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Across the country, Americans are drawn to military service. The opportunity to defend our country and protect our freedom is just one reason that some choose to enter the military. Others join the military as a career, while other service members may choose to join the military as a way to gain skills or further their education.
Whether you serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, or Marines, there are numerous opportunities available for service members when it comes to paying for college. While these programs have strict eligibility requirements, those who qualify may be able to receive substantial financial assistance in getting their degree. From caps on interest rates to tuition assistance to loan forgiveness, this article explores some of the ways that the military may pay for your college education.
Service Members Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
For any member of the military who took out student loans prior to joining up, the Service Members Civil Relief Act will help them pay off their student loans through a cap on interest rates while they are on active duty.
This rule applies to both federal and private loans, provided that the loan in question was disbursed prior to the borrower starting active duty. As long as you are on active duty, the interest rate on your loans cannot exceed 6%, which can be a significant savings for anyone with private student loans.
Borrowers can submit a copy of their service orders to have this rule applied to their loans, or wait until the student loan server automatically applies the cap through regular checks of the military database.
The SCRA is particularly helpful for anyone who decides to join the military after starting or completing their educational program. It can help to keep student loan payments low while a military member is serving our country on active duty, giving them the opportunity to pay down their student loans at a relatively low fixed interest rate.
Active duty and reserve military members may be eligible for tuition assistance, whereby the military pays for up to 100% of a service member’s tuition. The eligibility requirements and benefits for this program vary by branch, with the total benefits not to exceed $4,500 per fiscal year.
Tuition assistance is not a loan, but is considered a benefit of military service. It is typically paid directly to the educational institution to cover specified educational expenses, such as tuition and other fees.
For all branches of the military except for the Marines, it is available for members who are on active duty or in the reserves. The military will pay $250 per credit hour or $166 per quarter credit hour for a total benefit of up to $4500 per year.
This program can help service members obtain a degree at little to no personal cost, potentially without needing to take out separate student loans.
The GI Bill
The GI Bill offers up to four years (or 48 months) of educational benefits for service members and veterans to attend college, training programs, career schools, or licensing and testing programs. There are two separate GI bills that provide assistance to members of the military: the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Montgomery GI Bill.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill offers paid tuition and fees, plus stipends for housing and books, to any service member who served at least 90 days on active duty since September 10, 2001. The benefits are based on the number of days of active duty service, and may be transferred to a spouse or family member. Survivors of a military member who died after September 10, 2011 may be eligible for a separate program known as the Fry Scholarship, which pays the same benefits as the Post-9/11 GI bill.
In contrast, the Montgomery GI Bill offers educational benefits to any active duty member of the military who has served at least two years of active duty and to veterans of any branch of the military. This program gives participants up to $1,857 each month for educational expenses, provided that the member is enrolled full-time. This benefit is not transferrable. For those serving in the Selected Reserve, benefits are available at a reduced rate of up to $368 per month in exchange for a six-year obligation to serve in the reserves.
For anyone currently enlisted in the military, the government may repay your student loans. Eligibility is determined based on a number of factors determined by your specific military branch. For all branches of the military, your loans must be in good standing in order to participate. If you qualify for this program, then the military may pay off all or part of your student loan debt.
There are many great reasons to join the military — and the ability to get an education is one of them. If you are considering joining up, you may be able to take advantage of one or more of these programs to help you pay for college.
Author: Jeff Gitlen