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Funding Your Education Through Military Service

Airman sitting and studying.

Undoubtedly one of the largest monetary benefits of serving your country through military service is the assistance with already accumulated student loans and the financial coverage of new educational endeavors.

The amount of help you are eligible for, however, varies widely based on the type and length of the service you've completed or are in the midst of completing.

Just don't leave all that free money on the table. Get educated about what you are able to receive, and plan accordingly.

This guide will help.

Tuition Assistance (Tuition Support Programs)

Each branch of the military offers tuition assistance programs intended to cover a portion or the entirety of a servicemember's tuition costs for a degree or professional certificate offered by accredited colleges, universities, and technical schools.

The maximum coverage currently stands at $250 per credit hour up to a maximum of $4,500 per fiscal year for active duty service members. The benefits may vary for Reserve and National Guard units.

Other restrictions may include a minimum amount of time left on the servicemember's contract and the type of courses the servicemember intends to take – i.e. if they already hold a bachelor's degree, they may not receive reimbursement for a second bachelor's degree.

Post 9/11 GI Bill

The Post 9/11 GI Bill covers servicemembers who completed at least 90 days of active duty service since September 10, 2001. The amount of benefits offered depend on the number of active duty days served, potentially bridging the gap between the benefits offered to active duty servicemembers and National Guard and Reserve members.

Some of the benefits you could be eligible for include 100% coverage of tuition and fees paid directly to a state operated college or university on your behalf, a monthly living stipend based on your school's zip code, an annual book and supply stipend, a one-time relocation allowance, and the ability to transfer GI Bill benefits to a spouse or eligible dependent.

Find out which of these benefits you would qualify for here.

Montgomery GI Bill

While both the Post 9/11 GI Bill and the Montgomery GI Bill help servicemembers with education costs, the amount of the payout and how it is paid is vastly different.

The eligibility requirements for the Montgomery GI Bill are more complicated and situation-specific than the Post 9/11 GI Bill. To find out whether you would qualify and for what types of benefits, check out this breakdown.

If you do qualify, the 2014 benefit rates (which go into effect in October 2013) are $1,684 monthly for a full time student. Servicemembers could be eligible to receive this benefit for up to 36 months.

Under this program, students pay their institution directly.

Student Loan Repayment

If you racked up a substantial amount of student loan debt before entering into the military, you may be eligible for student loan repayment or forgiveness depending on your qualifications and promised commitment.

For instance, the Army will repay up to $65,000 of your student loan debt if the following criteria apply: you decline the Montgomery GI Bill, you have loan repayment written into your enlistment contract, you have a score of at least 50 on the ASVAB, and you agree to enter into a specific military occupational specialty (plus a few other requirements).

The amount and scope of repayment varies for each branch of the military. It's essential to ask what you would need to do to qualify before enlisting, especially since we know that the impact of even one late student loan payment can be significant.

Receiving College Credit While Serving

Did you know that you could be earning credit for school while completing the requirements of your military service?

Thanks to the American Council on Education and the DANTES (Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Support) program, you can apply your military service towards school credit hours. Many times the credit will be used to fulfill elective requirements, although that choice is ultimately up to the school you choose to receive your degree from. (It's important to note that not all schools will accept this type of credit. Make sure you shop around and ask questions.)

Each branch of the service uses different systems to keep track of military training, experience, and test scores.

In addition, the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) allows servicemembers to earn college credit by taking any of the 33 introductory-level college subject tests and receiving a satisfactory score. Nearly 3,000 colleges around the country accept the tests for college credit.

Military College

If you have a strong sense of commitment to both your education and military service, you might want to consider attending one of the prestigious U.S. service academies: United States Naval Academy, United States Military Academy, United States Air Force Academy, United States Coast Guard Academy, or the United States Merchant Marine Academy.

Agreeing to a military service requirement of 4-6 years post graduation will not only get you a tuition-free degree, you'll even be paid a small salary while attending school.

Be aware, however, that the admissions process is rigorous and the expectations of any academy attendee is nothing like any traditional college or university.

Conclusion

This is just a starting list of all of the educational opportunities offered through service in the United States military. If you are considering military service, make sure you speak with your recruiter early on about what tuition assistance programs you'll be eligible for.

If you are in the midst of your service, get educated now – you might have already accumulated school credits you weren't even aware of.

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Contributor

Kayla Albert is a proud Colorado native and personal finance writer for ReadyForZero, a company that is helping Americans manage and pay off debt online. She enjoys sharing tips on saving money and getting out of debt. You can follow @ReadyForZero and @KaylaAlbert33 on Twitter.

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GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at www.benefits.va.gov/gibill
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