You made the decision to go back to school and retool. Good on you. But you are a military spouse. You and your service member have the rent, a car loan, some credit card debt and maybe only one income.
How do you pay for college when you haven't got a dime?
The good news is that military spouses are eligible for military benefits as well as programs available to civilians. With our guide to paying for school, you'll be cracking those books in no time.
Step One: Start Looking Into Military Benefits
For Nikki, it was easy. She said that until recently, college wasn't an option. “We married right out of high school, and there just wasn't time or money for college. I had to work," the 22-year-old sailor's wife explained.
But Nikki had always dreamed of going back to school. With her husband's recent promotion, things at home became a little easier.
Money wasn't as tight, and with a helpful neighbor offering to take care of her kids twice a week, she thought it was finally time to focus on her.
“I was ready. And things seemed to be going OK with the family. Everything was falling into place and it was finally my turn," she said.
Even with perfect timing, Nikki still worried about how her family could afford a college tuition bill. “I figured I'd work with MyCAA or the GI Bill," she said. “I knew there were options for military families, so I started there." And that's the same place you should start.
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Step Two: Squeeze Your MyCAA Benefits
If you're looking for a two-year degree, MyCAA (My Career Advanced Accounts) is the best place for you to start. Offering $4,000 for an associate's degree, vocational training or professional licensing, MyCAA is a good resource for spouses of service members in ranks E1-E5, W1-W2, or O1-O2.
The eligibility is narrow, but every dime counts when you are starting to pay for a military spouse education. To find out more about whether MyCAA might be a good fit for you, be sure to check out our MyCAA guide.
Step Three: Jump on GI Bill Benefits
If you are married to a more senior service member, you won't qualify for MyCAA funding. If you want to earn a bachelor's degree or graduate degree, MyCAA won't pay.
Yet your military benefits may still enable you to pursue your academic dreams. Your service member's Post-911 GI Bill Benefits may be transferred to you.
This option isn't for everybody: Your service member will have had to serve for six years and be committed for at least four more years in the military.
There are also some new, tightened restrictions about who qualifies for transferability and how long they have to make those transfer decisions. Confused about your eligibility? Don't be.
The GI Bill was a great option for Nikki. She and her husband determined that he was less likely to go back to school than she was. Since Nikki was ready now, transferring their benefits made sense.
Nikki is now busy looking for schools where she can train to be a veterinarian — her life-long dream. “Growing up, I just figured that was like dreaming to be president," she said. “It was never going to happen. And now it is!"
Step Four: Keep an Eye on Budget Cuts
As you start to look into military education benefits, you may find that more financial options existed during the surge.
Since the GI Bill is a benefit, not an entitlement, transferability may hit the chopping block due to sequestration and other budget cuts.
For example, over 4,000 soldiers lost their GI Bill transferability in January 2013. If it makes sense for your family to look into GI Bill transferability, don't wait another day. Start your application now.
While the options are fewer, these benefits are still yours. Take advantage of those that apply to you while you still can.
Talk to the financial aid officers at your school of choice. Think about other funding options that may be available to you like financial aid and federal student loans, finding a job that can help pay for school, investigating state education benefits, and thinking about scholarship awards. Call the education counselors at Military OneSource to discuss your particular situation.
Register on Military.com to get our Family Newsletter and keep abreast of all the changes in military education benefits.
Once you and your service member have decided that your continued education is the best plan for your family's financial health, keep moving forward. Paying for college may be simpler than you think.
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