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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.
If you need help filling in financial gaps, other options are also available for military members and their dependents — including veteran student loans.
If you or a member of your immediate family qualifies for veteran status, here’s everything you need to know about paying 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
- How do I get a VA student loan?
- Military and VA student loan forgiveness
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. You can use benefits from the post-9/11 GI Bill 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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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 scholarships are available for just about any kind of student.
Some scholarships 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
Scholarships are 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. ROTC scholarships are 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.
- 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.
- American Legion scholarships: The American Legion offers several scholarships to veterans and their families. In 2019, the fund awarded $130,000 in scholarships.
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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 federal student loans you should know about:
|Loan type||Who qualifies?||Interest rates||Loan limits|
|Direct Subsidized Loans||Undergrad students with financial need||5.50%||$3,500 to $5,500 per year|
|Direct Unsubsidized Loans||Undergrad, graduate, and professional students||Undergrad: 5.50%|
Graduate and professional: 7.05%
|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||8.05%||Cost of attendance minus any other financial aid received|
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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 cosigner who has good credit to qualify for 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|
|4.53%+10||6.16%+10||5, 7, 10, 12, 15, 20 |
(depending on loan type)
|Active duty military deferment|
|4.99%+1||6.37%+||5, 10, 15||SCRA benefits|
||5.59%+2,3||5, 8, 10, 15||SCRA benefits|
|6.25%+7||8.13%+7||7, 10, 15||Military deferment|
|4.6%+8||7.64%+8||5, 10, 15||Check with lender|
|5.35%+||N/A||10, 15||Military deployment forbearance|
|4.50%9 - 15.49%9||6.37%9 - 16.70%9||10 to 20||
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How do I get a VA student loan?
The VA doesn’t offer student loans, which means your options are federal and private student loans. The U.S. Department of Education offers a handful of benefits for military service members with federal loans, including:
- A 6% cap on interest rates while on active duty
- No interest charges for up to 60 months during certain periods when qualifying for special pay
- Deferment of payments while on active duty or on qualifying National Guard duty during certain periods
- Deferment of payments for 13 months following the end of active duty or until returning to school, whichever is earlier, for certain members of the National Guard and other reserve service members
The VA can also help you cover some of or all the costs of your education through the GI Bill, and many organizations offer scholarships to military service members and veterans.
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Military and VA student loan forgiveness
Military service members may qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program if they make 120 qualifying payments while working full-time in eligible public service. If you apply by Oct. 31, 2022, months spent on active duty count toward that threshold, even if you were in deferment during that time period.
Military members may also qualify for loan repayment assistance through their respective branch of the armed forces, or even through the VA:
- VA Education Debt Reduction Program: Work for the VA providing health care to veterans and receive up to $200,000 in loan repayment assistance over five years.
- Navy: Receive up to $65,000 in student loan repayment assistance over your first three years in the service.
- Army: Receive up to $65,000 when you agree to an initial service obligation of five years. You’ll receive up to 33.3% of your loan amount or $1,500 (whichever is greater) for each year of service, up to the maximum.
- National Guard: Receive up to $50,000 in assistance when you enlist or extend for a six-year term of service or longer.
- Air Force: If you’re a member of the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, you may receive up to $65,000 over a three-year period after you complete your first year of service as a JAG officer.
One thing to keep in mind is that private student loans aren’t eligible for federal loan forgiveness, and they may not be eligible for repayment assistance programs. These programs may also have some other requirements you need to meet, so review the eligibility criteria for the program you’re applying for to get all the information.
Ben Luthi contributed to the reporting for this article.