bill). If you are using the Montgomery GI Bill you have 10 years to use your benefits.

What is a "month of benefits?"

It is complicated, but here is the general idea: if you attend school at the full time rate for an entire month you use a month of benefits. But, say you attend classes only from the 15 - 30 of a month...then you use 1/2 month of benefits. The same thing goes if you are attending classes at less than full time. If you are attending classes as a 1/2 time student for 2 months the VA will only charge you 1 month of benefits.

How Much Money Will I Get?

Here's how it works if you are a Veteran and have an Honorable Discharge:

The Post-9/11 GI Bill will pay:

  • your full tuition to the school if you are attending a public school as a state resident,
  • an annual maximum amount (regulated by law, and updated every August 1) to the school, if you are attending a private school
  • a housing allowance equal to the military's Basic Allowance for Housing at the E-5 with dependents rate based on your school's ZIP code (if you are attending classes totally online you receive 1/2 the national average BAH)
  • up to $1,000 a year for books and supplies.

The Montgomery GI Bill will pay:

  • a monthly payment regulated by law that varies depending on how many classes you take, this rate is updated every October 1)

Here's how it works for Active Duty members: You can begin using your benefit after 2 years of service, however before you choose to use the GI Bill you should know that it is usually not a good idea to use it while on active duty, because VA administers the GI Bill differently for active duty and veterans. You will not get as much money on active duty as you would as a Veteran.

If you are using the Post-9/11 GI Bill you will not receive the housing allowance, you receive a housing allowance (or government housing) as part of your military benefit. The VA cannot pay you another housing allowance.

If you are using the Montgomery GI Bill, you can only get reimbursed the actual cost of your classes or the legally determined maximum monthly rate - whichever is less. But your months of entitlement will be charged as if you were attending full-time no matter how much money you receive.

Considering this, it only makes sense to use your GI Bill on active duty if your tuition costs are very high or you use your “GI Bill Top-up” benefit.

Note: If you are on active duty you should ALWAYS consult your Education Service Officer or Navy College representative before using your GI Bill or taking any college classes. They are trained to give you the counseling that will help you avoid wasting your time and benefits.

Some Frequently Asked Questions

Is the GI Bill considered Financial Aid?

Not in the traditional sense. In most cases the school financial aid department does not consider the GI Bill financial aid because it is normally paid directly to you, not the school.

This also means that you are eligible for student loans, scholarships, and Pell Grants along with the GI Bill. But it is important to note that your GI Bill income will reduce the amount of student financial aid you are eligible to receive.

How long do I have to use my benefits?

Once you have separated from the service you normally have 15 years to use all of your GI Bill benefits if you are using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. If you are using the Montgomery GI Bill you have 10 years to use all of your benefits. Although separating from service "starts the clock" on your time limit, you should know that if you re-join active-duty service or you are activated from reserve status, for more than 90 days during your eligibility, the clock is reset.

Can I stop and start using the GI Bill at will?

YES! Unfortunately, many people believe that once you apply for benefits you have to remain enrolled in school to get the full benefit. Thankfully that's not true, you can use the GI Bill for any period of time, take time off and reapply to use it again at a later date.

Will I have to pay taxes on my GI Bill benefits?

NO! Your GI Bill is NOT taxable!

What are the current "payment rates"?

The Monthly Housing Allowance rates change every year, click here for more information.

The MGIB Payment rates increase every year; click here to see the current payment rates.

How do I get started?

You can apply for the GI Bill online using the VA's VETS.GOV website. For more details, see Learn to Use Your GI Bill and get started using your benefits today!

Bonus Tip! Fill out the VA Application ASAP. The current time for processing a GI Bill Application can be over 6 weeks. This means it could take over a month to start receiving your benefits. If you apply well before you plan to start school you can reduce the wait time by months.

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Related Topics

Veteran Benefits Education