One of the best things about the new GI Bill, which took effect August 1, 2009, is that if you are a service member, you may transfer your benefits -- the full cost of in-state tuition and fees at a state school for up to 36 months, plus a stipend for housing and books -- to your spouse and children.
If they attend a more-expensive private college or grad school or pay out-of-state tuition, they may receive additional financial assistance from the Yellow Ribbon program; more than 1,200 U.S. colleges participate and agree to cover some extra costs beyond the GI Bill limits.
Who’s eligible. You can generally sign up for the benefits transfer if you’re on active duty or selected reserve, have served at least six years in the armed forces and agree to serve four more years (the extra service requirement is shorter if you’re eligible for military retirement between August 1, 2009, and August 1, 2013). Spouses may use the transferred benefits right away; children must wait until you’ve served at least ten years. Service members and veterans (and spouses) must use the benefits within 15 years after leaving the military. Children have more than 15 years, but must use the benefits by age 26.
If you’d like to transfer your benefits to your children, apply for the transfer as soon as you’re eligible, even if your kids won’t be attending college for a long time. The clock starts ticking on the extra four years of service on the date the transfer is approved, so even if you’ve already served 15 years, you may still need to serve an additional four years after you elect to transfer your benefits, says Department of Defense spokeswoman Eileen Lainez. Each service branch has its own procedure for enforcing the extra service commitment.
You can’t add new beneficiaries after you leave the military, so you may want to sign up your spouse and all eligible kids for at least one month of benefits as a place holder, then change the allocation or remove beneficiaries up until the time the benefits are used, says Lainez. For more information, see www.gibill.va.gov.