Many military servicemembers were surprised when branches started suspending tuition assistance programs this week. As you may know, I wasn’t very surprised because I thought this cut was coming years ago. Regardless, there are lots of people who would like to continue pursuing their education but aren’t sure how to pay for it without tuition assistance.
Post 9/11 GI Bill
Active duty servicemembers may use their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits while they are still serving. This may not be the best option, as you lose the housing allowance portion of the benefit. However, it is certainly still a good way to pay for classes without taking money out of your pocket.
The federal government offers grants to students who are below a certain income level. The most common is the Pell Grant. Pell Grant facts:
- you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
- awarded for undergraduate education and some post-graduate teacher certification programs.
- maximum award for 2012-2013 school year is $5,500
- actual award amount depends on financial need, cost of attendance, full- or part-time status, and number of months of assistance
- grants do not have to be repaid
- maximum of 12 full-time semesters of aid
- most grants go to families with incomes of less than $30,000, but eligibility extends up to total family income of $60,000
Nearly every college, university or training school offers financial assistance to eligible students. Most schools utilize the FAFSA as the first step in applying for their programs. The amount or type of assistance offered by the school varies. The school may offer grants that do not have to be repaid, scholarships that do not have to be repaid, fellowships that require some sort of service or educational commitment, or school loans. The best place to learn about these options is through the school’s financial aid office.
Take Advantage of Tax Credits for Education
US taxpayers are eligible for generous tax credits if they have paid educational expenses during the tax year. The rules tend to change from year to year, and even within the year if Congress is feeling crazy. (Like recently.)
I want to put a nice, clear list of the tax deductions and credits here. However, I feel like I would be putting myself in a bad place because it could well very be wrong next week, or next month. This is a case where I encourage you to do an internet search for the exact correct information at the time that you take your classes, and also again when you complete your income tax return. It is almost more of a “bonus” when you get this income tax credit because I don’t feel like we can accurately predict how much might be returned each year.
There are literally millions of dollars in college scholarships available every year. I try to highlight the ones that apply to military families here at The Paycheck Chronicles. Scholarship search engines such as FastWeb can help you search, and the staff at your base education office may be a good resource for potential sources of funding. Check with your installation’s spouses’ clubs. Some allow active duty to apply. Mostly you just have to take time and energy to be regularly searching and applying.
Don’t let the suspension of Tuition Assistance programs make you postpone your education. A solid bachelors degree in a marketable field will pay for itself several times over, and there are many ways to pay for those classes. Keep studying!