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The U.S. military offers an array of higher education funding programs to help its members pay for college in exchange for service.
There are also other options available for military members and their dependents if you need help filling in financial gaps — including veteran student loans.
If you or a member of your immediate family qualifies for veteran status, here are four options to pay for your education:
- Apply for Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) education benefits
- Complete the FAFSA and apply for scholarships
- If you still need more funding, start with federal loans
- Consider private student loans
1. Apply for Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) education benefits
If you’re a veteran, the first place to look for college funding is the GI Bill. Benefits from the GI Bill can be used to pay for:
- Tuition and fees
- Books and supplies
- Moving expenses if you’re relocating from a rural area to attend school
GI Bill benefits last up to 36 months.
To qualify for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, at least one of the following must be true:
- Served at least 90 days on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001
- Received a Purple Heart on or after Sept. 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged
- Served for at least 30 continuous days on or after Sept. 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged with a service-connected disability
- Are a dependent child of a qualifying veteran or service member
To apply, you’ll need your:
- Social Security number
- Bank account and routing numbers
- Education and military history documentation
- Information about the school you plan to attend
GI Bill for dependents
If you earn GI Bill benefits and don’t use them, you can transfer your benefits to an eligible dependent child or your spouse. To transfer benefits, you must have completed at least six years of service and committed to four more years of service.
Additionally, your spouse or dependent must enroll in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS).
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2. Complete the FAFSA and apply for scholarships
Your next step should be to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
With the FAFSA, you can apply for federal student aid, including grants and federal student loans. Unlike student loans, grants for college don’t need to be paid back.
Scholarships are another option that don’t have to be repaid — and there are scholarships available for just about any kind of student out there.
Some are need-based, while others might require that you work for a specific employer, belong to a certain racial or ethnic group, or meet other criteria.
Applying for military scholarships
There are scholarships available specifically for military veterans and their families. Here are a few programs that members of the military should know about:
- ROTC scholarships: Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) is a program for college students planning to join the armed services as an officer. If you’re enrolled in ROTC, you could be eligible for scholarships to help cover tuition, room and board, or books and fees. There are ROTC scholarships available for the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force.
- Daughters of the Cincinnati Scholarship: This scholarship is worth up to $20,000 for daughters of career commissioned officers in any military branch. Learn more here.
- Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year: This program recognizes eight young people ages 13 to 18. Each recipient is awarded $10,000 as well as a laptop computer. Learn more here.
- American Legion scholarships: The American Legion offers several scholarships to veterans and their families. In 2019, the fund awarded $130,000 in scholarships. You can learn more about these scholarships here.
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3. If you still need more funding, start with federal loans
If you’ve exhausted your GI Bill, scholarship, and grant options, federal student loans are likely a good next step. These loans come with federal benefits and protections, such as access to income-driven repayment plans and student loan forgiveness programs.
To apply for federal student loans, you must complete the FAFSA. After this, your school will send you a financial aid award letter detailing which loans you’re eligible for.
Here are the main types of student loans you should know about:
|Loan type||Who qualifies?||Interest rates|
|Direct Subsidized Loans||Undergrad students with financial need||2.75%*||$3,500 to $5,500 per year|
|Direct Unsubsidized Loans||Undergrad, graduate, and professional students||Undergrad: 2.75%*|
Graduate and professional: 4.30%*
|Dependent undergrad: $5,500 to $7,500 per year ($31,000 total limit)
Independent undergrad: $9,500 to $12,500 per school year ($57,500 total limit)
Graduate and professional: $20,500 per year
($138,500 total limit)
|Direct PLUS Loans||Parents, graduate students, and professional students||5.30%*||Cost of attendance minus any other financial aid received|
|*Federal student loan rates for the 2020-21 academic school year.|
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4. Consider private student loans
If you have any funding gaps left over, private student loans could help cover the rest of your education expenses.
If you have excellent credit, you might even qualify for a lower interest rate on private student loans compared to federal student loans — particularly Direct PLUS Loans. Because of this, it’s a good idea to check your private student loan rates to see what you might qualify for.
Also keep in mind that depending on your credit, you might need a creditworthy cosigner to get a private student loan.
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If you decide to take out a college loan, be sure to consider as many lenders as possible to find the right loan for you. Some lenders also provide special military benefits.
Credible makes it easy to compare multiple lenders — you can see your rates from our partner lenders in the table below in two minutes.
|Lender||Fixed rates from (APR)||Variable rates from (APR)||Loan terms||Military benefits|
|3.61%+||2.14%+||5, 7, 10, 12, 15, 20 |
(depending on loan type)
|Active duty military deferment|
|4.24%+1||1.68%+1||5, 10, 15||SCRA benefits|
|3.34%+2,3||1.04%+2,3||5, 8, 10, 15||SCRA benefits|
|4.09%+7||1.99%+7||7, 10, 15||Military deferment|
|3.83%+8||1.61%+8||5, 10, 15||Check with lender|
|3.75%+||N/A||10, 15||Military deployment forbearance|
|4.25% - 12.59%9||1.13% - 11.23%9||5, 15||
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Lowest APRs reflect autopay, loyalty, and interest-only repayment discounts where available | 1Citizens Disclosures | 2,3College Ave Disclosures | 7EDvestinU Disclosures | 8INvestEd Disclosures | 9Sallie Mae Disclosures
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