A VA loan is a government-backed home loan available to those who served or are currently serving in the U.S. military. There are certain requirements and guidelines in place to qualify for this type of mortgage, from the length of time you served to which properties are eligible.
Who qualifies for a VA loan?
Military and National Guard members, reservists and veterans can all qualify for VA loans. Surviving spouses of military members who have died because of a service-related injury or incident or are missing in action can also qualify. Unfortunately, children of military service members do not qualify for a VA loan unless they join the military themselves. Certain other individuals might qualify for a VA loan, like a U.S. citizen who served in an Allied force during World War II or an officer of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
VA loan guidelines
- 90 days of active service during wartime, or
- 181 continuous days of active service during peacetime, or
- Six years of service in the National Guard or Selected Reserve, or
- Surviving spouses of service members who haven't remarried
VA loan requirements
VA home loan requirements are relatively straightforward. As long as you are eligible for a VA loan as an active-duty or retired member of the military or a surviving spouse of a military member, you can apply for a VA loan. Once you qualify, you are provided a Certificate of Eligibility (COE), which you can use to apply for your VA loan or to refinance your existing loan. There may be additional requirements from individual lenders, like credit score and income requirements, but these are not set by the VA.
How to get a VA loan Certificate of Eligibility
To apply for a mortgage, you’ll need to prove your VA loan eligibility. To get a Certificate of Eligibility, you can visit the VA’s eBenefits portal and start your application online. The online application will calculate your VA home loan benefit and entitlement. For surviving spouses, the process to get your COE depends on if you are currently receiving DIC benefits. The VA lays out the steps on its guide to VA home loan programs for surviving spouses.
VA loan income requirements
There isn't a minimum income requirement to qualify for a VA loan, but you need enough residual income to have your loan approved. This means you need to have enough money left for other expenses at the end of each month after paying all your debts, including your mortgage payment, property taxes and insurance.
Residual income requirements vary depending on how many people live in the home, the loan amount and what region the home is located in. Homeowners living in lower-cost parts of the country, like the Midwest and South, will have lower residual income requirements than homeowners living in the Northwest and West. For example, one person living in a house in the South might only need $400 of residual income, while a family of five living in California might need over $1,000.
VA loan credit score requirements
The VA doesn't impose a minimum credit score for VA loans, though most mortgage lenders impose their own credit score minimums, usually around 620 for a conventional mortgage. Because the loan is backed by the government, VA lenders may be more inclined to offer a loan to you even if you have a lower credit score. For example, many lenders set their credit score minimums for government-backed loans at 580.
VA loan debt-to-income ratio requirements
Most VA home loans use a debt-to-income ratio benchmark of 41%, which is higher than you can find for conventional loans. This means that your total debt, including your mortgage, can only account for up to 41% of your total income. Some lenders might go higher than 41% depending on your circumstances, but this typically requires a higher residual income.
VA loan down payment requirements
The biggest benefit of getting a VA loan is the ability to finance up to 100% of the home price. This means you don't have to come up with a down payment. Most conventional mortgages, and even other government-backed home loans, have a down payment requirement of 3% to 20%. While the 0% down payment interest is a unique benefit of a VA loan, you may still want to consider putting some money down on your home if you have the funds to do so. The more money you put down, the less you need to finance, which means less money paid in interest over the loan term.
VA loan property requirements
The VA loan program is designed for primary residences, and there's a set of minimum property requirements to ensure any property purchased with the VA home loan benefit is safe, structurally sound and livable. Some of these requirements are listed below. There may also be local requirements, depending on where you live.
Save money on interest by making a larger down payment.
- Adequate space for living, sleeping, cooking, dining and sanitary facilities
- Safe access from a public or private street
- Compliant with all zoning ordinances
- Electricity and lighting with no visible frayed or exposed wires
- Permanently installed heating
- Continuous supply of safe water for drinking, bathing and sanitary uses; hot water; and a safe method of sewage disposal
- Structural soundness, without defective conditions including poor workmanship, evidence of continuing settlement, leaking, decay or termites
- Durable roof that prevents moisture from entering
Additional VA home loan questions
- What is a VA funding fee?
- Each VA mortgage, including refinancing loans, requires payment of a VA funding fee. This fee lowers the cost of the loan to U.S. taxpayers. The one-time fee is waived for veterans with service-related disabilities and certain other borrowers. The funding fee ranges from 1.4% to 3.6% of the total loan amount on VA-backed purchase and construction loans, decreasing as you put more money down.
Your funding fee can be financed with your loan, which would add money to your monthly payment, or you can pay it fully at closing.
- What is the maximum VA loan amount?
- VA home loans adhere to the same conforming loan limits as the Federal Housing Finance Agency. In 2021 the limit is $548,250 for one-unit properties in most of the country, an increase from 2020.
- How many times can you get a VA loan?
- You can get as many VA loans as you want, as long as you are within your entitlement. You can restore your entitlement, for example, by selling a home you previously bought with a VA loan and repaying that loan in full. Contact your regional VA loan center if you have questions about your eligibility for a loan.
- How much are VA closing costs?
- Depending on the sale, VA loan closing costs can vary from 1% to 5% of the cost of the home. Closing costs for the buyer may include the VA funding fee, the loan origination fee, the VA appraisal fee, state and local taxes, title insurance and the recording fee. For more, read our guide to understanding VA loan closing costs.
- Are VA loans assumable?
- VA home loans are assumable, which means someone who buys your home can take over the loan. This can be a good selling point if you need to move your property fast. However, keep in mind that the person who buys your home needs approval from the VA or an authorized agent.
Bottom line: How to get approved for a VA home loan
Getting approved for a VA home loan is relatively straightforward. There are initial steps you can take to gather information based on whether you are a veteran, a current service member or a surviving spouse of a veteran. You need to show a lender your Certificate of Eligibility, which is proof of your eligibility. From there, you will apply for a mortgage from your lender of choice and begin the homebuying process. Before your loan is finalized, you will need to have a VA appraisal done. The VA will send an appraiser to check out the property and ensure it meets minimum property requirements. After the appraiser signs off, you are ready to close on your loan and move into your new home.
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