Managing Your Student Loans, Part 2: Discussing the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) GI Bill® Comparison Tool and CFPB’s Your Financial Path to Graduation Tool
During the second episode in this series, we met with Charmain Bogue, Executive Director of Education Service for the Veterans Benefits Administration, to discuss tools to help veterans, servicemembers, and their qualified family members with making decisions about financing their education and selecting an educational institution to attend.
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Resources related to this episode
- Use the to learn about education program and benefits by school.
- Check out our Financial Path to Graduation Tool to help you create a plan to pay for college.
- Visit the for more information on education benefits for military families and veterans.
Executive Director of Education Service, Veterans Benefits Administration
Policy Analyst, Students and Young Consumers, CFPB
[Beginning of recorded session.]
Brian Stone: Welcome to the Financial Intuition Podcast where you can find your financial intuition one money topic at a time. The goal of the podcast is to educate, inform, and engage our audience with tools and resources created to help them make more informed financial decisions. These tools and resources can be found on our website at consumerfinance.gov. You can also click the link in the show notes for additional information. This is the second episode of a three-episode Managing Your Student Loan series which will focus on managing student loans and money while in college, discussing the Veterans Benefits Administration GI Bill Comparison Tool, and the CFPB's Your Financial Path to Graduation Tool also known as Grad Path, and postgraduate degree repayment options.
Before we get started, I'll read our Consumer Financial Protection Bureau standard disclaimer. This podcast is being produced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It is intended to generate discussion about the Veterans Benefits Administration GI Bill Comparison Tool and the CFPB's Your Financial Path to Graduation Tool. The questions asked and topics discussed were developed in coordination with the presenter and may not represent the Bureau's policy on any particular matter. Any opinions or views stated by the presenter are the presenter's own and may not represent the Bureau's views. Nothing said in this podcast by a Bureau representative constitutes legal interpretation, guidance, or advice from the Bureau.
Hello, everyone. I'm Brian Stone, a policy analyst in the section for Students and Young Consumers. Our section creates tools and resources for those working to help students, young adults, and their families manage their money, build credit, save or pay for college, and repay student debt.
We're excited to gain insight from Charmain Bogue, the executive director of Education Services from the Veterans Benefits Administration, on the VBA's GI Bill Comparison Tool and resources for veterans and qualified family members. So, without further ado, let's jump right in. Welcome, Charmain.
Charmain Bogue: Thank you for having me, Brian.
Brian Stone: Thanks for joining. Can you tell our audience a little bit about your background and the Veterans Benefits Administration?
Charmain Bogue: Absolutely, Brian. I work at the Department of Veterans Affairs in the education space, and actually, in the program that I have oversight of, it is for all programs associated with the GI Bill. There is actually five programs within the GI Bill programs, and the largest one being Post-9/11 GI Bill. Most folks, they know Post-9/11 GI Bill which came about in the last few years was basically pays individuals for their monthly housing allowance, their tuition and fees, even a book and supplies stipend. I will tell you we service nearly 1 million servicemembers, veterans, and dependents in our space, and we pay out $12 billion across our five programs.
I'm really excited to be here with our partners today to talk a little bit more about all that we offer.
Brian Stone: Thank you. Yeah, it sounds like a lot, and we're definitely interested in learning more and making sure that qualified individuals are aware of their options. So we'll move on.
Why is it important to do proper research before choosing a college a good move for student veteran's financial future?
Charmain Bogue: You know, that's a great question to ask. I will tell you it's important to do research because just in the GI Bill space alone, we have nearly 20,000 VA-approved education institutions across the nation, and that's not just the United States, also overseas educational institutions that we offer education benefits to folks.
And the other piece is there's over 400,000 VA-approved programs. The options that are available to our students is far and wide. It's important that our students truly take the time to research what they're eligible for, how much they're eligible for, and making sure they find the right program for themselves. It's important that they understand whether a school is accredited to the levels of accreditation to understand what kind of resources are available on a campus. All of these are things that a student needs to consider before deciding on the right school and program for themselves.
Brian Stone: Yeah. Actually, that's a good segue into our next question, which is, where do you suggest students go to look for tools and resources to help them do research and also make the right decision on a school or a program that fits their education needs?
Charmain Bogue: That there are a couple of places I would send folks, obviously to our own website at va.gov, which we have dedicated information on GI Bill programs. We talk about all our programs in our space. Any new updates to the program are available there as well as our GI Bill Comparison Tool. Our GI Bill Comparison Tool is a wonderful resource for students to be able to look at the different VA-approved programs that are out there so they're making the right decisions for themselves, in addition to leveraging our GI Bill calculator, which helps individuals calculate their benefits to see how they can maximize their benefits in our education program.
The other piece I would tell students a reference to go to is also Department of Education, their website. I think it's important for you to understand the larger landscape of things when you're not only thinking about your VA approved program, but you're thinking about how does that fit into higher ed. If you're thinking about on-the-job training or apprenticeship programs, then it's important to make sure that you get with Department of Labor and you make sure that those programs are aligned with Department of Labor and their criteria. There is a host of official government organizations out there such as us, VA, or Department of Labor or Department of Education that can really assist a student in helping them to figure out what best suits them.
Brian Stone: Yeah. And I would also mention we just released a new tool. It's called the Your Financial Path to Graduation Tool, which short name, Grad Path, but veterans could also potentially use this tool to get a sense of the total cost of college, and so that they could figure out their veterans' benefits from the GI Bill Tool and then sort of take that number, pop it in this tool, and like plug and play with different income resources they have and figure out how much they could potentially owe for college, how much that might be, and then if it's something that's affordable, and also go a step further to be able to take different award letters from different schools or programs and compare those things.
I agree. As you said, there are a lot of different things out there, and we definitely want to urge students to take advantage of them.
Charmain Bogue: Absolutely. And making sure they're official sites, that's an important part, right? Whether it be our organization or your organization, it's important that they make sure it's official, authorized information that's out there versus just doing a Google search and clicking on the first link that pops up, right?
Brian Stone: Agree. Yeah, yeah. Because there is a lot out there, and you could easily get lost in the Google Web, but just as you said before, making sure you go directly to the source, so going directly to the VA, going directly to Department of Education, Department of Labor, or CFPB and, yeah, getting the information from the source. That's great.
I guess with the two tools—how do you see the GI Bill Comparison Tool working with other government tools?
Charmain Bogue: I think it complements other government tools. It's important that, one, we provide all these resources to students to be able to make informed decisions about their education journey, but the other piece I would also mention is making sure that we work together, that we're partners in this, to make sure that if there's any way that we could co-communicate with different available resources between your organization and our organization, linking that information to our site, there's different ways in which we can collaborate to make sure that happens. I think we have a strong partnership, and that will continue to make sure that veterans have robust tools to be able to provide them accurate information.
Brian Stone: Right, right. And as you said, the most important thing is making sure that those who can take advantage of these tools and that know that they're available and that we're here to help, because a lot of investment by different government agencies have gone into building these tools, a lot of research, and planning. And, we want to make sure that they're in the hands of those who need it.
Is the GI Bill Comparison tool—and I know it's veteran-focused—is it only available to veterans? And I would also probably talk a little bit about our Grad Path tool afterwards.
Charmain Bogue: Yeah. It's not only just available to veterans. I mean, it's a publicly available tool that's out there. Anyone can actually go and google GI Bill Comparison Tool, and it will come up. It's actually the first link that's in the search. We actually partnered with Google in terms of making sure that anytime someone searches "GI Bill Comparison Tool," the VA official site is the first one at the top of that search feature, so that's pretty cool that Google worked with us on that.
And I will tell you the GI Bill Comparison Tool—anyone can go on there, whether it be a student, a school itself, a researcher. There's valuable information throughout the tool, but I will tell you our focus is student veterans. When you go on there, it really is for the mindset of thinking about a student who needs—either a veteran or a servicemember or a dependent who is thinking about going to school and they're trying to plan accordingly or someone who's already enrolled in school, and they just want to get a little information about their current school or a student who is thinking about transferring to a new program and they need information on that. That's the mindset that we had in terms of developing that tool and thinking about it really from our GI Bill student's perspective, but anyone can access the GI Bill Comparison Tool. We've had millions of individuals access the tool since its existence.
Brian Stone: Along those lines, with the Grad Path tool, with that same type of thinking, we created the tool for any and everyone, and that includes parents and practitioners who might be helping a student, prospective college student, plan out college, see what the potential costs would look like, but it's also created for a student to be able to go in and use the tool on their own, and so that could be, again, a prospective student, a prospective undergrad student, or a graduate student to go in and work out the cost of those numbers, and include all those things we might not necessarily think about, which are some of those variable college costs, which could be food or rent, gas, car insurance, those types of things, maybe child care, and get a sense of what those years of education will cost.
Charmain Bogue: And that's useful information, because think about someone thinking about their VA benefits and financial aid, how far will that go. They really want to be able to map out their cost of living. I would think that's a valuable tool that you all have over there to complement what we're doing in the GI Bill space so folks can figure out not only how to maximize their GI Bill benefits, but also to maximize any other financial assistance they receive.
Brian Stone: I think just in our feedback from students and practitioners and parents and especially working around student loans is that a lot of times, students will have a plan to actually get to college but not to get through college. This tool was created, and I'm pretty sure the GI Bill Comparison Tool is the same thing, hopefully, getting students closer to having that whole plan before they even walk in the door.
Charmain Bogue: Absolutely. I wish this was around when I went to college many moons ago. It would have been very helpful in my journey.
Brian Stone: Same here.
Next, should a prospective student be concerned whether their school is nationally accredited or not?
Charmain Bogue: Well, I really think that they need to do their homework. It gets back to the fact of making sure you research your program and to make sure that it has the right accreditation. There's so many variables when it comes to your accreditation, whether it be national accreditation or regional accreditation. It's really important that someone understands if I'm going to a psychology program in Wyoming, then what are the rules around accreditation if I'm looking for a job in that field? How does that play into that? If I have to sit for a certification exam or a licensure exam, does my program qualify? It's important where I get back to making sure that you're not only looking at the information from the VA, but you're also looking at Department of Education and all the different accreditation entities that are out there to make sure that your program has the right level of accreditation for that associated program.
Brian Stone: I think it would be a travesty to have a plan, to put in the effort, and both the, I guess, physical effort and also financial cost of paying for college, and then not have checked all then boxes you might need to go into the career field you would like to go into.
Charmain Bogue: Absolutely.
Brian Stone: That's kind of just on the front end.
Charmain Bogue: Absolutely.
Brian Stone: What additional tips should a prospective student consider before accepting an offer to a school?
Charmain Bogue: You know, as we talked about before, it's important to understand that the program really matches where you want to head in your journey, your career journey, because it doesn't help if you're doing one program and then you really wanted to go over here in this particular job market, and that doesn't align. Make sure that you do your research from a job market and the type of skills and the type of training that they're looking for as you're thinking about the type of program you want to enter into.
And then the next piece is cost. Cost is important for millions of individuals thinking about going to school. It's important to understand not only the tuition and fee costs, but any other associated costs. Sometimes there a cost for a lab or a cost for using the health care facilities or the cost for books. All those things, you need to factor in, in terms of your cost of living for going to school, and then figure out what is out there that's available to you as it relates to financial aid and your student benefits, and how far can that assist you not just in your cost for tuition in fees, as I stated earlier, but your entire cost associated with education. I think that's very critical when you're thinking about going to school and preparing for the next steps for yourself.
The last piece, how long is it going to take? You think, oh, well, the program says 2 years, but if you're going part-time, that's not really 2 years. You need to think about that. How much time do you really want to dedicate over the course of a number of weeks or a number of years that you want to be able to dedicate to your education journey to help you to get into whatever career field you're thinking about?
Brian Stone: I can also add just to make sure to get things in writing and then understand, especially around loans. That could be a Federal loan or a private loan. Understand the terms that you're actually signing up for, and that you understand the repayment options that are going to happen after you sign up for those long term.
Charmain Bogue: Absolutely. I wish we had someone from the Department of Ed on this call, right, on this podcast, because that would be a wonderful segue for Department of Ed to kind of talk about this, but from our own—from my own personal experience and probably your own, we could talk about that. You really want to see what's out there that's free to you in terms of funding, whether it be a local scholarship or some schools give out additional aid to student veterans in particular, and to make sure you do your research on what's available to you, where you don't have to pay it back to someone, right? And then your next stop is if you really do have to pull out loans, like you said, read that fine print. That is so important to make sure you read that fine print on those student loans. Try to look, if you can, at the Federal options first before you start maybe thinking about a private loan, because sometimes those Federal options, you might say, hey, decide to work in the government afterwards or nonprofit sector, and there's loan forgiveness programs. You really need to make sure you do your homework on the loans, and when you decide to sign on that dotted line, that you read through everything at the top and everything at the bottom in those documents before you sign.
Brian Stone: I wish, again, like you said, I would have done that, but sometimes you're just so excited about the prospect of higher education that you just sort of glance at it, sign it, and then find out as you go along.
I guess the next question to sort of segue is also into we're thinking about job placement. Many colleges promise job placement. Do you have any advice on how important the role of job placement is upon completion of an education program? And then I guess the other part of that, are there any specific things about job placement a prospective student should be aware of or ask their school about?
Charmain Bogue: I honestly think job placement is critical. I think it's critical that schools advertise that information and make it publicly available for their students. It shouldn't be somewhere, buried somewhere. It really is a testament to their program and then also the resources that they offer students right at the end of their program or near the completion of their program when it comes to employment services, and you'll see some schools offer very robust employment services to their students, not once they graduate, but maybe within their last year or 2 years to figure out some of those soft skills that they need, résumé building, how to build a network. You can tell when schools are doing that well that they are ready to tout rates and display for all to see their job placement rates. So that's important. If you don't see that information publicly available on the school's website or it's not easy to find it, you need to ask the school and not only to verbally tell you, but give it to you in writing. Overall job placement is important, but I would also say program-specific job placement is very important as well.
Brian Stone: I agree. I would say for veterans or any students period, just if you have the option available to talk to a current student or a former student and just find out more about their experience and how job placement efforts went for them.
Charmain Bogue: Absolutely.
Brian Stone: Can you talk a little bit about other types of veteran education benefits that are available and where individuals can learn more about them?
Charmain Bogue: Yeah. We've actually launched a couple of new programs that I'd like to highlight. One of those programs is our Vet Tech program. It's actually a brand-new program that we launched last year, and it's fairly new, I should say, but still relatively new. It's a 5-year pilot program focused on the IT field, and you only need one day of entitlement across any one of our programs to be eligible. The beauty of this program is beyond just only having one day of entitlement across any one of the education programs. It really is focused on short-term programs, and those training providers have to find the individual employment. An actual payment schedule and milestones are tied to those different arenas of when a veteran starts the program. We pay out tuition and fees to the school, a certain portion. When the veteran completes their program, we pay out another portion of the tuition and fees, and when the training provider actually finds that veteran employment in the field that they trained in, we actually provide the remaining portion of the tuition and fees, so really excited about that program.
In that program, we've had thousands of individuals come in and apply, and it's such a popular program and even more so with COVID-19 and the unemployment rate. We've seen a lot of student veterans flock to that program. It's been a pretty amazing deal for folks.
Then there's other programs that are out there that's beyond the Federal Government. I would tell folks to make sure that you talk to your local state folks. A lot of states offer programs for veterans. It's important to get connected with your local state office and understand the benefits that are available for you at the local level beyond the Federal level.
Brian Stone: You discussed a lot of good options, and we'll definitely make sure to link to those in the show notes. If you think about a prospective student, like a veteran who is thinking about going back—and we did discuss a lot. I think there's a lot of good information in there, but if there was any quick tips or a few things you'll want them to know before they started the journey, what would some of those things be?
Charmain Bogue: You know, I would say this—and I've said in different forums—you only know what you know, right? It's important to do your homework. It's important to visit the VA website. Also, we are on social media. I think it's important to stay connected through social media. If you are one of those individuals, that you're on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn, we are heavily connected in those spaces to put out information about what's happening in our space. It's important to stay connected with us at VA. So that way, you can stay informed about what's happening. There's a lot of good information out there, and we are here to help, to help students during their journey, so that way, they can complete their educational goals as well as their career goals.
Brian Stone: Well, thank you. We discussed a lot during this episode, and so three quick takeaways just for our audience, use the GI Bill Comparison Tool and the CFPB Grad Path Tool to help understand the financial implications of college decision-making. Make sure the schools you're considering are nationally accredited. See the VA's Know Before You Go video for more information. Visit the Department of Education's Preparing for College page if you need additional help before accepting an offer.
Thank you for joining us today, Charmaine, and sharing your experience with our audience. We appreciate our listeners for tuning in. To stay connected, please visit our Podcast page on consumerfinance.gov, and so you don't miss future episodes, sign up, be notified of new releases.
As always, remember to continue to develop your financial intuition and learn money management lessons you can use now to build a future you want tomorrow. Thank you.
[End of recorded session.]