A full-time AmeriCorps VISTA member can choose to receive the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, worth approximately $6,000, or an end-of-service cash stipend, with approximately $1,800, at the end of their service term. The amount of a full-time Education Award increases every year based on the Pell Grant.

There are a number of considerations when making the choice between the Education Award or stipend. AmeriCorps VISTA members electing to receive the end-of-service cash stipend can get a percentage of their federal Perkins loans forgiven.

You can serve two terms with AmeriCorps VISTA and receive Education Awards for each term. You can serve a third term and select the cash stipend instead of the Edcuation Award, and you can serve additional terms but will not receive an Education Award or cash stipend. If you served less than full-time equivalent terms, you might be able to earn an additional, partial Education Award (totaling the value of two full Education Awards) through AmeriCorps State and National or AmeriCorps NCCC. Check our resource on multiple terms for more information.

Education Awards are non transferable. Another benefit to serving with AmeriCorps VISTA is non-competitive eligibility, which gives applicants an advantage when applying for federal jobs.

Making the Choice

While the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award for AmeriCorps VISTAs is more money than the end-of-service cash stipend, you can only use it for specific schools and student loans. There are serval factors that may go into making this decision.

Advantage: Education Award
It's more than three times as much money.

Advantage: Stipend
The stipend is just like cash. Spend it as you like! The award can only be used for school or student loans.

Advantage: Education Award
If you choose the award when you start service, you can change your mind and switch to the stipend, as long as you let your state office know before the end of your tenth month of service. The ability to decide later in your term opens possibilities, especially if you are not sure what you want to do after AmeriCorps VISTA. If you choose the stipend before your swearing in at PSO, you cannot switch to the award later.

Advantage: Stipend
If you already have two full-time education awards but want to serve a third year with AmeriCorps VISTA, this is the only option available to you.

Advantage: Education Award
You can elect to put your federal student loans in national service forbearance while serving.  If you successfully complete your term of service, you can also have CNCS pay the interest that accrued on your federal student loans during your term of service; however, this payment will be treated as taxable income. 

With both the stipend and the education award, you can select Income Driven Repayment Plan or a hardship deferment, but with these, there is a possibility you will pay more in interest down the road.

Advantage: Stipend
If you have Perkins loans and choose the stipend, you can have 15 percent of the original Perkins loan amount forgiven after completing service. Learn more about Perkins loans and AmeriCorps VISTA below. 

Non-Competitive Eligibility

After completing service, non-competitive eligibility (also referred to as non-competitive status) allows an AmeriCorps VISTA member who meets the minimum qualifications for a federal job to be hired by a federal agency without having to compete with the general public.

Eligibility begins when AmeriCorps VISTA service is complete and ends one year following successful completion of a full-time AmeriCorps VISTA term. AmeriCorps VISTA members who complete less than one year of service (including training time) will not receive the eligibility.

With non-competitive eligibility status, you don’t gain any entitlement to federal employment but your special status does give federal agencies the option of directly select you for a vacant position if you are rated as “qualified” for a particular position by agency personnel specialists. If you are hired to a federal position after AmeriCorps VISTA, you will also be able to use your year(s) of national service toward calculating retirement benefits and vacation time.

You can print out a statement showing your non-competitive eligibility status from your MyAmeriCorps Portal once your service is complete.

AmeriCorps state and national members and AmeriCorps NCCC members are not eligible for this benefit.

Perkins Loans and AmeriCorps VISTA

If you are an AmeriCorps VISTA with federal Perkins loans, you can get up to 15 percent of your original federal Perkins loan amount forgiven after completing a full-time term of AmeriCorps VISTA service. To take advantage of this, you need to elect NOT to receive the Education Award; instead you can choose the end-of-service cash stipend. 

You can get an additional 15 percent of your Perkins loan canceled if you serve a second year as an AmeriCorps VISTA, and up to 70 percent of your Perkins loans canceled if you serve in the Peace Corps along with two years of AmeriCorps VISTA service.

If you elect to receive the end-of-service cash stipend, you will NOT be able to put your Perkins and other student loans into the standard national service forbearance. Often AmeriCorps VISTAs in this scenario will place their loans into a hardship deferment.

With most Perkins loans, the interest that accumulates during your hardship deferment will be paid off by the U.S. Department of Education when your deferment ends, but you should discuss this with your loan servicer to ensure your loan is covered. This policy may differ if your Perkins loans were issued by a state agency. If you have additional federal student loans, some do continue to accrue interest, and you should discuss the effect of any hardship deferment with your loan servicer.

Perkins loans are not eligible for the Income Driven Repayment Plan, unless they are consolidated into a Direct Consolidation Loan.

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