Benefits of Service

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Living Allowance Pre Service Orientation

living allowance

The AmeriCorps VISTA program provides a living allowance that enables you to live very frugally, like the community you are serving. The allowance is based on poverty rates for a single individual in your geographic area. The living allowance is paid biweekly and deposited directly into your bank account.

The living allowance covers basic necessities such as housing, food, and utilities. Federal income tax deductions and life insurance premiums, if applicable, are withheld from the living allowance. No state, county, or city tax deductions are withheld. You are responsible for paying the appropriate taxes.

Your sponsoring organization or your AmeriCorps VISTA State Office can give you the most up-to-date information on the amount that you will be receiving for each pay period.

Prior to attending Pre-Service Orientation, you must complete the following forms in your MyAmeriCorps account: Direct Deposit, Federal Tax Withholding (W-4 form), and Unpaid Compensation Information (also known as Designation of Beneficiary).

While the VISTA program does not encourage you to seek outside employment, and understanding that commitment to your assigned project is your top priority, you are permitted to work part-time with permission from your supervisor. 

View the living allowance rates that VISTA Members and Leaders receive, listed by state and county of service. See the AmeriCorps VISTA Member Handbook and speak to you supervisor for more detail.

Visit our Managing Your Living Allowance site for tips and resources to help you with everyday savings, budgeting, and building your financial literacy skills.

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End-of-Service Award Pre Service Orientation

end of service

In successfully completing your year of service, you’re eligible to receive either the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award or the end-of-service cash stipend. You must make your selection in My AmeriCorps before you are sworn in as a VISTA at Pre-Service Orientation. If you change your mind later, you are allowed to switch from the education award to the cash stipend before the end of your 10th month of service, but you cannot switch from the cash stipend to the education award.

The education award is equal to the maximum Pell Grant of the fiscal year in which you started your service. For members starting service on or after October 1, 2015, the value of the education award is $5,775 (as a Summer Associate, you are eligible to receive a $1,222.22 Segal AmeriCorps Education Award or an end of service cash stipend that accrues at a daily rate of $4.11). The award is in the form of a voucher (not cash) and can be used for future educational training and related expenses at Title IV schools, and/or to repay existing qualified federal student loans. Be sure to visit the EdAward site to learn which student loans are qualified and which are not.

You may use the education award for up to seven years after completing service. When you use any portion of the award during a particular year, it is considered taxable income in that year.

You can only receive up to the value of two full-time education awards in your lifetime.

The end-of-service cash stipend is $1,500. It is paid in your last two living allowance payments, and you can use it however you like. Federal taxes are deducted when the payment is made. If you select the stipend, you cannot switch to the education award.

Consider the following questions before making your decision:

  • Do you plan on going to college, a technical or trade school, or attend any other credit or non-credit training program after finishing service?
  • Do you have qualified student loans? you'll need to review the Ed Award tutorial and check with your lender to validate.
  • If you have federal student loans, you may be able to put your loans into forbearance or deferment, depending on which end-of-service option you choose. See the Reduction of Education Costs section for more detail.

Once you have made your decision, log into your My AmeriCorps account and make your selection under My End-of-Service Option.

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Resources

For more detailed information on the education award and to get a broader picture of how it works, go to these useful resources:

Life Insurance Pre Service Orientation

life insurance

You have the option to purchase life insurance during your VISTA service. VISTA offers a group policy. The premium is $2.07 per pay period, which is deducted from your biweekly living allowance. Coverage amounts vary by age:

  • 18-59 years old: $19,600
  • 60-69 years old: $9,800
  • 70 and older: $4,900

Enrollment in the group plan is voluntary and takes place before or during PSO. If you wish to purchase insurance, complete the Designation of Beneficiary form in your My AmeriCorps account. If you do not wish to enroll, click the Waiver of Coverage at the bottom of the form. Coverage begins on your first day of service (typically the day after PSO ends).

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Resources

For more detailed information on this life insurance option, look at:

Healthcare Benefit Pre Service Orientation

health coverage

Note: After reading this overview, be sure to click the "Resources" tab for additional important information and resources.

Under the Affordable Care Act, all Americans – including VISTAs – are required to have health coverage. So you're expected to have health coverage when you join VISTA unless you are exempt from this requirement.

VISTA members who maintain health insurance during their service term may enroll in the AmeriCorps VISTA Healthcare Allowance. This allowance is a reimbursement program that covers out-of-pocket costs associated with healthcare. Out-of-pocket expenses may include: your annual deductible, coinsurance, copayments, and other charges for qualified medical expenses and limited dental and vision services. The Healthcare Allowance will help offset these expenses up to $6,850 in 2016. The Healthcare Allowance does not cover costs associated with purchasing insurance, costs for non-essential health expenses, or charges associated with dependents or other individuals covered under your healthcare plan.

Examples of qualifying healthcare coverage:

  • Family health insurance: If you are 26 or younger and on a parent’s plan, or married and covered by a spouse's plan;
  • Health insurance purchased through the Health Insurance Marketplace;
  • Medicaid, Medicare, or military healthcare benefits; or
  • Coverage available to individuals in the U.S. territories or who belong to a federally recognized tribe.

VISTA members who are legally exempt from needing to maintain qualifying healthcare coverage during their term of service are eligible to enroll in the AmeriCorps VISTA Health Benefit Plan. The plan is available to eligible members at no cost and covers eligible expenses for medical office visits, most lab and x-ray services, limited preventive care (e.g., an annual ob-gyn visit for women), limited dental and vision, medical emergencies, surgical and hospitalization expenses, and certain prescription drug costs. It does not cover pre-existing conditions or care for dependents, including your spouse.

International Medical Group (IMG) is the administrator of the AmeriCorps VISTA Healthcare Allowance and the AmeriCorps VISTA Health Benefit Plan. For details about either benefit, please visit: americorpsvista.imglobal.com.

At the start of your VISTA term, you’ll receive an email from IMG inviting you to complete a Member Enrollment Form to indicate which benefit option you would like. The form can be completed online by creating a “My IMGVISTA” account at americorpsvista.imglobal.com or by downloading the Member Enrollment Form and sending it to IMG. Submit the form as soon as possible (within the first 30 days of VISTA service) to ensure enrollment.

Special Enrollment Period:

If you’d like to purchase insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace, you can take advantage of the special enrollment period for all AmeriCorps members. This special enrollment period gives you the opportunity to purchase insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace outside of the public open enrollment period. You have you have 60 days from your service start and end dates to sign-up for healthcare coverage through the marketplace. To apply for coverage under the Special Enrollment Period, contact the Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596. Shop for coverage and learn more about enrolling in the Health Insurance Marketplace at www.healthcare.gov.

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Resources

AmeriCorps VISTA provides an optional Healthcare Allowance benefit to members who maintain health insurance coverage, and a basic Healthcare Benefits Plan for those who are exempt from the requirement to have insurance. The resources on this page provide information about these benefits and address questions about the Affordable Care Act.

VISTA Healthcare Options & FAQs
This document summarizes the healthcare options available to VISTA members and answers frequently-asked questions.

VISTA Health Benefits Plan
Find out what's covered by the VISTA Health Benefits plan, view lists of providers and pharmacies, and learn how to use this benefit.

Special Enrollment Period for AmeriCorps Members
You have you have 60 days from your service start and end dates to sign up for healthcare benefits through the marketplace. Read more about this option.

Definitions
Learn the meaning of various terms that are used in discussing health coverage.

If you are not able to find the answer to your questions here, please contact IMG at 1-855-851-2974 (or via online chat) for questions about the AmeriCorps VISTA Health Benefits Program or go to HealthCare.gov for questions about ACA coverage options and assistance.

Child Care

child care

If you have children under the age of 13, you may qualify for the VISTA program’s childcare benefit. The program provides up to $400 per month per child. Eligibility is determined by three factors:

  • Age of children: must be under 13 years of age.
  • Total household income: All income of all family members living in the household is counted to determine eligibility. This includes any wages, SSI, TANF, public assistance, unemployment, child support or alimony. Your VISTA living allowance, however, is not counted in determining eligibility.
  • Your state income limit: Each state sets a maximum income limit for eligibility for child care subsidies. If your family income is above this limit, you cannot receive child care benefits. Contact the program provider for more information.

State child care benefits may also be available and you should explore them before making a decision about child care. Compare the state child care benefits to the VISTA child care benefits to determine which program best supports your family.

If you decide to apply for the VISTA child care benefits, plan to spend time gathering documents to show that you meet requirements. Also, work closely with your provider so they submit the required documentation.

Note that you cannot receive child care benefits from any other source if you are receiving VISTA child care subsidies.

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Resources

For more information about VISTA’s child care benefits and the application process, explore the following resources:

Travel

travel

If you are moving more than 50 miles from your home to a new community to serve, VISTA offers relocation travel assistance and a settling-in allowance.

Relocation Travel Allowance:

Your relocation allowance will be based on the direct mileage between your home of record and your VISTA project site, up to $1,000, regardless of the mode of transportation used. Be aware that this allowance should, but may not cover all expenses that you incur. Once you submit your Travel Request Profile in My AmeriCorps, the dates of your travel will be approved by the VISTA Member Support Unit (VMSU). Do not book any travel until you get an email from the VMSU with your approved routing and reimbursement.

Settling In Allowance:

The settling-in allowance is intended to help you with initial settling in expenses—deposits and utilities. The allowance cannot exceed $550. The amount you are awarded will be determined by your state office director, and will be included, with your first living allowance payment. Federal taxes will be withheld at the time of payment.

Service-Related Transportation and Reimbursement:

Travel expenses that you incur while performing your service activities can be reimbursed. Ask your sponsor if you will need to use your personal vehicle for service-related activities, other than your daily commute. Your sponsor will reimburse you for approved transportation expenses at the organization’s standard rate. If your sponsor has no standard rate, you will receive the federal mileage reimbursement rate.

You’ll need to complete a V-81 form in order to be reimbursed for any travel mileage. The form is found on my.americorps.gov. Expect to be reimbursed within one month after submitting your mileage statement form to your sponsor.

Close-of Service Travel:

VISTA also provides a travel allowance for travel from your project site back to your home when you complete service.

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Reduction of Education Costs

reducation of education costs

VISTA provides several benefits that can help you manage, or even reduce, your federal student loans, and offers others that can lower your overall student debt.

Loan Forbearance and Deferment:

If you have federal student loans (also called “qualified’ student loans), you may be able to put your loans into forbearance or deferment; the specific program will depend upon the end-of-service option you choose.

  • Federal student loans + education award = forbearance
    Forbearance is a temporary postponement of principal loan payments. The reason for this forbearance is “national service.” The Corporation’s Trust pays interest during service. Since these payments are considered income, however, you will have to pay taxes on the amount of interest paid by the Trust. This is the program available if you select the education award as your end-of-service benefit.
  • Federal student loans + stipend = deferment
    Deferment is a postponement of monthly loan payment(s). For subsidized loans, accrued interest will automatically be paid by the Department of Education if the loan is deferred. Your lender decides if you can defer your student loans during your year of service. The reason for this deferment is “economic hardship.” You will need to obtain forms from your lender. You may also be eligible for cancellation of part of your Perkins Loan. Deferment is appropriate route to go if you choose the stipend as your end-of-service benefit.

GRE Fee Reduction:

The Educational Testing service, which administers the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), makes available to colleges and universities a limited supply of GRE Fee Reduction Certificates. To apply for a GRE Fee Reduction Certificate, contact the financial aid office of the educational institution that interests you to see if you qualify. Make sure to tell them about your experience serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member. The decision is up to the college or university to which you apply.

College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA):

This federal regulation includes two programs that can significantly reduce, or even eliminate your student debt.

  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF)
    Under PSLF, the Department of Education forgives any outstanding balance and accrued interest on a borrower’s Direct Loan or Direct Consolidation Loan if you work for 10 years full-time at a nonprofit or government agency. You must also make 120 qualifying payments on the loan. Your AmeriCorps VISTA service year counts towards those 10 years, if you make payments towards your loan during service. Continue reading to learn how you can reduce your loan payments through the Income-Based Loan Repayment Plan.
  • Income-Based Loan Repayment Plan (IBR)
    Under IBR, your payments will be limited to no more than 15% of your adjusted gross income that exceeds 150% of the poverty guidelines. If you are single and make $11,000 each year in AmeriCorps, your monthly payment could be as low as $0 each month, which still counts towards the required 120 payments for PSLF.

Ed Award Match:

Many colleges and universities across the country actively recruit talented AmeriCorps VISTA alumni for their reputation of perseverance, drive, and proven active citizenship. Many also offer incentives such as service scholarships or matching tuition funding to the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.

You can view a list of educational institutions that offer these incentives here. Be sure to contact the institutions or institutions you’re interested in for up-to-date information.

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Leave

leave

As a VISTA member, you are entitled to personal leave, medical leave, and leave for certain holidays (those recognized by your sponsor.) Family leave and emergency leave are also available in certain situations. Military service and jury duty can also necessitate a leave of absence, both of which are covered. Here’s an overview

  • Personal: 10 personal days for vacation, personal days off, or religious observances
  • Medical: 10 days of medical leave for illness, injury, or medical appointments
  • Parental: For birth or adoption, use personal and medical leave first. The state office director in your state may approve an additional 10 days, for a total of 30 days, if required by your medical professional.
  • Emergency: Up to 5 work days of emergency leave for death or critical illness of an immediate family member, or if you serve in an area where there has been a national disaster and you must leave the area temporarily. If more than 5 days is needed, contact your state office.
  • Military: As required by Military
  • Jury Duty: As necessary

You must request and receive approval in advance from your sponsoring organization/supervisor for personal leave and provide notice, when possible, of medical and emergency leave requests.

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Resources

Learn about the requirements for each and the process for using them.

Professional Development

professional development

VISTA Training

AmeriCorps VISTA provides a wide variety of training and development opportunities before, during, and after service. Take advantage of the many opportunities for gaining knowledge and skills that will support your service year — and the years beyond.

  • PSO: Pre-Service Orientation is a three-and-a-half day workshop provided by AmeriCorps VISTA that introduces you to VISTA—its mission, history, and policies—as well as your roles and responsibilities as a member.
  • OSOT: On-Site Orientation and Training is provided by your sponsoring organization once you arrive at the project site and introduces you to the organization, your new community, and the goals of the project.
  • VISTA Blend: This is a series of online courses designed specifically for VISTAs in service. College credit is available for these courses, which are offered several times during the year. Offerings include:
  • Webinar Series: Webinars developed specifically for VISTAs are presented every month and provide a way to enhance your professional development right from your desk. They fall into two general areas: Life as a VISTA and The Work cover a broad range of topics. All sessions are recorded and are available for later viewing on the VISTA Campus.
  • Self-paced Courses and Tutorials: There are many self-paced tutorial and courses on the VISTA Campus to build and enhance the skills and talents you need for service. Topics include, fundraising, volunteer management, and community development.

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Resources

For more detailed information on each of these VISTA Training opportunities, explore the following resources:

Leaders Program

leaders program

The VISTA Leaders program is open to members who have served at least one year as a VISTA. Leaders work to expand and build capacity of individual VISTA members, guiding at least six VISTAs through their year of service.

Leaders have demonstrated leadership qualities and skills during their service and are prepared to accept a new level of responsibility.

To become a VISTA Leader on your current project, talk to your supervisor to see if it’s an option once you complete your first year of service. To find a new project, apply through My AmeriCorps.

As a VISTA Leader, you gain experience as a facilitator and educator, recruiter, resource generator, mentor, liaison, and ambassador, and you are offered additional training and development opportunities.

VISTA Leader Orientation:

This three-and-a-half day training provides opportunities for exploring your leadership capacities, challenging conventional thinking, learning new approaches to strengthening leadership, and connecting with other Leaders.

VISTA Leader Webinar Series:

Monthly webinars provide practical information and relevant insights intended to enhance your personal and professional development as a VISTA Leader. The 90-minute sessions cover a wide range of topics, provide you with information you can immediately apply, and serve as an opportunity to network with other Leaders.

Action Learning Challenge:

The Action Learning Challenge is an opportunity to practice leadership skills in a real-world project, while enhancing your experience and leaving a legacy for future VISTAs and Leaders.

You are required to make a four to six month commitment in order to participate in the project from start to finish. If you are interested in participating, you must have attended Leader Orientation. Each Action Learning Challenge team is supported by a professional Action Learning coach who provides ongoing support and guidance.

Virtual Professional Development Coaching

VISTA Leader coaching is specifically focused on supporting you in transferring, applying, and implementing the knowledge and skills you learn in Leader Orientation, webinars, and the Action Learning Challenge.

Coaching is available on a short-term, limited basis to meet your specific need. This one-on-one coaching is conducted by phone, email, and webinar. If you are interested in receiving coaching services, you may contact any of the Leader facilitators.

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Career Opportunities

career opportunities

Non-Competitive Eligibility (NCE) Status

Once you’ve successfully completed service, you will receive one year of non-competitive eligibility for employment in the federal government.

This special hiring status enables you to apply for federal jobs with the advantage of not having to go through the standard public competitive selection process. That means that you can be appointed to federal positions that may or may not be available to the general public. In addition, your application could be processed faster than others.

NCE does not guarantee you a federal job, but it does provide a valuable opportunity!

To explore NCE further, understand how others have utilized NCE to advance their careers, and learn about applying for federal jobs, please visit these resources:

Alumni Network

Being a part of the AmeriCorps VISTA network offers other post-service opportunities that can open up career doors for you. There are several different avenues for getting involved in the VISTA Alumni Network. Explore the following:

Counting Service toward Federal Leave and Retirement

If you are hired into the federal civil service, your time as an AmeriCorps VISTA member will be credited toward a pension in the Federal Employees Retirement System as long as you pay a portion of your retirement contribution.

An AmeriCorps VISTA service year is credited in the same manner as a year of traditional federal government employment. AmeriCorps VISTA service will apply toward purposes of determining seniority, reduction in force and layoff rights, leave entitlement, and other rights and privileges based on length of service under laws establishing terms and conditions of service of federal civilian employees.

For more information, refer to:

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Resources

Other Career Planning Resources

bridge image

New VISTAs: After reviewing this page, continue to the VISTA Civil Rights and Responsibilities course, or return to the Pre-Service Coursework and Onboarding page.

Additional tags: VISTA Benefits, Intermediary Supervisor, Sub-site Supervisor, Single-site Supervisor, Healthcare Benefits, Health Insurance, Health Coverage