At the heart of the GI Bill sits a simple premise: People who serve in the military deserve more than just a paycheck for their sacrifice. Indeed, at the conclusion of service, a whole package of benefits becomes available. The list is long: unemployment protection and low-interest mortgage deals. Small-business loans, hiring privileges, and job training programs. Medical insurance and careers advice. It goes on and on. And, of course, a college education. Most people who go to college will need a place to live nearby. And that's what the GI Bill Housing Allowance is: a monthly stipend to pay for your housing during your education.

Do you qualify for a housing stipend under the GI Bill? And if so, how much will it be? Most importantly, how do you get it?

The GI Bill Housing Allowance Explained

The GI Bill Housing Allowance can help you pay for housing during your education. You must be studying full-time, and online study counts. This stipend is available to veterans, their spouses, and their dependents. Active duty personnel must wait until they complete their tour of duty to take advantage of this benefit, as must their dependents.

The amount of the stipend is equal to the Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) of an E-5 with dependents. It also depends on your location. But, most people receive somewhere between $1,200 and $1,500.

Do You Qualify?

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If you have at least 90 days of aggregate active duty service after Sept. 10, 2001, then yes, you qualify. Several other groups are also eligible:

  • Honorably discharged veterans
  • Veterans discharged with a service-connected disability
  • Purple heart recipients
  • Current active duty personnel.

Any member of the military awarded a Purple Heart -- irrespective of the length of service -- is eligible for full GI Bill benefits including the GI Bill Housing Allowance.

Of course, in the case of active duty service personnel, the funds won't be available until the conclusion of the tour of duty.

The Forever GI Bill

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The Forever GI Bill became law in 2017, and many of its benefits came into effect immediately. However, some benefits are still being phased in. The idea behind this law is that veterans should be able to pursue educational opportunities for life.

For those veterans looking to take advantage of GI Bill Housing Allowance, the removal of time limitations is of most interest. Previously, veterans had to make use of Post-9/11 GI Bill program benefits within 15 years of discharge. Today, this restriction is being phased out. Individuals released from active duty on or after January 1, 2013 gain access to the benefits for the rest of their life. The new rules do not affect the amount on offer; they merely allow you to access benefits months or years after you finished service.

How Much Can You Get?

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As we said before, the rate paid is equal to the (BAH) of an E-5 with dependents. As you might expect from government payment schedules, that figure tends to fluctuate. The amount of money you receive depends on many factors relating to your circumstances, including where you're studying and other factors such as your military status. If it helps, think of it as a ‘who-what-where’ type of question. The dollar amount also changes -- usually in an upward direction -- at the beginning of each academic year.

Military status

To find out how much you can get, you to have to define your situation. Fortunately, this is pretty easy to do. There are five categories of military personnel able to make use of the GI Bill Housing Allowance.

  • Veteran
  • Active Duty
  • National Guard/ Reserves
  • Spouse and dependents

Different categories make use of different benefit programs.

In some cases though, belonging to a specific category limits entitlement to certain benefits. Post 9/11 GI Bill recipients serving on active duty, for example, are ineligible for a monthly living allowance. They have to finish their tour first. Once you know your status, the next part is figuring out which Bill applies.

Types of benefits

As with military status, the types of benefits break down into five separate categories and are reasonably straightforward. In most cases, it is a question of when you served.

If you served after September 10, 2001, then the Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) is most relevant to you.

Before this date, you probably fall under the umbrella of earlier legislation. Known as either the Montgomery Bill or Chapter 30, it provides education benefits to veterans and servicemembers who have at least two years of active duty service under their belt. Reservists need six years of service to qualify.

You can compare and contrast these benefits below:

Special cases

Your situation may put you into one or more of the following special categories.

REAP

The Reserve Educational Assistance Program, or REAP, was discontinued in 2016. As a result, some REAP benefits recipients are no longer eligible. Others, however, will remain eligible until 2019. Currently, the VA is working to contact those who have lost their eligibility and help them to find other benefit programs

Survivor and Dependents Educational Assistance Program

The Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program offers education and training assistance to two groups. Firstly to eligible dependents of Veterans who are permanently and disabled due to a service-related condition. Secondly, they provide funding for the dependents of Veterans who died while on active duty or as a result of a service-related condition.

Making choices

Choosing the right benefits is crucial. For most participants -- assuming you are eligible – the Post-9/11 GI Bill is almost certainly best. Following the links above should give you a better idea of which GI Bill relates to your specific circumstances.

Critically, in cases where you find yourself eligible for more than one education benefit, you must choose which to receive. You cannot change this choice at a later date.

Time served

The amount of time you spent in the military has a noticeable effect on payments. Again, the metrics change depending on the specifics of your claim. Those opting for GI Housing Bill Allowance via the Post-9/11 GI Bill have to contend with a sliding scale.

For example, 90 days of cumulative service (excluding Basic), entitles you to 40 percent of the total benefits package. So if the BAH for a given zip code is $1,383, then you would get $553.20.

At six months, the benefit rises to 50 percent; at 12 months it rises to 60 percent; and so on. Upon reaching 36 months of service (including Basic), you receive 100 percent of the available benefits. Additional criteria such as service-connected discharge also kick in at 100 percent.

For recipients of the Montgomery GI Bill, there is no sliding scale. Fixed amounts are on offer for those who served two years. If you served for more than three years, you get more.

Location, location

Where you study matters. The zip code of your chosen institution dictates the amount of GI Housing Bill Allowance available. A veteran studying at the Ace Institute of Technology-Manhattan, for example, can get up to $3,738 per month paid toward living expenses.

The Housing Allowance for the Great Falls College Montanna State University, on the other hand, offers a housing stipend of no more than $1,008 per month. Note, however, that these figures come via the post 9/11 GI Bill calculation.

Regardless, the amounts take into account the local cost of living, so it usually evens out.

Add-ons and Complications

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It’s probably clear by now that there is no one-size-fits-all way of securing your GI Bill Housing Allowance. Here are some additional factors that may affect your benefit.

Overseas study

If you wish to study overseas, the foreign school MAH sits at $1,650.00, for Post-9/11 GI Bill recipients. Note, however, that for benefit calculation United States territories are not counted as overseas.

As with study inside the US, some places are more expensive than others. Unlike study at home, the stipend doesn’t take into account the cost of living. It's probably best to do some research before committing to a course of study in a far-flung corner of the globe. Don't assume everywhere is cheaper than the US, since that is often far from the case.

Remote and part-time learning

There are differing rates for remote and part-time study. An advance of $825 for courses that take place entirely online is pretty much set in stone as far as Post-9/11 GI Bill recipients are concerned. Usually, however, attending just one "brick and mortar" class per semester or term removes this cap.

For further details of how remote study affects your BAH, check here.

Unfortunately, attending part-time -- defined as one-half time or less -- disqualifies you for the GI Bill Housing Allowance.

Rural benefit

If you are relocating more than 500 miles away from an area designated as "highly rural," you could receive a one-time payment of $500. The U.S Department of Veteran Affairs defines "highly rural" as a county with six persons or less per square mile as determined by the most recent census.

The GI Bill Housing Allowance Comparison Tool

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If all this feels a little overwhelming, don't worry. Confusion in the face of government benefit programs is common. The GI Bill Comparison tool, hosted by the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs, is a big help.

Users can select their status and length of service and apply it to the relevant GI Bill. Adding a location brings up a list of institutions. Helpfully, the site also clarifies the amount of GI Bill Housing Allowance available for any given school. They also highlight some of the other benefits available such as annual book allowances.

Taxes

None of the Post 9/11 Benefits are taxable. Any money you receive as part of your GI Bill Housing Allowance is no concern of the IRS. Since none of this money counts as income, you can leave it off your tax returns. The IRS explains in detail at its website.

At any rate, you’ll be able to see at a glance everything the VA paid for via your 1098-T form. Your educational institution files this form on your behalf and should provide you with a copy.

Can I Transfer My GI Bill Housing Allowance?

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The short answer is maybe.

You can transfer benefits to a spouse or dependent as long as you meet specific criteria. The Montgomery GI Bill, for example, has no transfer-to-dependents option attached to it whatsoever. The Post 9/11 GI Bill does.

Entitled personnel includes active duty, selected reserve, officers, and enlisted grades. Ineligible candidates such as retirees need to look elsewhere for VA assistance. At any rate, as long as you were a member of any of the armed services on or after August 1, 2009, you should be good to go.

There are catches though. And the full list of caveats is long.

Most of the exceptions have to do with time served. In some cases, transference of benefits involves some additional service time. In other instances, time already served suffices. Generally speaking, the longer you served, the easier it's going to be to transfer your GI Bill Housing Allowance and other benefits.

As to who you can transfer them to, that at least is pretty straight forward. You can transfer benefits to one or more children, your spouse, or a combination of spouse and child. Full details are available online here.

Getting Through the Process Unscathed

Navigating the GI Bill Housing Allowance is a headache. Government departments try to make sense of legislation. At least they seem to. But the fact remains that halfway through any given claim, stumbling points and roadblocks are the order of the day.

But don't worry. Figuring out your specific GI Bill eligibility is your priority. Once settled, the more delicate details of zip codes and payment plans fall into place by themselves. The "who what where" formula is a good place to start. The Veteran's Administration is available to guide you through some of the knottier problems.

Government generosity has limits, of course, but with a little forethought, a post-service education is yours for the taking. Timing is often critical. It’s a good idea to plan your length of service whenever possible. Doing so does make a huge difference. Serving long enough to receive 100 percent of a GI Bill Housing Allowance might be daunting to some. But ultimately, every little bit helps. And you've earned it.

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