Many servicemembers and veterans start using their GI Bill thinking that all college costs are covered by their education benefit. However, many are surprised to learn that in certain situations, not all costs are covered. Here are some facts as far as how Post 9/11 GI Bill entitlement use is charged and how the most generous GI Bill in history pays.

Entitlement Use

The Tuition Top-Up program is great for active duty service members whose tuition cost exceeds the per-credit limit ($250) or those who may have reached their Yearly Cap ($4,500 in most branches) early in the fiscal year and wish to take more classes. However, it may not be the best use of their entitlement.

Under Top-Up, the student’s military branch pays the entire college bill and then charges back to the VA the costs above what it is authorized to pay. If using the Post 9/11 GI Bill, a full-month of entitlement (30 days) is deducted for each month of the course from the student’s remaining balance regardless of how little the VA has to pay back to the military branch. Even if they pay back $1.00, 30 days per month of entitlement is deducted from the student’s original 36 months of benefits.

Note: By comparison under the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty, a student is charged a month of benefits for each $1, 994 the VA pays to the military branch.

Post 9/11 G.I. Bill Payments

There is a difference in what the VA pays depending on the type of school attended. If private, then the VA only pays tuition and applicable fees to the school up to $24,476.79 per year. Many private schools charge that much or more per semester. But if attending a public school, then the full 100% of tuition and fees are paid to the school by the VA.

In addition to paying tuition and fees to the school, the student gets two payments sent directly to them: a book stipend up to $1,000 paid at the beginning of a semester and a monthly housing allowance (MHA). But the amount of tuition paid to the school and payments to the student vary according to:

  • Number of credits taken
  • Zip code of the school attended
  • Tier percentage

Number of credits taken

A student is considered full-time if they are taking at least the minimum number of credits the school considers to be full-time. While in many cases that number is 12, it can vary among schools. A student must take more than half the number of credits considered full-time to get paid by the VA. So if a school uses 12 credits as their full-time number, then a student must take at least 7 credits to use their Post 9/11 GI Bill.

Zip code of the school attended

Where a student goes to school affects how they are paid for their MHA. The MHA amount is higher on both the East and West Coasts with less paid for schools in the Midwest.

One change brought about by the Forever GI Bill was the zip code used to calculate the MHA. Before the change, the zip code of the school used for calculating the MHA was the one of the main campus. However for students attending a satellite campus away from the main campus, they were not getting paid as much as they should. Effective August 1, 2018, students will get paid based on the zip code of where they take the majority of their classes.

Tier percentage

For the Post 9/11 GI Bill to pay the most, the student must be at the 100% tier percentage. To reach that level requires serving at least three years or more or by serving at least 30 consecutive days and discharged with a service-connected disability.

A servicemember must serve for a minimum of at least 90 days to qualify for the lowest tier of 40%. That percentage increases to 50% on August 1, 2020 as a result of the Forever GI Bill.

Tier percentage affects the amount of tuition paid, MHA and book stipend. To show the effects. Let’s look at samples at one school between a full-time student at the 100% tier and one classified as ¾ time student at the 70% tier.

The numbers used in the chart below are for a full-time student taking 12 credits at the University of California – Berkeley at the 100% tier.

Post 9/11 GI Bill Full-time Student 100% tier ¾ time student        70% tier
GI Bill pays to school $14,170/yr. $9,919/yr.
Tuition and fees charged $14,170 $14,170
Out of pocket tuition $0 $4,251
Housing allowance $3,465/mo. $1,940/mo.
Book stipend $1,000/yr. $525/yr.
Total paid to you $32,185 $17,989

Data courtesy of the GI Bill Comparison Tool.

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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.