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How to Apply for a VA Home Loan

Updated April 4, 2022
The Ascent Staff
By: The Ascent Staff

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When it comes to mortgage products, it doesn't get better than the VA loan. These loans have no down payment requirement, no private mortgage insurance, and some of the lowest interest rates around. They're basically the best deal you can get when buying a home.

But who is eligible? And how does the process differ from other mortgage options on the market?

Here's a quick breakdown on how to get a VA loan:

  1. Determine your eligibility.
  2. Find a VA lender.
  3. Get your Certificate of Eligibility (COE).
  4. Find the right home and submit your offer.
  5. File your application and submit your documentation.
  6. Await your appraisal.
  7. Close on your loan.

We'll go into each step in more detail below.

1. Determine your eligibility

VA loan eligibility is directly tied to military service. Only military members, veterans, or spouses of these parties are eligible to apply for a VA loan -- and only if certain service requirements are met.

Service requirements

To qualify for a VA loan, a military member must:

  • During wartime: Have served at least 90 consecutive active-duty days (no dishonorable discharge allowed) OR served less than 90 days active duty during wartime if discharged for a service-related injury or disability.
  • During peacetime: Have served at least 181 days continuous active duty (no dishonorable discharge allowed) OR served less than 181 days if discharged for a service-related injury or disability.
  • Be on current active duty for at least 90 days.
  • Have served at least six years in the Reserves or National Guard.

If you're a surviving spouse interested in a VA loan, you must meet one of the following qualifications:

  • Your spouse died during service or due to a service-related injury. (If you have remarried, your qualification may depend on when and at what age.)
  • Your spouse is currently MIA or a prisoner of war.
  • You are receiving Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits.

Some public health service officers, U.S. military cadets, academy students, midshipmen, merchant seamen, and officers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration may also be eligible.

Other requirements

Other than proof of the military service requirements noted above, there's not much else you'll need to qualify for VA financing.

The one thing you may need to watch is your debt-to-income ratio. For a VA loan, you typically need to be under 41% once your new mortgage payment is factored in. Some lenders will consider you up to 50%.

You don't need a down payment to qualify for a VA loan. However, if you have relatives or friends interested in giving you a down payment gift, you can use those funds for a down payment.

There are some restrictions on the types of housing you can finance with a VA loan. We'll go into further detail on that in step 4 (finding the right home).

But there's no set loan-to-value threshold you have to fall under. And the VA doesn't have a minimum credit score requirement, either. (However, individual lenders usually have credit score requirements, so it's still a good idea to work on improving your credit score before applying.)

2. Find a VA lender

VA loans are only available through approved VA lenders, so you may need to shop around a bit to find one. Many large banks and well-known lenders will offer them. There are also VA-specific lenders you could consider.

If you're ready to look for a lender, you can also get started with our expert-curated list of best VA loan lenders.

3. Get your COE

To prove you meet the VA's eligibility requirements for service, you'll need to apply for your Certificate of Eligibility (COE) on the Department of Veterans Affairs' eBenefits portal.

The exact form your COE will take depends on your military branch:

  • For those in the National Guard or Reserves, it will be NBG Form 23 or NGB Form 22.
  • If you're on active duty, you'll get what's called a Statement of Service.
  • For many others, it's DD Form 214.

Whatever form it takes, your COE will be a vital part of your VA loan application process.

A note for spouses: To get a COE as a surviving spouse, you'll need to fill out VA Form 21P-534EZ and submit your marriage license, your spouse's separation paperwork, and their death certificate. If you're already receiving Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, you can fill out VA Form 26-1817 and submit with your spouse's separation paperwork.

4. Find the right home and submit your offer

Your next step is to find the right home. Your future home must be either a single-family home, manufactured home, or condo unit in a VA-approved project to qualify. You can also use VA loans toward new construction.

These loans can't be used to buy multifamily or investment properties. The home must be your intended primary residence.

Once you find the right property and your offer has been accepted, you can officially move into the VA application process.

5. File your application and submit your documentation

Fill out your chosen VA lender's full application and begin submitting your financial documentation. They'll need:

  • Your COE.
  • Your tax returns.
  • Your bank statements.
  • Recent W-2s and pay stubs to prove your income.

It's best if you have these gathered and organized before applying so this step doesn't slow you down or delay your purchase.

6. Await your appraisal

Once your application is in, the lender will process and verify it all. They'll also order an appraisal of the home to determine its estimated market value, which will then act as your maximum loan amount. If you offered more than market value for the home, you'll need to come up with the difference out of pocket or renegotiate with the seller for a lower price. Your VA lender will only loan you what the home is currently worth.

VA appraisals can take as little as 10 days, but often last much longer. In fact, this is typically the longest part of the VA loan process.

A quick note here: The VA appraisal is unique in that it's not only about determining a property's value. The appraiser will also look to ensure the property meets the minimum property standards set by the VA. These are designed to ensure the home is safe, sound, and free of hazards.

7. Close on your loan

Finally, your lender will set a closing appointment. You'll sit down to sign your papers and close on your loan.

This is also when you will pay your closing costs. There's no down payment required, but if you opt to make one (it can lower your monthly mortgage payments and interest costs significantly), you'll do that at this time as well.

The bottom line

VA loans can be a great way to finance a home purchase, but they're not an option for everyone.

If you are eligible, you'll need to get your COE in order, prep your documents, and start researching VA lenders and VA loan rates. Waiting to do these will only delay your closing and subsequent move-in.

Still have questions?

Here are some other questions we've answered:

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