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How to Handle Your Finances as a Veteran

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Life after the military can be intimidating and challenging. In many ways, it's like moving to a foreign country, a place where you need to learn new customs and navigate often confusing rules. This applies particularly to your finances.

Luckily, veterans have access to many resources to help them become financially stable. We'll talk about what's available to you so you can make a smooth financial transition from the military to civilian life.

Housing

If you're looking for a new home, you may be eligible for a Veteran Affairs Home Loan. This is one of the friendliest loans out there for veterans who are looking to buy a home. Most veterans will qualify, depending on their length of active duty service, and you don't need to put a down payment. Advisors will work with you to determine the best interest rates that will work for your finances.

There is also assistance available if you are a renter and need help making rental payments. The Housing and Urban Development and Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program helps low-income veterans or those without housing. The three main programs are Housing Choice Vouchers, Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, and public housing. If you need housing, contact your local HUD office and see if you are eligible for a program that will help you find a home.

Finally, if you and your family run into difficulties paying your rent or mortgage, there is also help available from veteran non-profit organizations that provide emergency financial assistance, such as USA Cares.

Education

For those who are interested in pursuing higher education, the GI Bill will be your best bet. Take a look at our comprehensive resources on the GI Bill, which actually includes multiple programs.

Starting in 2015, veterans will be eligible to only pay in-state rates for their education. Previously, veterans had to pay out-of-state rates if they could not prove residency or went to another state for college. That meant some veterans had to shoulder significant student loans if they went out of state, even with the GI Bill. If 2015 lies within the three-year period the GI Bill covers after active military service, it may be worth it to you to wait until 2015 to enter higher education.

Medical Costs

Many veterans are eligible for VA health care, especially for those who are low-income or have become disabled in the line of service. You can contact your local Veteran Service Officer at the VA office to see if you are eligible, which is determined by income, length of service, and if your injury or disability was a result of your military service. This calculator can also help you determine eligibility.

Even if you were not injured while in the military, you may still be eligible for free or low-cost services. This blog post straight from the VA outlines some of the myths around who can and can't receive health care.

If you are not enrolled in VA health care, you may be eligible under the Affordable Care Act for Medicaid or for a low-premium plan. Either way, you can have insurance and still receive VA health care. And hopefully this will help you avoid medical debt.

Ultimately, being prepared and being aware of the resources and programs that are available to you will help you secure your finances in the long run.

Fiona Lee is a personal finance writer for ReadyForZero, a website that helps people get out of debt faster on their own. She is a frugalista who loves discovering new ways to save money, especially in expensive cities. After living in New York and Beijing, she now makes her home in San Francisco. You can follow @ReadyForZero and @moderntime on Twitter.

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