G.I. Jobs Virtual Job Fair   |   May 23

Virtual Job Fair   |   May 23

How to Actually Survive Off Your GI Bill

ho to survive off the GI Bill

The career vs. school struggle we go through when getting out of the military is no big secret.

Sure, everyone knows the Post-9/11 GI Bill will pay for your school. But when you’re in class all day, what’s paying for your bills? If you’re like me, you’ll find out real quick that the GI Bill alone doesn’t cover as much as it sounds like it will and that monthly BAH stipend disappears fast.

So, I’m passing along my tricks on how you can squeeze every dollar out of the benefits you earned, making it possible to actually survive off the GI Bill.

99% Stay-at-Home Student

I’m sure by now you know the difference in BAH rates (technically called the MHA by the VA) when you attend school in person versus taking strictly online courses. If you don’t, here’s the quick of it: full-time students taking on-campus courses = 100% BAH rate for an E-5 with dependents, based on the school’s ZIP code. Online courses = a flat rate of $783 per month (which goes up to $805.50 on Aug. 1, 2016).

This automatically leads you to believe that you have to sit in classes on campus all day, every day, in order to get the highest possible BAH.

Well, you’re wrong.

By enrolling in two schools at once, you can take 99% of your classes online from any school you choose and only go to a local campus for just one class per semester. This allows you the full flexibility of online courses, but you still get to collect the full BAH rate. (More to come below on why this is so important.)

Only attend Yellow Ribbon Schools

If you haven’t been paying attention to which schools are Yellow Ribbon and which ones aren’t, shame on you.

Non-state schools that are not YRP participants are single-handedly the biggest money pit when it comes to using your GI Bill. Here’s why: your GIB only covers the in-state tuition price of state universities.

So, if you go to any other school that costs more than that you are personally responsible for the difference. That’s thousands of dollars you’re paying for absolutely no good reason.

But! If you go to a Yellow Ribbon school, the school pays that difference with the VA.

Bonus Tip – Schools with no limit on their YRP are ideal, otherwise you’ll have to compete each semester for that money.

Find. More. Money.

You have a GI Bill – what more could you possibly need, right?

You’re wrong again.

This is how your GIB finances work: all the money that’s going toward your education gets sent to your school. They pay off all of your bills for the semester (tuition, fees, etc.) and whatever is leftover gets sent to you in the form of a check.

So, I think it would behoove you to seek out as much financial aid as possible beyond the GI Bill, as it just adds up to additional money for you to live off of.

Did you read that last sentence? Go read it again.

Yes, I said “for you to live off of.” By no means is any money associated with your education, GI Bill, scholarships or otherwise intended for kegs, motorcycles or a new gun for your collection. There are strict stipulations that this money is to be used on legitimate living expenses; anything beyond that could mean trouble.

Buy & Return Books

Your GI Bill grants you a $1,000 stipend each year for books. Renting books or paying slightly less for e-books seem like great options.

But, if you buy your books from reputable sources like Amazon or Barnes and Noble, they’ll buy them back from you at the end of the semester. Thus, you’ll end up getting to keep almost all of your $1,000.

Get a Job!

I know, I know.

The whole point of this article is how to live purely off your GI Bill money.

But it would be a crime if I didn’t point out your ability to now earn an additional income. If you heed tip #1 from above and take all but one class online, you’re freeing up a ton of time from not sitting in classes all day. This will allow you to collect a paycheck, even if it’s only part time, and do your schoolwork on nights and weekends.

(I am a Post-9/11 veteran who is currently using her GI Bill to fund my schooling. All of the tips above are personal experiences of mine that I have verified through the VA. Because each veteran and their situation is different, if you have any questions regarding you and your education I urge you to reach out to the VA yourself as they are the certifying official on GIB benefits.)

READ NEXT: Revisited: Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits