Should I Finish Using My Montgomery GI Bill First and Then Switch to the Post 9/11 GI Bill?

Q: I have used 24 months of my Montgomery GI Bill (Selected Reserve). I was mobilized and deployed for OIF in 2003, returned to the Reserves after this, then again recalled to active duty in 2007, and have now served over three years of continuous active duty. I am interested in pursuing doctoral studies in the future. I was told by a VA representative that I should first exhaust my MGIB benefits, then I would be eligible for additional benefits under the new Post 9-11 GI Bill. Is this correct, and if so what are my options? Also, will the new GI Bill Fix legislation currently being considered have an impact on my situation. Thank you!

A: First, the Post 9/11 GI Bill Fix could impact on you because they are playing with tuition costs by trying to come up with an average cost for public and private schools. Nobody really knows how that will all shake out yet, so yes, that could be a factor.

 What your VA representative told you is correct as far as you having to first exhaust your Montgomery GI Bill - Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) before you can get the additional Post 9/11 GI Bill entitlement. The part I question is whether you should do that.

Let’s look at each of your GI Bills separately. As you know , the MGIB-SR only pays around $333 per month and you have to pay all your own tuition, fees and other education-related expenses. With 12 months left, you would get paid around $4,000, but a doctoral program will cost you far more than that amount.

If you switched to the Post 9/11 GI Bill now, you would get 12 months of the VA paying your school directly for your tuition and eligible fees (up to the most expensive undergraduate public school program in the state where you will attend school). It varies by state, but the average is $408.09 per credit. Where you are going to school may increase or decrease that amount.

You would also get a monthly housing allowance, as long as your rate of pursuit is greater than half-time. It is tied to the zip code of your school, but that average is about $1,000 per month. Again, your amount may be higher or lower.  And don’t forget to add in the book stipend of $1,000 per year paid at $41.67 per credit hour.

So if we use a course load of 7 credits per semester (assuming your school uses 12 credits as full time) it adds up to:

  • 7 credits X $409/credit = $2,863;
  • 4 months X $1,000 per month housing allowance = $4,000;
  • $41.67/credit X 7 credits = $291.69
  • Total = $7,154.69 per semester.

With the Post 9/11 GI Bill, you also might be able to use the Yellow Ribbon Program, if your school has an agreement with the VA and they include doctoral studies. Under that program, your school can pay up to half of the difference not paid by the GI Bill and the VA pays an equal amount.

Even though you would lose the last 12 months of your MGIB-SR, I think your doctoral would end up costing you far less out of your pocket if you switched now. Work your actual numbers to be sure.

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