Getting to know your education benefits

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Getting to know your education benefits

by: Kim Suchek | .
Stripes Okinawa | .
published: October 26, 2012

Hello Military Community,

Active-duty service members may qualify for more than $50,000 in education benefits, which can be used to obtain an undergraduate college degree, specific vocational training, or graduate and post-graduate college degrees.

There are great programs accessible to service members, spouses and dependents through independent study, distance learning, online courses and on-base courses. There are many ways to obtain and pay for a formal education through scholarships, discounts and grants. Please review all your options before signing your name for loans.

The centerpiece of armed services education benefits is the GI Bill, which encompasses several Department of Veterans Affairs education programs. This includes the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill for Active Duty and Veterans, Montgomery GI Bill for Selected Reserves, Reserve Education Assistance Program, Veterans Education Assistance Program, Spouse and Dependents Education Assistance, and the Vocational Rehabilitation and Education program.

Remember, you may be eligible for more than one educational benefit. Knowing when each is best for your situation can save you money and ensure you get the most out of your benefits. Finally, remember that each service has its own tuition assistance programs, college funds and other means that may be able to help you in ways beyond those of the standard benefits. Talk with an education service officer, Navy College counselor or military recruiter to find out more. DO NOT sign off on any program before you review everything.

Sources may tell you that you cannot use both programs for educational assistance, but what that generally means is you cannot at the same time. This does not mean you cannot use them at different times.

I had someone yesterday ask me what the Federal Student Aid Program (FSA) was about. So, I will briefly go over it for you. With the FSA it doesn’t matter whether you are active duty, reserve, veteran, retiree, using the GI Bill, or not. If you are going to college you should take advantage of FSA programs. Many service members, even senior active-duty members, apply for and receive direct loans and large grants.

As you know, colleges and universities charge fees for tuition, admissions applications, enrollment, books, technical support, labs, transcripts and anything else that they can get away with. What you may not know is that if you don’t use military tuition assistance, which is different from the GI Bill, you (not the Defense Department or VA) are responsible for paying ALL of these additional fees. The schools hold you responsible for paying in most cases and the GI Bill is paid directly to you, the student, not the school.

Remember, each school’s policies differ on how this money is collected, but in most cases you will be asked to sign a promissory note, apply for student aid or both. That is why it is important for the service member or veteran to apply for Federal Student Aid. FSA can help defer out-of-pocket expenses until GI Bill payments start coming in. In addition to low-interest loans, scholarships etc., FSA also offers grants that do not require repayment. You can see a list of available FSA options below.

The key is to make sure you avoid long-term student-loan debt and interest charges by paying off the FSA “Direct Loans” as soon as the GI Bill payments start hitting your bank account.

FSA ELIGIBILITY – You are eligible for FSA if you are ALL of the following:

• A high school graduate, or have a General Education Development (GED) certificate
• Working toward a degree or certificate
• Enrolled in an eligible school or program
• A U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen (must have a valid social security number)
• Registered with the Selective Service if required (you can use the paper or electronic FAFSA to register)

Once you have enrolled in college, you need to start the application process for FSA. You can apply for all of the available FSA by filling out the FREE application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online at www.fafsaonline.com/fafsa-form. After you have submitted the application, your school will tell you which types of loans, grants and the total amounts you are qualified to receive. When you get this notification from the school, simply select the loans and grants you want and the school will finish the loan process.

TIP: Applying for FSA is easy if you use the FAFSA pre-application worksheet to guide you. Without the worksheet the FAFSA process can be complicated. You will need to gather your tax forms from previous years, including W-2’s, bank statements and investment statements to complete the form.

CAUTION: FAFSA is a free application for federal student aid. However, there are some shady websites that offer to complete the FAFSA for you for a fee. DON’T DO IT!! The FAFSA form ONLY takes a short time to complete. It is worth your time, security safety and money to complete it yourself. Every accredited school that is recognized by the Education Department will be eligible for some form of FSA. But the search for the right school and program can be time-consuming. Let schools.military.com/schoolfinder/search-for-schools.do help you get FREE information on schools that fit your needs by filling out one simple form to find the schools that are eager to send you FREE information on how to get the funding you need to cover the cost of your education goals. For further information, go to www.fafsa.ed.gov.

Next week, I will go over GI Bill and the 9/11 Bill with other educational grants and scholarships to follow. If you are looking for something in particular, send me an email and I will post it.

If you have any questions or concerns or would like to share a story or situation, contact me at Kim@MilitaryResourceBooks.com and visit my website for updated information and other resources not listed in my book.

Best wishes from my family to yours.

Kim