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The ability to get a VA loan is a significant benefit for U.S. Veterans, service members and surviving spouses. It offers a low-cost mortgage or refinance option, even for borrowers with less-than-perfect credit.
Qualifying for a VA loan isn’t difficult, but there are certain minimum requirements you’ll need to meet.
Determining your eligibility is the first step in the process. The following guide provides an overview of the basic VA loan requirements and a brief summary of the information you’ll need to get started.
Who Qualifies for a VA Loan?
To be eligible for a VA loan, either the borrower or the borrower’s spouse must meet minimum service requirements as set by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). You may be eligible if you meet one or more of the following criteria:
- You served at least 90 consecutive days of active-duty service during wartime
- You spent a minimum of six years serving in the National Guard or Reserves
- You have at least 181 days of active service during peacetime
- You have a minimum of 90 days of cumulative service under Title 10 or Title 32 (at least 30 of the days must have been consecutive to qualify under Title 32)
- Your spouse was a military service member who died in the line of duty or as a result of a service-related disability
What if I Don’t Meet the Minimum Service Requirements?
If you don’t meet the service requirements listed above, don’t rule yourself out yet. You may still be able to qualify for a VA loan, depending on the type of discharge you received.
Some possible exceptions include:
- Discharge due to a medical condition or service-connected disability
- Discharge due to a reduction in force, for the convenience of the government or for hardship
- Discharge for early-out after serving at least 21 months of a 2-year enlistment
If you’re not sure of your service status, it’s best not to make assumptions. Instead, contact a VA lender so you can confirm exactly where you stand.
Verifying VA Loan Eligibility: Getting Your COE
To verify your VA eligibility, your lender needs to see proof that you’ve met the minimum service requirement or that one of the exceptions applies. This requires you to provide a Certificate of Eligibility (COE).
In most cases, your lender can easily get a copy of your COE using your date of birth and your social security number. In some situations, it requires a bit more work, but it’s important to note that you don’t need your COE before applying for a VA loan.
If you’re considering taking out a VA loan and you know your service status, you can submit your application and provide the documentation at a later date.
» MORE: See today’s refinance rates
Verifying VA Loan Eligibility as a Surviving Spouse
As a surviving spouse, you also need to provide the lender with a COE. If you’re receiving Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits, you’ll need to complete VA Form 26-1817 and provide a copy of your spouse’s discharge documents, such as a DD Form 214.
Surviving spouses who are not receiving Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits will need to complete VA Form 21P-534EZ.
In addition, you’ll also need to provide your lender with a copy of your spouse’s death certificate or Report of Casualty (DD Form 1300) as well as a copy of your marriage license.
If you run into any problems obtaining the necessary documentation or need assistance, your lender should be able to help walk you through the process. Surviving spouses also do not need to have a COE in hand before beginning the VA application process.
Documents a VA Lender Might Require
In addition to your COE, your lender may require additional documentation to verify your VA eligibility. This varies depending on your service type and status.
The following chart provides is a list of what documents might be required:
Service Type – Required Documents
- Active Duty – Statement of Service
- Veteran – Report of Separation (DD Form 214)
- Current or Former Activated National Guard or Reserves – Report of Separation (DD Form 214)
- Current National Guard or Reserves (Never Activated) – Allocated points statement and Statement of Service
- Discharged National Guard (Never Activated) – Report of Separation and Record of Service (NGB Form 22) and Retirement Points Accounting and proof of the character of service (NGB Form 23)
- Discharged Reserves (Never Activated)
- Army Reserve: DARP Form FM 249-2E or ARPC Form 606-E
- Air Force Reserve: AF 526
- Coast Guard Reserve: CG 4174 or 4175
- Marine Corps Reserve: NAVMC HQ509
- Navy Reserve: NRPC 1070-124
VA Loan Credit, Employment and Income Requirements
In addition to confirming that you’ve met the minimum military service requirements, your lender will also need to confirm that you can afford the loan you’re applying for and that you’re a good risk when it comes to repaying your obligation. While the VA sets general eligibility guidelines, each lender can also set its own VA loan requirements.
In many cases, lenders require VA borrowers to have a minimum credit score, an acceptable level of debt, and a steady, reliable income that is sufficient to repay the loan. Here’s a closer look at the typical lender requirements:
The VA does not require borrowers to have a minimum credit score, but most lenders do. Typically, a score of 620 or higher is required to obtain VA loan financing.
In most cases, a lender wants to see that you have two years of consistent income and employment before determining your VA eligibility. However, every employment situation is different, particularly for veterans and other military service members.
If you have less than two years at the same job, the lender may take into account factors such as your education, training, and past employment. Since the employment requirement is almost always evaluated on a case-by-case basis, it’s a good idea to speak with a VA lender to discuss your qualification options.
Homebuyers generally don’t have to meet any type of minimum or maximum income threshold to qualify for a VA loan. However, the VA requires borrowers to have a specific amount of “residual income” left over each month after paying all major expenses including federal and state tax withholding, mortgage payment, taxes, insurance and debt payments.
The actual amount of residual income varies depending on the size of your family and where the property you’re purchasing is located. For example, families buying homes in the northeast have a lower required residual income than those purchasing in western states, such as California.
Your lender may also look at your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. This is the amount you owe each month compared to the total amount of monthly income you earn. By looking at both your residual income and your DTI ratio, the lender can get a better picture of your potential ability to repay your VA loan.
Explore Your VA Loan Options
As you can see, VA loan requirements tend to be fairly flexible and may vary from one lender to the next. The easiest way to determine whether you qualify is to work with a professional who can help walk you through each step of the process.
If you’re ready to get started or have additional questions, please contact our lending team for a consultation.