VA Loan Eligibility Requirements

A VA loan can help service members and their spouses obtain a home. Learn about the eligibility criteria to see if your family qualifies.

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Since 1944, VA loans have been a game-changer for veterans looking to purchase a home. Private lenders make the actual loan, but the loan is backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Understanding the requirements to land a VA loan is like holding the golden ticket to homeownership.

And no need to stress about hefty down payments or having an amazing credit score to get a VA loan. The whole eligibility application process is designed to be your ally, not your foe. Before you can move into your dream home, you have to make sure you have a COE (Certificate of Eligibility) in hand and show off your proof of service.

When it comes to VA loan requirements, knowledge is power, and knowing what the VA loan process looks like is only going to make buying a home less intimidating.

What Are the Requirements To Get a VA Loan?

Everyone’s situation is unique, but make sure  you meet one or more of the following VA loan eligibility requirements:

  • You or your spouse have served at least 90 consecutive days of active service during wartime.
  • You or your spouse have served at least 181 days of active service during peacetime.
  • You or your spouse have served at least six years of service in the National Guard or Reserves.
  • You or your spouse have served at least 90 days (with at least 30 days consecutively) under Title 32 orders.
  • You are a spouse of a military service member who died in active service or as the result of a service-related disability.
  • You are the spouse of a military service member missing in action or a prisoner of war.

Don’t meet any of these length-of-service requirements? Don’t fret! VA loans can still be issued to military members and their spouses in cases involving honorable discharges.

What If You Don’t Meet the Service Requirements for a VA Loan?

Even if you or your spouse were discharged from the military, you can still receive a VA home loan certificate of eligibility. Eligibility can be granted for the following discharge types:

  • Discharged for hardship
  • Discharged for the convenience of the government after serving at least 20 months of a two-year enlistment
  • Got an early-out discharge with a stellar service record of 21 months out of a two-year enlistment
  • Experienced a reduction in force
  • Dealt with certain medical conditions leading to discharge
  • Discharged due to a service-related disability

No matter your discharge circumstances, there’s a good chance you can still obtain a VA home loan certificate of eligibility.

What Do You Need To Verify Your VA Loan Eligibility?

All you need is a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) to show your lending institution that you’re eligible.

The COE is your key to securing a VA home loan. It’s a document that tells lenders you meet the military service or surviving spouse requirements to qualify for this special loan. While you can start exploring VA loan options without the certificate of eligibility from the Department of Veterans Affairs, it’s important to note that you’ll need it before your home loan can officially close. So, think of it as a crucial step that you’ll need to take to secure a VA loan.

How To Obtain Your Certificate of Eligibility (COE)

Applying for a COE is simple. Just download a COE request form, which is available on the official VA website. If you’ve got access to your eBenefits portal, you’ll receive your COE confirmation in minutes. If you prefer the mail option, you can expect your COE to arrive in within 4-6 weeks.

How Spouses Can Verify VA Loan Eligibility

Surviving spouses need a COE to qualify for a VA Loan. How you go about getting it depends on whether you’re receiving Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.

If you are receiving those benefits, simply fill out the VA Form 26-1817 (Request for Determination of Loan Guaranty Eligibility – Unmarried Surviving Spouses) and have a copy of the Veteran’s separation paperwork, like the DD Form 214.

If you’re not receiving Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits, don’t worry. The process just takes a different route. You’ll need to fill out VA Form 21P-534EZ and send it over to your state’s VA Pension Management Center. And don’t forget to bring along some supporting documents, like your marriage license, the Veteran’s death certificate (or the epic DD Form 1300 – Report of Casualty), and the Veteran’s separation paperwork.

Don’t stress about getting the separation paperwork – the US National Archives and Records Administration can help you. Just contact them and make your request. If you have any questions or need a guiding hand on your VA loan journey, reach out to the knowledgeable loan specialists at Veterans United. They’re armed with all the info you need and are ready to assist surviving spouses.

Financial Requirements

When it comes to VA home loans, the financial requirements are much less demanding than a typical mortgage.

When applying, you will need to share employment, income, and financial info with banks, mortgage companies, or credit unions. The lender will review your credit, debt, and income to determine if you’re eligible and what interest rate they can offer you.

» Learn More: Current VA Loan Interest Rates

Credit Requirements

When it comes to VA home loans, the Department of Veterans Affairs isn’t the “credit score police.” They leave it up to the lenders who issue VA loans to set their own credit score requirements. Those lenders usually have standards ranging from 580 to 660. While the VA doesn’t impose a specific minimum credit score, having a higher score can unlock benefits like better interest rates and loan terms. Don’t worry if your credit score isn’t great. Lenders take multiple factors into account to assess your VA loan eligibility.

Debt-To-Income (DTI) Ratio

The VA has a preference for a debt-to-income ratio (DTI), of no more than 41%. But don’t worry if your DTI is a little higher – there’s still hope. Lenders take into account “residual income” when they review mortgage applications. Residual income is that extra cash you have left after paying debts, housing, and other obligations. It’s what keeps you covered for everyday expenses like food, clothing, and more. So, even if your DTI is a bit higher, as long as you’ve got enough residual income to cover your basic living expenses, you can still get that approval stamp.

Down Payment Requirements

In most cases, VA loans don’t require a minimum down payment, but if the home’s purchase price is higher than its appraised value, you might need to chip in a portion of the difference.

In some competitive markets, you might need a down payment just to get your foot in the door. In fact, during a bidding war, a deposit can be required, and it counts as part of your down payment.

Putting some money down can even lower your VA funding fee. So not only are you showing your commitment, but you might also catch a break on those fees.

VA Loan Property Requirements

When you’ve got your eye on a home, it needs to meet the VA’s property requirements. They’re all about making sure your future home is safe, structurally sound, and clean.

Now, picture this: You’re under contract and ready to make that dream home yours. The lender swoops in and brings a VA-approved appraiser on board. They’ll estimate the home’s market value and give it a thorough check to ensure it meets those minimum property requirements. It’s a vital step that helps protect you and keeps the loan process running smoothly.

About The Author

Tom Jackson

Tom Jackson focuses on writing about debt solutions for consumers struggling to make ends meet. His background includes time as a columnist for newspapers in Washington D.C., Tampa and Sacramento, Calif., where he reported and commented on everything from city and state budgets to the marketing of local businesses and how the business of professional sports impacts a city. Along the way, he has racked up state and national awards for writing, editing and design. Tom’s blogging on the 2016 election won a pair of top honors from the Florida Press Club. A University of Florida alumnus, St. Louis Cardinals fan and eager-if-haphazard golfer, Tom splits time between Tampa and Cashiers, N.C., with his wife of 40 years, college-age son, and Spencer, a yappy Shetland sheepdog.