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What is the Montgomery GI Bill "Top-Up" Benefit - And Do You Qualify?

Dec 31, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

The Military Tuition Assistance (TA) program, GI Bill, and other programs are designed to pay for 100% of military members’ tuition costs and education expenses to help them attend school. However, that benefit has a limit--$250 per credit hour and $4,500 per year for the TA program, for example, although that amount can vary depending on the branch of the military you serve in. Many schools have higher tuition bills than the military tuition reimbursement programs will cover.

That’s where the Top-Up benefit comes in. It’s there to help you make up the difference between what your TA program benefits will pay and the amount of tuition you owe. Here are the facts about the GI Bill Top-Up program.

You must qualify

In order to receive these benefits, you must be approved by a military department as eligible for the Tuition Assistance program.  To qualify, you must be eligible for Montgomery GI Bill AD benefits—meaning you must already qualify for the GI bill, be on active duty, and have served for a minimum of two years. See the GIBill.Va.Gov site for more information on how to qualify for the GI Bill*.

See Also: Online Military Degree Programs

You can’t get more than the total cost of the course

It is not permitted for the amount of tuition assistance paid by the Veterans Administration and the US Military equal more than the total cost for the class. If you’re receiving benefits from other agencies, those benefits cannot overlap and be worth more than your tuition and fees for school.

See Also: College For Military Personnel

You can’t get more than you would have gotten under the GI Bill

The amount of the Top-Up benefit is limited to the amount you would have received under the regular Montgomery GI Bill benefits. If you’re receiving both GI Bill benefits and money from the Top-Up program, your regular GI Bill benefits will be reduced by the amount you receive under the Top-Up.

Top-Up benefits are only for those on active duty

One of the big differences between the GI Bill and the Top-Up benefit is that the GI Bill can be used by either veterans or those on active duty—while the Top-Up is only for those on active duty. So if you qualify for both, it can be a better deal to use your Top-Up benefits while you’re still on active duty and save your GI Bill benefits for after your tour of duty ends. The Top-Up dollars will replace the amount you would have been paid under the GI Bill, making it possible to use that GI Bill money once you’re finished with your service.

Top-Up benefits can be applied retroactively

You can get reimbursement under the Top-Up program for classes that you have already taken. However, there are some limits. You must be eligible for the Montgomery GI Bill, and the payments will only be applicable to classes that were taken a minimum of one year from when your claim was received by the Veterans Affairs office.

It’s difficult to say whether it’s better for you to take the strategy of using the Top-Up in replacement for Montgomery GI Bill benefits. Not everyone qualifies for both, and the situation can vary depending on your years of experience in the military, the branch of the military you’re in, the cost of your tuition, and other factors. Talk to a counselor or another expert within the military about which military benefits you’re qualified for—and which combination of benefits would be best for your particular situation. If you do, you should be able to identify the best combination of benefits for you.



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