Who qualifies for a VA home loan? Requirements and eligibility
Active and former service members enjoy a number of benefits that are unavailable to your average civilian. Arguably the biggest perk of them all is the option to use a VA mortgage when buying a house. VA home loans offer some of the most desirable financing terms you’ll find, including zero down payment options and comparatively lower credit standards.
But not everyone who’s served in the armed forces will be automatically eligible. Let’s review the current VA loan requirements as of 2022 to see if you qualify for a VA mortgage.
Who qualifies for a VA loan?
The short answer: Active and former service members who meet basic service and property requirements are eligible for a VA mortgage.
What are those VA loan requirements, exactly? We’ll dig into some of the most important ones in a moment, but it’s important to realize that eligibility standards on VA mortgages can vary depending on your branch of the armed forces and when you served. There’s no single set of qualifications that everyone needs to meet — someone who served in the National Guard during peacetime may face stricter eligibility requirements than an Army veteran who conducted a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Always — always — check with the Department of Veterans Affairs to see what the VA loan requirements would be with your particular service record.
Do family members qualify for VA loans?
If you’re a surviving spouse of a military member who was killed, injured or captured in the line of duty, you may also be eligible for VA-backed financing. To secure a VA loan as a surviving spouse, you’ll need to meet a few additional requirements:
- You have not remarried.
- Your spouse was killed in service or from a service-related disability.
- Your spouse was missing in action or a prisoner of war for at least 90 days.
- Your spouse was rated disabled and was eligible for disability compensation at the time of death.
There is always a possibility for exceptions to these requirements based on your exact circumstances and service history. Again, if you have additional questions about your specific VA loan eligibility, be sure to contact the VA directly.
How to qualify for a VA loan: What are VA mortgage requirements?
VA mortgages are designed to help military members become homeowners at a lower cost than a conventional loan, such as a 30-year fixed rate mortgage. However, they do present specific thresholds and fees that applicants will need to cover. Along with your service history, you’ll have to meet certain conditions related to your finances and homeownership goals.
Here’s a breakdown of the most important VA loan eligibility requirements involving service status and occupancy:
The VA’s service requirements vary depending on both how and when you served. The Department of Veterans Affairs has a detailed list of service requirements covering different time periods, service statuses and branches of the armed forces. Take a look at this quick breakdown to see what basic service qualifications you need to meet for a VA loan:
Active duty service members
If you currently serve in one of the main branches of the armed forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard), then your service requirements are pretty straightforward. Active duty service members must serve for 90 continuous days to be eligible for VA home loans.
National Guard and National Reserve
VA guidelines get a little bit more complicated under these conditions, but not terribly so. National Guard and National Reserve members who have served anytime after Aug. 2, 1990, can qualify for VA benefits once reaching 90 days of active duty service.
What if you haven’t hit that 90-day benchmark? Not to worry, you may still qualify for a VA loan. First, you’ll need to show that you spent six years as a member of either the Selected Reserve or the National Guard. In addition, you’ll also need to meet one of the following conditions:
- You currently serve in the Selected Reserve
- You were honorably discharged
- You were placed on the retired list
- You were transferred to the Standby Reserve
That includes anyone who has served in the National Guard or National Reserve before Aug. 2, 1990, by the way. So, there are other ways to qualify for a VA loan even if you can’t meet the active duty standards.
Perhaps you’ve served in the military in the past but are no longer on active duty. Would you qualify for a VA loan? Not necessarily. First, the VA needs to recognize your status as a veteran. But who is considered a veteran? The VA grants veteran status to anyone who has served in the armed forces and has been honorably discharged. You don't need to be deployed overseas to be recognized as a veteran.
Veterans face the most complicated service requirements because the VA sets different parameters for various eras of service going back to World War II:
VA service requirements for veterans
- World War II (Sept. 16, 1940 to July 25, 1947): 90 days total
- Post-World War II (July 26, 1947 to June 26, 1950): 181 days continuous
- Korean War (June 25, 1950 to Jan. 31, 1955): 90 days total
- Post-Korean War (Feb. 1, 1955 to Aug. 4, 1964): 181 days continuous
- Vietnam War (Aug. 5, 1964 to May 7, 1975): 90 days total
- Post-Vietnam War (May 8, 1975 to Sept. 7, 1980): 181 days continuous
- Pre-Gulf War (Sept. 8, 1980 to Aug. 1, 1990): 24 months continuous or 181 days of active duty
- Gulf War, Iraq War and War in Afghanistan (Aug. 2, 1990 to present): 24 month continuous or 90 days of active duty
Broadly speaking, the VA offers more lenient requirements for people who served during a time of war compared with peacetime.
If you’re in the market for a vacation home or are looking to make a little extra with an investment property, you won’t be eligible for a VA loan.
In order to secure this type of financing, you’ll need to confirm that you intend to personally occupy the home as your primary residence. Lenders will typically give applicants 60 days to move in to the property after the loan closes.
For service members who are on active duty, two months might not be enough time to schedule a move. The VA does allow some exceptions for applicants in these circumstances, but will likely still require you to move in within a year.
This move-in timeline can also be extended for retiring service members, or if the property is in need of essential repairs or improvements. No matter how far the required move-in date is extended, though, you’ll need to use the property as your primary home.
Are there any exemptions to VA loan requirements?
For some cases, such as a discharge or service-related injury, you might be exempt from certain length-of-service requirements. Often, these exemptions involve discharges for reasons outside of your control. Always be sure to check with the VA for your specific length-of-service requirements. Here are some of the most common exemptions you might run into:
- Discharged for hardship
- Discharged for medical conditions
- Discharged for service-related disability
- Discharged due to a force reduction
Note that a bad conduct or dishonorable discharge is nowhere to be found on this list. That type of discharge could very well prevent you from securing a VA home loan. Depending on your specific circumstances, however, you might be able to appeal your discharge status and get it upgraded. Again, you’ll need to check with the VA for more information regarding your circumstances and any additional options that are available to you.
How to verify your VA loan eligibility with a COE
Before applying for a VA home loan, you should confirm that you actually qualify for this type of financing. That’s where a Certificate of Eligibility, or COE, can help. A COE documents your history of military service and shows lenders you’re eligible for a VA loan. Getting a copy is easy enough — just contact the VA to receive your COE.
Having a COE on hand is not always necessary to apply for a VA loan, as lenders are usually able to verify your VA benefits eligibility through the VA’s automated system. However, a COE can help jumpstart the mortgage process since it gives lenders documented proof of your service history.
Your lender may require other paperwork related to your service record as well, including:
- Discharge papers
- History of retirement benefits
- Signed statements of service
It’s always better to be overly prepared when it comes to mortgages. Gather the documents you think you’ll need so you’ll be ready to provide whatever your lender needs to process your loan application.
How many VA loans can you have?
There’s really no limit on the number of VA loans you can have — at least not directly. That doesn’t mean you can take out a bunch of VA mortgages all at once, though. First of all, your lender would almost certainly reject multiple home loans — that’s just too much debt.
Secondly, VA loan amounts are determined by your VA entitlement. As a refresher, VA entitlement is the amount of money the VA will repay a lender if the borrower defaults on a home loan — usually somewhere around 25% of the loan amount. VA loan limits can change from year to year, as well. The VA actually increased VA loan limits in 2022 in response to rising property values.
Even if you have some entitlement remaining after buying a home, that may not be enough to finance a second purchase. If you use your full entitlement to buy a house, then you would need to restore it before you could take out another VA loan.
At best, you might be able to float two mortgages at once under certain conditions. For instance, service members who are reassigned to new posts may need to buy a new house before selling the current one. In that case, you could potentially use VA financing to cover the purchase of a new home even with an active home loan on your existing house.
How many times can you use a VA loan?
Looking at the total number of VA loans you might use over a lifetime, the issue of VA entitlement rears its head yet again. Most service members who qualify for a VA loan will receive full entitlement from the outset, but that dollar figure goes down whenever you take out a mortgage through this program. You’ll need to replenish your entitlement by repaying your VA loan if you want to use it for future home purchases.
In other words, the number of VA loans you’ll be able to use over the course of your life depends on your ability to repay your mortgage and restore your VA entitlement. Beyond that logistical constraint, though, the VA doesn’t put a cap on the number of home loans you can use through its financing program.
How to get a VA loan
Applying for a VA home loan can be a little more complicated than your conventional mortgage. There are more parties involved, more paperwork to provide and a more extensive review process involving your service record. Follow these six steps and you should be just fine, though:
6 steps to getting a VA loan
- Get your COE: Reach out to the VA and ask for a copy of your COE to show lenders you’re eligible for a VA home loan.
- Find a VA-approved lender: Not all lenders offer VA mortgages, so you’ll want to do your due diligence to find the right one to meet your financing needs.
- Get preapproved for a VA loan: Sellers may not consider an offer unless the buyer’s already been preapproved for a loan. Have a preapproval lender in hand when you make an offer so there won’t be any concerns about your ability to secure financing.
- Make an offer on a house: This is the fun part. Contact a real estate agent, go out house hunting and find your dream home.
- Provide underwriting documents: In addition to your COE, lenders will want to see other documents regarding your financial status: bank statements, pay stubs, W2 forms, etc.
- Close on your new home: Once you’ve provided all the necessary documentation, there’s really nothing left to do but wait for the closing date to arrive. While VA loans don’t necessarily require a down payment, you may be on the hook for some closing costs. In particular, be ready to pay a VA funding fee, which is calculated as a percentage of your new home’s appraised value. The good news is you don’t need to pay it all at once. The VA funding fee can be folded into your home loan and spread out across your monthly mortgage payments.
VA home loans can be a great way for active and former service members to finance the purchase of a new home. But navigating VA loan eligibility requirements can be a headache because there are so many different conditions to consider. Refer to the tables and lists above to help determine your eligibility status.
Even better: Go straight to the source. Check with VA.gov or reach out to the VA itself for the most current VA mortgage requirements and see if you qualify for this type of loan. If you’ve obtained a certificate of eligibility and are ready to explore your financing options, then get started on your mortgage application today.
*Proper Rate is a private corporation organized under the laws of the State of Delaware. It has no affiliation with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the US Department of Agriculture or any other government agency.