May 31, 2013

Using "Leftover" Benefits


If you were fortunate enough to finish your degree without running out of GI Bill benefits, this article will help you make the best use of your leftover entitlement.
If you’ve finished your degree program, congratulations!  The road to that college degree was long and hard, but you finally made it!

If you were fortunate enough to finish your degree without running out of GI Bill benefits, you might now be wondering what to do with the “leftover” benefits.  Should you go on to graduate school?  How long will your benefits last?  Is there another option?  If you're wondering how to make the most of your remaining benefits, read on...

Option 1:  Do nothing for now

Your GI Bill benefits don’t “expire” until you reach your delimiting date, which is 10 years after your ETS for MGIB benefits, or 15 years after your ETS for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  So, even if you're SO done with school right now, it’s nice to know that your “leftover” GI Bill benefits are still good for a little while longer, in case you change your mind later and decide to go back to school a few years from now.  You don’t have to do anything to put them on hold or reactivate your benefits later.  Just hang onto a copy of your GI Bill eligibility documentation, and take it to your future school of choice.  Once they certify you for courses, your benefits will kick in again, almost automatically.

Option 2: Transfer Your Remaining Benefits

If you’re still serving, or decide to go back in, you can elect to transfer your remaining Post-9/11 entitlement to a spouse or child.  You’ll have an additional 4-year service obligation if you transfer benefits, so make sure that’s what you want to do before you commit.  You can also transfer if you’re serving in Guard or Reserve components, as long as you’re actively drilling.  You can even transfer benefits to young kids - your delimiting date will transfer with your benefits, so your kids will be able to use the benefit until age 26 or 15 years after your (future) ETS date.  For more information on transferring Post-9/11 entitlement, please visit the DOD's website or contact your Education Services Officer.

Option 3:  Bachelor’s Degree

If you’ve just completed your Associate’s Degree, then your next step is to begin working toward your Bachelor’s degree.  The Bachelor’s degree is usually worth a lot more in the workplace and will provide a good return on the investment.  Talk to the career counselor at your current school to ask about employment prospects and additional schooling required to meet your career goals.

If you don’t have a lot of GI Bill entitlement left, then you want to budget the remaining months carefully.  Fortunately, there’s usually a lot of financial aid available at the undergraduate level, such as Pell Grants, work-study, student loans, and scholarships.  If you have enough financial aid, you might be able to reduce your GI Bill “certification load,” meaning you can elect to be certified for fewer classes than your actual course load to conserve remaining entitlement.  If you can stretch it enough, you might even be able to get an extra semester out of your benefits!  Talk to your VA certifying official at your school about how to budget your remaining benefits.

Option 4: Grad School, or something similar

If you finished your Bachelor’s degree, you can still use your GI Bill!  Despite common misconceptions, you can definitely use your GI Bill toward a Master's or Professional degree.  People often ask whether they should try for a Master's degree, or just work on a second Bachelor’s degree.  The answer really depends on your career goals, but generally speaking, a Master's degree is worth a LOT more in the workplace than a second Bachelor’s degree, which really isn’t worth any more than the first one.  Plus, you can usually complete a Master's degree in two years, so if you have, say, 10 months of GI Bill left, that will get you about halfway through your degree program.  If you qualify for other financial assistance, you can stretch your benefits even further, possibly completing the entire program with very little out-of-pocket costs.

However, it’s important to consider the return on investment: if you don’t have enough benefits or financial assistance to cover your entire degree, then you’ll have to either pay for the rest out of your own savings, or quit.  If you quit, you’ll have wasted all that time and effort with nothing to show for it.  If you finish the degree out of your own savings, will it help you land a better job that pays enough money to make it worthwhile?  Talk to a career counselor to find out what the employment prospects are in your field of choice, and whether or not that extra degree is worth it.

Another option is a graduate-level (also called post-baccalaureate) professional certificate, licensing, or credentialing program.  Most of these programs can be completed in a year or less, and are a good option for using up remaining GI Bill entitlement, as they add extra credentials (and added value) to your Bachelor’s degree.  Most Universities or University Extension offices offer graduate-level (post-baccalaureate) certificate programs, but not all of them are approved for GI Bill benefits, so be sure to ask appropriate questions.

What to do next?

If you’ve decided that you want to continue or return to school, there are a few things you have to figure out first.  Do you know what you want to study?  If not, that's going to be your first task.  Talk with a career coach or do some research online to focus your academic and career goals.

Next, you need to decide what kind of program you are going to pursue: a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree, a certificate program, or something else.  Again, this goes back to your career goals.  The field you want to work in will determine whether a degree or a certificate will be more valuable, and you also have to weigh the potential outcome against the time/money it will cost to complete.  If you aren't able to afford to complete the program, then it will just be time wasted with nothing to show for it, so you need to think carefully about what you want to do and if it's worth the investment.

Third, once you've decided what you want to learn and what kind of program you're looking for, you can start looking for a school that offers the program you want on the schedule you want.  If you are working, then you may need a school that offers evening/weekend, online, or flexible scheduling.  If you are planning to go to school full time, you may have more options.  Either way, you’ll need to sit down with a notebook and computer to start comparing colleges and programs.  Once you've narrowed down your choices, you will want to call each of the schools on your list to speak with a graduate admissions counselor, ask questions about the program, scheduling, costs, financial aid, and application process, and also ask about services and resources for veterans.

Then, it’s just a matter of timing, planning, and paperwork.  Be sure to meet all the deadlines for admissions, financial aid, scholarships, and so forth.  It will be a lengthy process, so you may need to look for work in the interim.  If you plan ahead and budget carefully, you can have a fairly seamless transition between your academic programs with minimal financial disruption.

22 comments:

  1. I heard a rumors that if you finished your degree programs and still have left over, then you could refund the left over. Is that even possible

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    1. No, there's no refund for leftover benefits. So, you may as well use them up!

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  2. How do you figure out remaining balance?

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  3. How do you figure out remaining balance?

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    1. Hi Franky,

      The VA sends you a letter at the start of every term that confirms your enrollment and benefits for the term, and how many months and days of entitlement you have remaining at the end of the term. You should watch for that letter and keep it in a safe place, because you may need it as proof of benefits. See this article for more info: http://troops2college.blogspot.com/2012/11/showing-proof-of-your-gi-bill-housing.html

      If you lost the letter, you can always look it up on the VA's eBenefits portal (http://ebenefits.va.gov) or call the VA call center at 888-442-4551 to inquire.

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  4. I obtained Masters in Science on my own before joining the Military. I ETSed recently and now wants to use Post 9/11. Can I do 2 yrs of MBA in Finance and then 1 yr of Grad Certificate in Accounting just to use up leftover benefits? Will VA let me do these considering all incremental and/or related or unrelated degree rules in Post 9/11 approval?

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    1. Sure, there are no rules about unrelated degrees and credentials, as long as you pursue them sequentially and not concurrently. So, your plan would be a great way to use up your benefits, especially if it will help you in your career. Congratulations on having so many options available, and good luck in your venture!

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    2. Sure, there are no rules about unrelated degrees and credentials, as long as you pursue them sequentially and not concurrently. So, your plan would be a great way to use up your benefits, especially if it will help you in your career. Congratulations on having so many options available, and good luck in your venture!

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  5. Hi Chryssa, Thanks for answering all of these questions even on a post that was published 3 years ago!

    I have a question for you regarding left over benefits.

    I got out of the Army in 2010 and used the 9/11 GI Bill successfully for a B.S. in Criminal Justice. I graduated in 2014. After reflecting on some personal goals I decided to go back to school in early 2016 to receive a B.A in Information Technology ( side note: because I already have a degree I was able to transfer most of credits and only need to study the "core IT classes" and should be done by the end of this year.)

    I am using financial aid to pay for my IT degree's tuition. However, after reviewing my GI Bill information I still have 3 months of "left over" benefits. Can I still use these 3 months towards my new B.A degree?

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    1. Hi Paul, you absolutely can use your remaining entitlement toward your new degree! Plus, if you don't need full benefits, you may be able to "stretch" your entitlement to cover a second semester by reducing your certification load. Discuss this with your certifying official. Good luck!

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  6. I finished my bachelors in 2 years because of credits I completed before I joined the military. Is it possible to use the remainder of my Post 9/11 to still get a professional certification that is covered under the GI bill?

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    1. Hi Blake, congratulations on your graduation and excellent planning! You can absolutely use your remaining benefits for professional certification. You just need to find a VA-approved program, and there are plenty out there. Best of luck to you!

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  7. Hi, I was just wondering if I would be able to use the Post 911 GI Bill to pay for a second Bachelors degree if I already have a Masters degree? I am changing my career field and need to get a different undergrad degree.

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    1. Hi Sweet Sam,

      The VA doesn't have any rules about this, so it just depends on finding a school you like that offers a VA-approved program and will admit you for a second bachelor's after a masters. Many public universities do not allow this, but some private universities do. Since you're changing careers, you might look into post-baccalaureate certificate programs instead of a second bachelor's degree. PB programs are designed for career changers, can often be completed in just one year, and are generally more "valuable" than a second undergrad degree because it's considered graduate-level work.

      Good luck!

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  8. I heard a rumor that you could use your leftover post 9/11 GI bill towards the yellow ribbon program. Is that true? I have about 12 months left and I would like to use the YRP if I could. Any insight?

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    1. Hi Zachary,

      YRP is part of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and you have to use it along with the Post-9/11 GI bill. The YRP is an extended benefit on top of the Post-9/11 GI Bill that pays the nonresident tuition supplement if you are attending a public school out of state, or the portion of tuition/fees above the private school cap if attending a private school.

      You can use your remaining entitlement at any school you'd like, and if you are also YR eligible then you can also consider private schools and out-of-state schools that offer YR to cover the supplemental tuition.

      Hope this helps!

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  9. Hello,

    I already have my bachelors degree. I was under the impression I could only use my GI BILL towards a Masters as I could NOT just decide to change my career and pursue a second bachelors degree. Is this correct?

    Secondly, a local university that I am considering has PB programs, but there isn't a direct certificate awarded, instead it is a 4-6 month program of instruction that prepares you for a national examination/certificate. Will the GI Bill cover this -- and will they cover this although I already have my bachelors degree?

    Thank You,

    Chris

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    1. Hi Chris,

      The VA will pay for any VA-approved academic program, regardless of what you already have (or don't have). This includes 2nd baccalaureate degrees, vocational, professional, and post-bac certificates, graduate and professional programs, etc. Approved programs vary by school.

      To find out if a program is approved for benefits, you can contact your school certifying official or use the VA's search tool here: http://inquiry.vba.va.gov/weamspub/buildSearchInstitutionCriteria.do;jsessionid=qtMbSxQFpzyL7GpnQrtnNGv6G9CGQQvb2YqM9Cvw3vB2pv2lXhfJ!-1531379871.

      So, a 2nd bachelor's degree is usually fine, but some colleges won't let you take a 2nd bachelor's degree. If they do, and if the program is approved for benefits, then you can use your GI Bill for this if you want. However, you might want to discuss this with a career counselor first, because a 2nd bachelor's degree usually isn't worth much, and could end up being a waste of your time and benefits.

      Also, test-prep programs are typically not approved for benefits, but again, it depends on the specific school and program.

      Hope this helps!
      Chryssa

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    2. Oh, and one more tip: if you're thinking about changing careers, Google for "Career change" and the new field you want to go into. You'll probably find a lot of articles about how to do that career change, what kind of training you'll need, and probably a few ads from schools that offer that kind of training. Then you can search the VA's website to see which schools and programs are approved. Good luck!

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  10. I got my Masters and a certification with my post 9/11 GI Bill. I have 1 month and three days left of entitlement left. Any suggestions on what to use the rest of the entitlement on?

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  11. I got my Masters and a certification with my post 9/11 GI Bill. I have 1 month and three days left of entitlement left. Any suggestions on what to use the rest of the entitlement on?

    ReplyDelete
  12. I got my Masters and a certification with my post 9/11 GI Bill. I have 1 month and three days left of entitlement left. Any suggestions on what to use the rest of the entitlement on?

    ReplyDelete