Student loans for veterans: 4 ways to fund your college education

Veterans and active-duty service members have many options for higher education costs. Here are four ways to cover your college tuition.

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If you’re a veteran or active-duty service member and you need student loans for college, here are 4 ways you can pay for your higher education. (Shutterstock)

If you’re a veteran trying to figure out how to pay for college, the military will cover many of your higher education costs in exchange for your service. The exact amount the government will pay depends on when and for how long you served.

If the military doesn’t cover the full cost of your tuition, you have other options to fill the gaps in funding. Here are four ways that veterans and their dependents can pay for college.

Private student loans are one option to help pay for college. Credible lets you compare private student loan rates from multiple lenders, all in one place.

1. Apply for Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) education benefits

The Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) provides educational resources and housing to individuals who served at least 90 days on or after Sept. 11, 2001. You’re also eligible for this benefit if you were discharged for a service-related disability after 30 days. 

If you qualify for maximum benefits, the government will cover the full cost of the tuition and fees to attend a public, in-state university. If you attend school more than half-time, you’ll receive money for housing and up to $1,000 for books and supplies per school year. 

In addition, you may be able to receive money to help you move from a rural area to attend school. If you live in a county with six or fewer people per square mile and are moving at least 500 miles to attend school, you may qualify for a one-time $500 payment to cover your moving costs. 

You’ll need the following documents to apply:

  • Social Security number
  • Bank account information for direct deposit
  • Your education and history with the military
  • Information about the school you plan to attend

You can apply by mail or in person at a VA regional office near you. 

GI Bill for dependents

Some veterans may be eligible to transfer their unused benefits to a spouse or dependent children. To qualify, all the following statements must be true:

  • You’ve completed at least six years of service.
  • You agree to an additional four years of service.
  • The individual receiving the benefits is enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System.

If the Department of Defense approves the Transfer of Entitlement, your spouse or dependent child could receive money to cover their tuition, housing, and supplies.

If you need to take out private student loans, visit Credible to compare private student loan rates from various lenders in minutes.

2. Complete the FAFSA and apply for scholarships

If the Post-9/11 GI Bill doesn’t fully cover your tuition, the next step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if you qualify for any federal grants. These are typically awarded to undergraduate students, and this money doesn’t need to be repaid.

Schools use the information on your FAFSA to determine whether you’re eligible to receive federal grants. And a number of grants are available that are specifically geared toward military members and their dependents.

For example, children of veterans who died in service in either Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11 may be eligible for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. This grant is equal to the amount of a maximum Pell Grant, but it can’t exceed your total cost of attendance for the school year.

3. Take out federal loans 

Once you’ve submitted the FAFSA, you’ll learn whether you’re eligible for any federal student loans. Federal loans come from the U.S. Department of Education and have lower rates and more borrower protections than private student loans.

You need to know about two main types of Federal Direct Student Loans — subsidized and unsubsidized. Subsidized student loans are available to undergraduate students who can demonstrate financial need. The government pays the interest on these loans as long as you’re enrolled in school at least part-time, for the first six months after you leave school, and when your loan is in deferment.

In comparison, unsubsidized student loans are available to all undergraduate students regardless of whether they can demonstrate financial need. But you’re responsible for paying the interest while you’re still in school.

Here’s a closer look at the difference between each type of federal student loan:

4. Consider private student loans to fill the gap

If you still have gaps in your educational funding, you may want to apply for private student loans. Private loans are available through banks, credit unions, and online lenders. They’re a good option for borrowers who need funding beyond what the federal loan limits allow. 

If you apply for private student loans, it’s important to compare your options among several different lenders. This will allow you to qualify for the most favorable rates and terms on your loan.

When you’re comparing lenders, you’ll want to consider the interest rates you’re being offered. But you should also consider your repayment plan, whether there’s a cosigner release option, the amount of fees your lender charges, and any deferment or student loan forgiveness options. 

With Credible, you can compare private student loan rates without affecting your credit.