Paycheck Chronicles

From The Mailbag: GI Bill Housing Allowance Payments


College is a big issue in many military households, whether it's an active duty service member or their spouse finishing up a degree, a child leaving for school, or a veteran training for the next stage of their life adventure.  Many military family members are lucky enough have Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to help with their college expenses.  But it isn't always clear how those benefits are paid, and sometimes that equals trouble.

Dear Kate,

My daughter is a college freshman using my transferred Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.  Her school's billing office is getting pretty insistent that we pay her room and board bills, but we haven't received those benefits from the VA yet.  What am I supposed to do?

Thanks,  (also) Kate

Children using transferred benefits, veterans, and spouses using transferred benefits after their active duty left the military are all eligible to receive a monthly housing allowance (MHA) in addition to the tuition benefits provided by the Post 9/11 GI Bill.  But those benefits aren't paid up front!

Dear Kate,

Sorry that you're just hearing about this.  While the tuition portion of the Post 9/11 GI Bill goes straight to the school, and schools are willing to wait for this payment, the MHA and books portions of the benefit are paid directly to the beneficiary.  MHA is paid in arrears, monthly, and is pro-rated for the days actually in school.  Once the VA paperwork gets started, your child should receive a monthly deposit based upon the MHA rate for their school's zip code and the number of days they are in school that month.

However, many schools require that their room and board fees are paid up-front, unless you sign up for a third-party payment plan.  This leaves unprepared students, and parents, scrambling to pay that bill.

Ideally, you'll have other college savings you can tap to pay the room and board portion of your child's college expenses.  Next, I'd look to family savings, or see how much you can squeeze out of your budget this month.  My last resort would be to put the credit card.

Then, take every month's MHA payment and put it into a separate "school expenses" bank account.  (This is a great idea whether you're dealing with GI bill payments or not.)  When the next semester's room and board are due, you'll have the money in your school expenses bank account.

Good luck to you managing this unexpected expense, and good luck to your daughter in college!  I have a freshman, too!


Please share this information with your friends planning to use the Post 9/11 GI bill for their kid's college expenses.  It's not a great surprise, and I've heard a lot of folks who don't know.

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