Questions To Ask Your College About Using The GI Bill

If you are planning to use your GI Bill benefits for the first time, or are returning to the GI Bill process after a long absence, there are some important questions to ask of a state-run or for-profit college before you commit. The answers may make a big difference in how you approach paying for your education.

Does Your School or Program Accept The GI Bill?

Believe it or not, this is a common issue, especially in the world of for-profit colleges and non-traditional institutions. It may seem like a silly question to ask an established university, but many veterans and currently

U.S. Air Force photo by A1C Alyssa M. Akers

serving military members aren’t necessarily interested in a traditional four-year college program. GI Bill funds are available for approved certificate, apprenticeship, and other specialized training programs not offered by four-year colleges.

Are you interested in becoming an Emergency Medical Technician? A firefighter? A commercial pilot? Many such on-the-job training programs or apprenticeships may be covered under the GI Bill. According to the VA official site, “Employers generally pay a reduced OJT/apprenticeship wage (must be at least 50% of journeyman wage). Unless the training establishment is operated by a Federal, State, or local government, periodic wage increases must be granted and by the last full month of training, the wage must be at least 85% of the wage for a fully trained employee.”

The official site adds that those training in an approved program can “use their GI Bill benefit and receive a tax-free stipend.” Be sure to ask the reps for any non-traditional or apprenticeship program if you can use the GI Bill.

What Happens If The GI Bill Payments Are Late?

Once you are accepted into an approved program, the school and the VA coordinate GI Bill payments. But sometimes there may be issues where the VA is late in delivering funds. Potential students using their GI Bill benefits should always ask directly about how late GI Bill payments might affect registration status, the ability to register for future classes, etc.

Some colleges will automatically flag a student’s account if there is a late payment of any kind, requiring some form of action from the student and/or the office of student affairs. You should discuss such potential issues with your advisor and/or the applicable student affairs representative to learn how to negotiate such student holds.

In many cases you may find the college is perfectly willing to work with you, understanding that payment is forthcoming, just as soon as the VA delivers funds. However, if VA payments are running late, it’s never safe to assume that you haven’t been automatically flagged with an “advising hold” or “financial hold” for next term’s registration or even graduation. Check your student account regularly to avoid delays or problems with your account.

What Other Veteran Education Benefits Are Available?

You may not know about programs your chosen college or institution has used in the past when qualifying veterans apply to attend. For example, the Illinois Veterans Grant (IVG) is a benefit available to qualifying veterans/currently serving members who lived in Illinois for a specified length of time prior to joining the service and list Illinois as the home of record.

The IVG can be used before the GI Bill, or when the GI Bill runs out and covers most of the student’s tuition. While there is no housing stipend, the IVG is a good example of a benefit that can be used as a way to save GI Bill benefits for later, or to supplement higher education once your GI Bill benefits are used up.


About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News


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What First Time VA Borrowers Should Know

Are you thinking of using your VA home loan benefits for the first time? Here are the basic things you need to know about the VA home loan process.

Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Teresa J. Cleveland

VA Loans Are Guaranteed By The Government

Your VA mortgage is guaranteed by the government, but offered and processed by participating lenders. Your current financial institution may be one of these participating lenders, but if not you won’t have to search long before finding one. The Department of Veterans Affairs does not offer loans, nor does it accept loan applications. Your chosen participating lender will be able to tell you how to get started with their application process.

VA Loans Are For Eligible Service Members, Veterans, and Surviving Spouses

VA home loans, unlike the GI Bill, are not a transferrable benefit. A military member becomes eligible for the VA loan benefit after serving a specific number of days-a requirement which varies depending on when you join the military. Military members who are married may apply for the VA loan benefit with their spouses regardless of whether or not the spouse has served in uniform. The children of veterans or currently serving military members are not eligible for the VA loan benefit.

Some qualifying surviving spouses of military members who have died on active duty or as a result of active service may be eligible for VA loan benefits, but these must be applied for via the Department of Veterans Affairs before you approach a lender. Surviving spouses should contact the VA directly at 1-800-827-1000 for more information on how to get started.

VA Loan Benefits Include Grants For Qualifying Disabled Veterans

This aspect of your VA loan benefits isn’t as well-publicized, but is a major help to those who qualify. According to the VA official site (www.VA.gov) the VA Specially Adapted Housing Grant program is available “to Servicemembers and Veterans with certain permanent and total service-connected disabilities to help purchase or construct an adapted home, or modify an existing home to accommodate a disability.”

To apply for this program, VA Form 26-4555 is required, which is available for download at www.eBenefits.va.gov. VA money for specially adapted housing is a bona fide grant with no expectation of repayment. Borrowers must have qualifying disabilities and use the grant money for VA-approved renovations, upgrades, or construction.

VA Loans Feature No Down Payment Options

VA home loans offer a no-money-down option. However, it is important to know that VA mortgage loans do require a credit check and employment verification. Some borrowers who have FICO scores or credit history that a lender may consider marginal could be required to make a down payment as a “compensating factor” in such cases. Potential VA borrowers should not come to the application process with fewer than 12 months of on-time payments on all financial obligations. Anything less seriously compromises your chances at loan approval.



About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News


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2018 Defense Budget

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class George M. Bell

The 2018 Defense Budget has been released by President Trump. However, what you see discussed in news headlines and blog posts is related to the President’s proposed  budget until this request has been approved and signed into law. Regardless of the fate of the current Defense Budget Request, these proposed changes are important since they reflect the fiscal goals and intent of the current administration toward military spending.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), the President has requested $639.1 billion, $574.5 billion “in the base budget” and $64.6 billion “in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget.” This defense budget request is $52 billion above the defense budget cap in the Budget and Control Act (BCA) of 2011, according to a press release by the DoD.

Pay Raises, Manning Levels

At the time of this writing, the defense budget includes the following:

  • 2.1% pay increase for military members. This is less than the 2.4% under the formula in current law
  • 1.9% pay raise for civilian employees
  • 2.9% average increase in Basic Allowance for Housing Rates with 96% coverage of housing costs
  • 3.4% increase in Basic Allowance for Subsistence
  • Sustainment of FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act increased manning levels
  • Modification of the military’s retirement system, “to allow enlisted members beyond 26 years to receive government contributions under the Thrift Savings Plan” according to
    Defense.Gov

Housing Allowances, Healthcare, Retirement

Under the section “Military Compensation Proposals-Going Forward”, there is no individual dollar-for-dollar comparison of 2017/2018 BAH, BAS, hazardous duty pay, or other compensation. However, specific mentions of TRICARE and military retirement plans included the following:

  • Streamlining of the current TRICARE system, with a proposed Military Treatment Facility “in-network” and “out-of-network” cost sharing
  • “Modestly higher” deductibles and co-pays
  • Increased pharmacy co-pays and fees for working-age retirees and families
  • “Proposed legislative changes” that would permit enlisted members serving more than 26 years to continue receiving Thrift Savings Plan matching contributions
  • Slight decrease in child care funding

A New Military Retirement System

The 2018 Defense Budget request includes a proposal for new “blended military retirement” which includes “a defined retirement pay system” that employs a 2.0% multiplier rather than 2.5%. The new retirement plan would also include a 1% government contribution to military Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) accounts, and matching government contributions to military TSP that are identical to the system used by civilian federal employees. There is also a proposed bonus paid to military members between year eight and year 12 of military service.

The new blended military retirement system would affect those who join the military after 1 January 2018, and currently serving military members who have less than 12 years of military service and choose to opt-in to the new plan.

Base Realignment And Closure

According to the 2018 Defense Budget Request Overview book published by Defense.gov, the Defense Department has approximately “20 percent more infrastructure capacity than required for its operations” and a request for a new Base Realignment and Closure round is part of the 2018 request.

At the time of this writing, that round is requested for the year 2021, but as BRAC has potentially major effects on assignments, family housing, and related issues, this is a topic to watch.

Defense Budget Approval Timeline:

May 23, 2017 – DoD Releases Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Proposal

Summer 2017 – Congressional committees submit “views and estimates” of spending and revenues.

Summer/Fall 2017 – House & Senate Armed Appropriations Committees work on the FY2017 defense bill.

Summer/Fall 2017 – House of Representatives and Senate pass their versions of the defense bill and negotiat differences.

November/December 2016 – The House of Representatives and Senate pass the final version of the defense bill.

December 2017 – President Trump signs the defense bill into law.

Compare to the 2017 Defense Budget that went into effect on January 1, 2017. For more detailed information on the 2018 Defense Budget proposal, visit the Defense Budget Overview document.

If the budget is enacted the changes would go into effect on January 1, 2018.

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Companies who support the SCRA

Active duty servicemembers can benefit greatly by applying for Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protections and provisions with the following financial companies. Possible benefits include reduction of interest rates, protection from repossession and foreclosure, no late fees, and no annual credit card fees.

Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class LaTunya Howard
Credit: Petty Officer 2nd Class LaTunya Howard

American Express

American Express has demonstrated their support of the U.S. military by offering to waive all their annual credit card membership fees for active duty servicemembers. American Express will also apply the standard SCRA provisions.

American Express – SCRA Eligibility

To qualify for SCRA benefits with American Express, you must meet one of the following criteria:

  • A member of the U.S. Armed Forces (any military branch) serving on active duty.
  • A member of a reserve component called to active duty.
  • National Guard member under a call or order to active duty for more than 30 consecutive days.
  • Commissioned Officer for the Public Health Service or NOAA.
  • U.S. citizen serving with the forces of a nation with which U.S. is allied in war or military action.
  • Spouse of active duty, where credit is extended to a Service member and spouse jointly.

American Express – SCRA Benefits

Active duty military personnel can request SCRA benefits and have the annual membership fee waived on their American Express credit card accounts. This valuable offer includes The Platinum Card, which has a $450 annual fee. Please be aware that the active duty military service member must be a cardholder in order for the account to qualify for SCRA benefits with American Express.

Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, the following account fees will also be waived by American Express, for the duration of the military members’ active duty service:

  • Overlimit fees
  • Late payment fees
  • Returned payment fees
  • Statement copy request fees

View more info and apply for SCRA benefits with American Express


Bank of America 

Bank of America has promised to help protect their active duty military customers by offering SCRA benefits and protections on lines of credit, credit cards, installment loans, mortgage and home equity secured loans, and student loans. Servicemembers Civil Relief Act benefits extend to both consumer and business loan accounts with Bank of America.

Bank of America also extends certain benefits to the spouse or dependent of a covered active duty servicemember, even if the servicemember is not specifically named on the account.

Bank of America  – SCRA Eligibility

To qualify for SCRA benefits with Bank of America, the military member must self identify as:

  • Active duty Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard.
  • Reservist serving on active duty.
  • National Guard serving on active duty for more than 30 consecutive days under federal orders issued by the President or Secretary of Defense.
  • Commissioned officer of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
  • Commissioned officer of the Public Health Service.

Bank of America – SCRA Benefits

  • Reduction or limits on interest rates to 6% in effect for your entire active duty service. Eligible accounts include credit cards, installment contracts, mortgages, and student loans. If your interest rate is higher than 6% your payments will be reduced to reflect the lower interest rate.
  • Protection from repossession and foreclosure.

Bank of America encourages active duty to know their rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. For more information, check out the Bank of America SCRA overview.


Discover

Discover has made the commitment to support active duty servicemembers by offering 6% or less annual percentage rate (APR) on Discover card purchases and cash advances, and no late fees. These SCRA benefits are even applied retroactively to the service member’s active duty start date.

Discover  – SCRA Eligibility

To qualify for SCRA benefits with Discover, the servicemember must have been or currently be on active duty status in one of these U.S. military branches:

  • Army
  • Navy
  • Air Force
  • Marine Corps
  • Coast Guard
  • Reservist or member of the National Guard (on active duty)
  • Commissioned Officer of the Public Health Service or the NOAA

Active duty servicemembers and their spouses/domestic partners are eligible for SCRA benefits on joint accounts. Discover extends this benefit to separate accounts on which the servicemember is not obligated.

Discover – SCRA Benefits

  • 6% or less APR on all Discover card purchases and cash advances.
  • Coverage may extend to personal loans, home equity, home loans, and student loans.
  • No late fees.

You can also apply for retroactive SCRA coverage with Discover, for up to 180 days after the end of your active duty service.

Activate your SCRA benefits with Discover


Capital One

Capital One is committed to both the letter and spirit of the SCRA, including provision of benefits and protections above and beyond what is required under the SCRA in certain situations.

Capital One – SCRA Eligibility

Capital One offers SCRA benefits to those serving on active duty with one of the following branches:

  • Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard reserves
  • Army or Air National Guard
  • U.S. citizens who are members of an allied nation’s military service
  • Commissioned officers of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Commissioned officers of the Public Health Service
  • Spouses and dependents of active duty Servicemembers listed above

Capital One – SCRA Benefits

  • Maximum interest rate of just 4% on accounts owned and serviced by Capital One.
  • No fees assessed on accounts, except bona-fide insurance.

Learn more about Capital One SCRA benefits


Chase

Chase is dedicated to offering servicemembers convenience, savings, service and security. Active duty servicemembers can apply for SCRA benefits and receive interest rates 2% lower than what the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act even requires.

Chase – SCRA Eligibility

To qualify for SCRA benefits with Chase, the applicable military member must currently be on active duty in one of the following:

  • Army
  • Navy
  • Air Force
  • Marine Corps
  • Coast Guard
  • Reservist or member of the National Guard
  • Commissioned Officer of the Public Health Service or the National Oceanic
    and Atmosphere Foundation

Chase – SCRA Benefits

  • Interest rates 2% lower than SCRA requires— You could lower your interest rate to 4%!
  • Foreclosure protection: Chase will not foreclose on your home if you’re deployed on active duty or SCRA-protected–even if you’re behind on your mortgage payments. This protection applies regardless of when your mortgage began. And Chase will honor this protection for one year following active duty or until your SCRA-protected status ends.

Chase has a dedicated Military Services Team available to assist you with SCRA benefits.

Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Benefits

SCRA Eligibility

USAF Photo by Airman 1st Class Javier Alvarez

Active duty U.S. military members are eligible to receive money saving financial relief and protections under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Military personnel become eligible for SCRA benefits starting on the date when their active duty orders are received, and SCRA coverage usually terminates within 30 to 90 days after their date of discharge from active duty. SCRA only applies to Reservists and members of the National Guard when they’re serving on active duty orders. Financial relief under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is available to active duty members of all the Uniformed Services branches.

The SCRA, formerly known as the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act, is a federal law enacted in 2003, that restricts or limits actions against military personnel currently serving on active duty. The Act was designed to allow active duty service members, and especially those who are deployed, to “devote their entire energy to the defense needs of the Nation.”

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act includes protections and provisions which cover:

  • Credit card interest rates
  • Cellular service provider contracts
  • Rental agreements
  • Security deposits
  • Evictions
  • Installment contracts
  • Mortgages
  • Civil judicial proceedings
  • Income tax payments

SCRA relief and protections can also apply to the spouses and children of the qualified servicemember, as well as any individual who relied on the servicemember for at least 50 percent of their support, for 180 days prior to using the Act. If you’re unsure of whether SCRA applies to you, eligibility can also be determined through your base Legal Assistance Office.

SCRA Credit Card and Loan Benefits

In accordance with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, most major banks and credit card issuing companies will offer a refund on interest and annual fees for certain financial obligations that were incurred prior to one’s active duty military service. Banks will also lower the interest rates on loans that existed before the servicemember joined the military.

For example, if you bought a car before serving on active duty, and your current interest rate is 18 percent, you can invoke your SCRA benefits and have your rate lowered to 6 percent. Please note that in this same example, military personnel who purchase a car while serving on active duty, cannot apply SCRA to lower the interest rate on their loan.

Chase supports the military by offering active duty personnel interest rates that are 2% lower than what SCRA actually requires, meaning that you could lower your interest rate to 4% while on active duty, and for a year afterward. Credit card companies will also waive annual credit card fees, offering considerable savings. American Express Platinum cardholders could save $450 annually under SCRA.

Receive SCRA Benefits

In order to receive benefits under the SCRA, you must affirmatively invoke or request relief. Your active duty military status must be verified before you will receive benefits. This process varies depending on the company. We’ve also prepared a list of companies offering SCRA benefits, so that you can easily apply Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protections and provisions to your eligible accounts and loans.

For more information on your Servicemembers Civil Relief Act benefits, please contact your base Legal Assistance Office, or visit the official website on Servicemembers Civil Relief Act