Have family in the military? Don’t miss this student aid option


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Military members, veterans, and their families have some special options when it comes to funding higher education, and given the cost of attending college, they’re well worth checking into.

In this article, we’ll walk you through some of the best student loans for military dependents: children, spouses and sometimes other relatives of an active-duty service member.

Related: Should parents co-sign on student loans?

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What Are Student Loans?

First things first: what are student loans, and how do student loans work?

Student loans are a type of financial product wherein a bank or other lender gives a student up-front money with which to pay for college and other educational expenses. Student loans can be used to cover expenses including textbooks and housing. Student loans are available through the government as well as through private lenders and can be taken out by parents as well as students themselves.

Student loans, like all forms of debt, come at a cost: interest accrues usually start at the time the first loan check is disbursed, although in the case of Direct Subsidized loans, the U.S. government covers the interest so long as the student is enrolled at least half-time as well as for the first six months after the student stops attending.

Although student loan interest rates tend to be lower than, say, credit card interest rates, the money can still rack up over time — which is part of the reason Americans are saddled with a whopping $1.75 trillion in student loan debt, per the Federal Reserve.

Recommended: Using Student Loans for Living Expenses and Housing

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Who Is a Military Dependent?

Military dependents are relatives of an active-duty service member, or sometimes a veteran, who can qualify for benefits based on their family member’s service.

Some family members, such as military spouses and children under the age of 21, automatically qualify as dependents, whereas other family members, such as parents and adult children, may need to meet additional criteria in order to qualify. Along with financial aid, which we’ll discuss in this article, military dependents may also qualify for death benefits, low-cost housing, and other discounts due to their status.

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Financial Aid Service Organizations for Military Dependents

Here are some of the financial aid options open to military members and their dependents.

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1. Government-Sponsored Financial Aid

For most students, including military dependents, the government is the first place to turn for financial aid: along with the opportunity to take out Subsidized Direct Loans, you may be eligible for grants and scholarships thanks to you or your family member’s service. To apply for federal aid, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) annually.

For instance, if you’re under 24 and your parent or guardian died in service in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11, you may qualify for a Federal Pell Grant or Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant, both of which are types of financial aid that do not need to be repaid.

If you already have federal student loans, you may also be eligible for military student loan forgiveness, depending on the type of loans you have and what you or your family member’s service history looks like.

Additionally, the Army and Navy Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or ROTC, offers no-cost scholarships at over 1,000 colleges across the United States. See the official Federal Student Aid website for full details.

Recommended: I Didn’t Get Enough Financial Aid: Now What?

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2. American Legion

The American Legion offers college funding to the children of veterans who died or became disabled as part of post-9/11 service through their Legacy Scholarship program. The scholarship awards up to $20,000 and can be renewed up to six times.

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AMVETS has teamed up with Lowes to offer scholarships of up to $5,000 to veterans and military spouses who are interested in pursuing skilled trades, such as carpentry, electrical engineering, and plumbing. The program is called the Generation T Scholarship and is unfortunately not offered to the children of veterans, though spouses of deceased veterans are still eligible.

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4. Paralyzed Veterans of America

Paralyzed Veterans of America  offers scholarships of up to $2,500 for full-time students and $1,000 for part-time students to its members, their spouses, and their children under 24 years of age. Awardees may apply a second time, but are only eligible to receive the scholarship twice in a lifetime.

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5. Veterans of Foreign Wars

The organization Veterans of Foreign Wars also offers student veteran support in a variety of ways, including its Sport Clips Help A Hero Scholarship, which awards qualified applicants up to $5,000 per semester (per family), as well as the Student Veteran Support Grant, which is designed to be used for events and outreach efforts that assist veterans who are currently enrolled in college. The grant can be used for up to $500 per event up to twice per fiscal year for a total of $1,000.

Recommended: Types of Federal Student Loans

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Private Student Loans for Military Dependents

Finally, military dependents may also choose to look into private student loans to fund their education.

Private student loans are, as their name suggests, not backed by the government and are instead offered by private banks, credit unions, and lenders. They do come with certain benefits — for example, they generally don’t carry the same lifetime maximums as publicly funded student loans do, and you may also have more flexibility when it comes to your loan term and repayment schedule.

However, private student loans sometimes carry higher interest rates than federal loans do, and your credit report will be pulled in order to qualify you for them — which isn’t the case for loans from the government. Because private loans lack the borrower protections afforded to federal student loans, they are most often considered as a last resort option.

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Do military dependents get free college?

Not automatically, but there are programs specifically designed to help military members and their dependents pay for college.

Does the military pay spouses’ student loans?

Not directly, but military spouses may be eligible for federal student loan forgiveness if their loans are from the federal government.

Can military dependents get FAFSA?

Yes, military dependents can qualify for federal financial student aid using the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA is a good first place to turn when looking for financial aid because it can match you with low-cost, need-based options like Direct Subsidized Loans.

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The Takeaway

As a military dependent, you have a lot of options to consider when it comes to applying for student loans. For some, private student loans offer an attractive combination of accessibility and flexibility. (Do keep in mind, though, that private student loans come at a cost, and tend not to be eligible for student loan forgiveness programs.)

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