Jan. 4 (UPI) -- A new U.S. Navy program streamlines methods for repayment of tuition assistance debts, allowing use of debit cards and electronic funds transfers, it announced on Monday.
The Navy Education and Training Professional Development Center offers tuition reimbursement and assistance to on-duty sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen seeking to obtain college degrees or advancements of professional credentials.
But, until now, the agency has only has accepted repayment of back tuition assistance debts only by cashier's checks, money orders or payroll deductions. That process could take up to 45 days to complete, keeping service members from applying for additional courses.
The new process allows payment by debit card, electric funds transfer or use of PayPal if it is linked to a bank account, and can be executed on mobile devices or computers, officials said.
"This is the first time since the beginning of the tuition assistance program in the mid-nineties that we've done electronic debt payments," Tim Driggers, chief of the Navy's Voluntary Education Business operations, said in a press release.
"The service members can pay with their bank account using a smartphone as opposed to putting a check in the mail. Since the pilot program began, we've seen a reduction in checks by about 60% by doing e-billing on a weekly basis," Driggers said.
The tuition assistance program has seen an increase in use, as many members of the military have pursued additional education during stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We saw a debt get paid within two hours of servicemember notification," Diggers added. "This allows the service member to be in good standing again, so that the TA [tuition assistance] is available for use immediately."
The U.S. Army noted in October that over 100,000 Army service members, including National Guardsmen and Army reserve members, were involved in the program in Fiscal Year 2020.
While each service branch has different rules, eligible Navy personnel now receive up to $3,000 in annual tuition assistance, according to the branch.