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The Ultimate Service Requirement Guide For The VA Home Loan

A Guide for Veterans and Active Military Members:

VA loans benefit military service members, veterans, and their families, enabling them to purchase a home with favorable terms not available to the general public. These loans, guaranteed by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), are designed to provide long-term financing to eligible American veterans or their surviving spouses, assuming they do not remarry. 

A Guide for Veterans and Active Military Members

The primary purpose of the VA loan program is to help those who serve our country purchase homes without the need for a down payment or excellent credit, acknowledging their sacrifice and service.

VA loans stand out for several reasons:

  • They typically do not require a down payment.
  • There’s no private mortgage insurance (PMI) required.
  • They offer competitive interest rates.

This makes homeownership more accessible and affordable for those who have served in the military, ensuring they have the opportunity to establish stable and secure housing.

Eligibility Criteria

Eligibility for VA loans is determined based on service in the armed forces. The criteria cater to a wide range of military personnel, including:

  • Active Duty Service Members: Those on active duty must have at least 90 continuous days of service to be eligible for VA loan benefits.
  • Veterans: Veterans are eligible if they have served 90 days of active duty during wartime or 181 days during peacetime.
  • Selected Reserve or National Guard Members: Individuals who have served for at least six years in the Reserves or National Guard are also eligible, recognizing their commitment and service to the country, even if not in a full-time active duty capacity.
  • Surviving Spouses: The spouses of service members who died in the line of duty or as a result of a service-connected disability are eligible for VA loan benefits under certain conditions, ensuring support for families of the fallen.

Service Requirements

The VA loan program has specific service requirements that applicants must meet, reflecting the diverse nature of military service:

  • Wartime and Peacetime Service: The distinction between wartime and peacetime service is crucial for determining eligibility. Veterans who served during designated wartime periods must have completed at least 90 days of active service, while those serving during peacetime need to have served a minimum of 181 days.
  • National Guard and Reserve Members: Service requirements for the National Guard and the Reserves include six years of service. This recognizes these individuals’ vital role in national defense, even if they are not on active duty full-time.
  • Exceptions for Service Requirements: In certain circumstances, individuals who do not meet the standard service criteria may still be eligible for a VA loan. This includes those discharged due to a service-connected disability, medical conditions, hardship, or a reduction in force, among other conditions. 
  • This ensures that those whose service was unexpectedly cut short or affected by circumstances beyond their control can still access the benefits of the VA loan program.

Certificate of Eligibility (COE)

A Certificate of Eligibility (COE) is a document the Department of Veterans Affairs issues that certifies a borrower’s eligibility for a VA loan. It’s a crucial first step in the VA loan process, proving to lenders that you meet the service requirements for VA loan benefits. A VA loan is impossible with a COE, making it an essential document for veterans and active service members looking to take advantage of this valuable benefit.

Obtaining a COE can be done through several channels. The most direct method is applying through a VA-approved lender, who can often get your COE quickly and with minimal hassle. Alternatively, service members and veterans can apply online through the VA’s eBenefits portal.

This option allows for a more hands-on approach but may require the applicant to navigate the VA’s online services. Submitting VA Form 26-1880 by mail is also an option for those who prefer or require a paper process. This method might take longer but is necessary for individuals who need access to online services or work directly with a lender.

The documentation required for a COE varies by service type. For veterans, the DD Form 214 (Report of Separation) is typically needed to verify past military service. Active duty service members must provide a current statement of service. National Guard or Reserves members may need to submit additional documentation, such as points statements or NGB Forms, depending on their activation status and service history. This documentation helps the VA verify service duration, character of discharge, and other eligibility factors.

Credit and Income Requirements

VA loans are unique in that they don’t require a minimum credit score set by the VA itself. However, lenders financing the loan often have their credit score criteria, usually looking for low- to mid-600s scores. Your credit history is also scrutinized, with lenders favoring borrowers with a history of making timely payments. This emphasis on creditworthiness helps ensure that veterans and active service members are financially prepared to take on a home loan.

Debt-to-income (DTI) ratio and residual income are two financial measures lenders use to evaluate VA loan applicants. The DTI ratio, which compares your monthly debt payments to your gross monthly income, is ideally no more than 41%. 

However, VA lenders also consider residual income, the income left over each month after all major expenses are paid. This measure ensures borrowers have enough funds to cover family needs and emergencies, providing an additional layer of security for the lender and borrower alike.

Applying for a VA Loan

Securing a VA loan begins with selecting a lender that offers VA loans. After choosing a lender, the application process involves submitting financial documents, employment information, and other relevant paperwork. This step determines your loan amount, interest rate, and eligibility.

Loan preapproval is a significant milestone in the VA loan process. It indicates your eligibility and borrowing capacity early, allowing you to shop for homes within your budget confidently. Preapproval is not a loan guarantee but signals to sellers that you’re a serious and qualified buyer.

The timeline from loan application to closing can vary, typically taking 30 to 45 days. This period allows for processing your application, underwriting, home appraisal, and final approval. Each buyer’s situation is unique, with factors such as the complexity of the loan, any issues identified during the assessment, and the borrower’s financial situation influencing the overall timeline.

By understanding these steps and preparing accordingly, veterans and service members can navigate the VA loan process more effectively, moving closer to homeownership with each phase.

VA Loan Benefits and Advantages

  • No Down Payment Required: VA loans often do not require a down payment, making homeownership more accessible and saving thousands of dollars upfront.
  • No Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI): Unlike other loan types that require PMI for down payments of less than 20%, VA loans do not, significantly reducing monthly mortgage costs.
  • VA Funding Fee with Exemptions: A one-time fee that helps fund the VA loan program, its amount varies by loan type and military service. Certain veterans, such as those receiving disability compensation for service-related disabilities and surviving spouses of those who died in service or from service-connected disabilities, are exempt, reducing the financial burden.

Property Requirements and Appraisal Process

VA loans have specific property requirements to ensure homes financed with VA benefits are safe, structurally sound, and sanitary. These minimum property requirements protect the interests of the veteran and the lender, ensuring the property is a worthy investment.

The VA appraisal process plays a pivotal role, as an independent VA appraiser evaluates the property to ensure it meets these standards. This process assesses the home’s value to ensure it matches the selling price and checks for compliance with the VA’s property requirements, safeguarding the buyer against potential issues.

Special Cases and Additional Benefits

The VA loan program also caters to particular cases, providing additional benefits to those who qualify. Surviving spouses of service members who died in service or from service-connected disabilities have special eligibility for VA loans, ensuring they can secure VA loan benefits under certain conditions. To verify their eligibility, they must obtain a Certificate of Eligibility (COE), similar to veterans and service members.

Veterans with service-connected disabilities may be eligible for housing grants to help buy, build, or modify a home to meet their needs, offering them a better quality of life. Furthermore, the VA provides specific programs for Native American veterans and service members, such as the Native American Direct Loan (NADL) program, which helps finance purchasing, constructing, or improving homes on federal trust land.


Understanding VA loans’ service requirements and benefits is crucial for veterans, active service members, and their families. The VA loan program offers a pathway to homeownership that acknowledges the sacrifices made by those who have served. With advantages like no down payment and no PMI, along with support for exceptional cases and additional benefits, the program is designed to make the dream of owning a home more attainable. Veterans and service members are encouraged to explore these benefits, as they offer a unique opportunity to secure a part of the American dream they fought to protect.


Reed Letson

Reed Letson

Reed offers two decades of expertise as a mortgage broker, focusing on veterans and first-time home buyers. With a strong grasp of real estate and mortgage markets, he empowers clients with practical insights. Reed's passion is guiding clients to build wealth through real estate investments and financing solutions.

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