For veterans having both GI Bills, making the decision of which one to use can be confusing. With at least three years of eligible service, both GI Bills provide 36 months of education benefits. Both pay for degree, non-degree, on-the-job (OJT)/apprenticeships, certifications and licensing programs. So what are the biggest differences?

Pay Structure

One big difference between the two GI Bills is how each pays. With the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty (MGIB-AD), a full-time student has to pay tuition, fees, books and other education-related expenses out of the $1,717 received each month while in school.

However, with the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the VA pays up to the resident tuition and eligible fees directly to the school if attending a public school, or up to $21,084.89 per year in tuition if attending a private one.

Regardless if public or private, students receive up to $41.67 per credit per semester in book stipend money up to the yearly cap of $1,000 (usually two 12-credit semesters). Plus monthly each student gets a housing allowance based on the zip code of the school and the number of credits taken per semester. While the amount received can vary, the national full-time student average is around $1,300 per month. Students at a Post 9/11 GI Bill tier level percentage of less than 100% receive a pro-rated lesser amount in tuition, book stipend and housing allowance.

To see these two GI Bills compared in dollars and cents, let’s use an example of public school tuition/fees of $4,000 and book costs of $300 per 16-week semester. Under the MGIB-AD, the full-time student would get $6,868 per semester ($1,717 per month for 4 months). Out of this amount, the student pays $4,300 in tuition, fees and books, resulting in profit of $2,568 at the end of the term.

Under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the $4,000 in tuition and fees would be paid by the VA directly to the school. The full-time student would get $500 in book stipend (but only spends $300) and $5,200 ($1,300 per month for four months) in housing allowance leaving the student with a profit of $5,400 at the end of the term; over twice as much as the MGIB-AD, but with the same amount of entitlement used under either GI Bill. From a pure financial standpoint, the choice looks clear. But is it? Is there more to making a decision than financial? There can be.

Education Goals

For students only wanting a four-year degree, the best choice may be the Post 9/11 GI Bill. They could convert all 36 MGIB-AD months of entitlement over to the Post 9/11 GI Bill and at the end of the 36th month, they would get back their $1,200 Montgomery GI Bill contribution fee as part of the last housing allowance payment. And they would have received the higher pay rate throughout the 36 months.

But for students considering a goal of getting an advanced degree, a better option may be to use the MGIB-AD for four years, switch to the Post 9/11 GI Bill and get the additional 12 months of entitlement. Not only would that be enough to pay for half of most masters’ degrees, the VA would pay the higher resident tuition rate for advanced degrees.

Another option for advance degree students would be to attend a community college for two years and pay expenses out-of-pocket. Then transfer to a four-year school and the Post 9/11 GI Bill for the last two years of a bachelor’s degree and two years of a higher tuition advanced degree. Pay the lower tuition costs up front and let the New GI Bill pay the higher costs on the back end. Note that students switching from the MGIB-AD to the Post 9/11 GI Bill with entitlement intact normally do not get the additional 12 months of education benefits as they would when first exhausting the MGIB-AD and then switching.

For students with both GI Bills, pay structure and education goals are two factors to consider when choosing which GI Bill to use. However other factors that could affect a decision includes the Yellow Ribbon Program, transfer of credits, school creditability and whether a school is considered “veteran-friendly” or not.

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Kness retired in November 2007 as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer after serving 36 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard of which 32 of those years were in a full-time status along with being a traditional guardsman. Kness takes pride in being able to still help veterans, military members, and families as they struggle through veteran and dependent education issues.