10 VA Benefits You Might Not Know About, but Need to Use

A family stands together in from of their home holding an American flag

Being a servicemember requires you to put parts of your life on hold and to serve the American people. Often, that means juggling military responsibilities on top of your expenses and home life or struggling to get back into the workforce after service.

From disability compensation to pension to education programs, there are many benefits that are available to veterans to help with struggles that are unique to the military. The list is so long, there’s even a “Veterans Benefits for Dummies” book.

Yet, too many veterans are coming home without ever knowing what their options are. And because of this, many don’t end up using their benefits.

If you’re a millennial, using your veteran benefits can save you a lot of time and money. These benefits are worth knowing about for you as they are for older veterans.

It is our hope that every veteran can be aware of the benefits he or she can receive for serving this country. We’ve put together a list of some lesser-known benefits you need to use as a veteran that can save you time, money, and stress.

1. Retirement Savings

Though retirement savings used to only apply to veterans who had served for 20 years, as of January 1, 2018, the program for retirement has become much more attractive for those who have served for shorter amounts of time.

Now, veterans can take advantage of the Uniformed Service Blended Retirement System (BRS), which allows for an automatic and matching contribution to your Thrift Savings account—and after two years, you become fully vested. The military says that 85% of future veterans will now get a retirement benefit, as opposed to about 19% under the old system.

Servicemembers who enroll after Jan. 1, 2018 as well as those who have served fewer than 12 years as of Dec. 31, 2017 are eligible. For information on whether you’re eligible, visit this site.

2. Resources to Help You Find Employment

If you’re one of many veterans who are unsure where to begin to find a good career after your service, there are benefits that can help.

The Veterans Employment Center is a government site that connects veterans to job opportunities and other career resources, like help creating a resume.

GI Jobs is another great resource that helps you with everything from education to starting your own business to apprenticeship to employment.

Another helpful resource available to veterans is LinkedIn for Vets, which allows veterans one year of premium membership, including classes.

3. Veterinary Benefits for Your Service Dog

Dogs are an important part of many veterans’ lives. Beyond the companionship provided by a normal pet, service dogs provide physical support and are often used to aid veterans with disabilities.

VA offers medical benefits to support service dogs. Though food and normal living expenses are not paid for, you can get support for veterinary care and equipment.

You can learn more about what kinds of service dogs qualify and how to access these benefits on the VA website.

4. Help with Tax Preparation

Tax returns can be overwhelming, but you and your family may have access to some resources to help you with tax preparation for free. On-base sites called Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) are a great resource. They have volunteers trained by the IRS specifically in how to deal with military-related tax details. You can also file electronically for free through VITA.

Free tax preparation software is another benefit available to veterans. If you like to file taxes yourself, this may be the better option for you.

Find out more about what is available to you on the IRS website.

5. Education & Certification Benefits

The GI Bill was introduced after World War II to help veterans have a good education. If your service was after 9/11, you have access to three years of education funded by the government, and can even apply for help with housing and additional fees. You have 15 years after you’re discharged to take advantage of this program. If you don’t use it, it can even go to your dependents in some cases.

There are also less commonly known Certification Programs, which allow you to access funds for vocational or certification programs. If you have a job in mind that doesn’t require a college degree, you can take advantage of this program.

6. Mortgage Benefits & Aid

One of the major benefits available to veterans is the option for VA mortgages, which are special mortgages with better terms and rates than conventional mortgages. No down payment or private mortgage insurance is required and they are easier to qualify for than conventional mortgages. And if you are struggling to make your mortgage payments, the VA can help you.

7. Life Insurance Benefits

You have the option of choosing Veterans Group Life Insurance (VGLI) for up to $400,000 worth of coverage (depending on qualifications) at competitive rates.

To qualify for VGLI, you have to apply within a year and 120 days of discharge. Or, to avoid answering health questions (particularly if you have a condition that may prevent you from being insured), you need to apply within 240 days of separation from service.

8. Long-Term Care Benefits

Receiving care as an injured, disabled, or aging veteran can be expensive. To help soften those expenses, the VA Aid and Attendance Program will pay up to a certain amount of aid (depending on your qualifications) if you are a veteran who needs another person’s care.

You may not qualify for the aid if your income is above a certain threshold. Additionally, the application paperwork can be a bit daunting, so you may need help from a good attorney.

9. Medical & Disability Benefits

Many veterans know that health care and disability support is available to them. They may not, however, be aware of the extent of what is offered.

Programs like Disability Compensation for Military Sexual Trauma (MST) or Automobile Allowance are available and certainly worth exploring.

You can visit the VA’s website for more information on benefits offered to you and your dependents.

10. Death Benefits

A veteran’s family members can receive benefits when the veteran dies. Some monetary support is available for the burial of a veteran. Additionally, a free grave marker, flag to drape over the casket, and memorial certificate can all be requested from VA.

Bonus: State Benefits

On top of federal benefits that are available to every veteran, there are also state benefits that may be available to you depending on where you live.

You can find your regional VA office’s website online. The site for your region will have links to additional websites specific to your state offices, which you can call or visit to ask about benefits for your area.

Is It Worth the Hassle?

Though there may be some extra paperwork involved—this is government work, after all—using your benefits can save you money, ensure that your future is taken care of, and improve the quality of life for you and your dependents. The possible advantages you could gain is worth at least looking into your benefits.

For More Information

To learn more about benefits available to you, visit the VA benefits summary page. You can also view the VA’s Fact Sheets for details on each benefit.

Additionally, you can visit or call the VA office in your area to ask if they have a counselor who can help you sift through the benefits available to you.

Who We Are

At Low VA Rates, we believe that every veteran should understand options available to them. Many of our own team are veterans, so we know what it’s like to try to balance military and home responsibilities—it’s why we went into the business of lending VA mortgages to veterans.

For questions about your VA mortgage benefits, please call us at (866) 569-8272.

When Is a Good Time to Refinance My Mortgage?

Picture of a home with a caption that says When Is a Good Time to Refinance My Mortgage?

VA refinance loans offer benefits that just can’t be matched by conventional refinances. With a VA refinance, you can lower your interest rate, switch from a non-VA loan to a VA loan, cash out on 100% of the equity in your home (minus closing costs you want to roll in), or take advantage of other benefits.

But timing your refinance right is an important part of making sure that it actually ends up benefiting you. Keep reading for some tips on how to know whether you should refinance or not.

Signs You May Be Ready for a VA Loan Refinance

Current Rates Are Lower Than Your Mortgage Rate

You may have heard different “magic numbers” regarding how much rates should drop before you should refinance—usually something like 1% or 2%. This, however, isn’t always true.

The amount that rates need to drop to make refinancing beneficial for you depends on your loan. The larger your loan, the more money you’ll save on monthly payments, even with just a small drop in rates.

Currently, rates are at historical lows, so if you got your loan when they were 4% or 5%, you might not want to keep waiting to see if they’ll drop even lower. Though no one can say what rates will do, now could be the best time to take advantage of very low rates.

But rates aren’t all you should consider. You’ll want to make sure you’ll actually be staying in the home long enough to recoup any extra closing costs from a refinance.

You Plan to Stay in Your Home for a While

Like with VA purchase loans, on a VA refinance, you have to pay closing costs. It can take a few years for savings on payments to make up for the amount you spend on closing costs, so you’ll want to plan on sticking around for long enough to make refinancing worth it.

Once you talk to a loan officer and know what your expected closing costs are and how much it looks like you might save each month, you should be able to calculate your breakeven point. This is essentially the amount of time you need to stay in the home in order for your monthly savings to recoup the closing costs.

To calculate it, you simply divide the closing costs by your monthly savings. The answer you get is how many months you should stay in the home in order for the refinance to be worth your while.

If you already know you won’t be in the home for that long, then you probably shouldn’t refinance.

You’re Switching from an ARM to a Fixed-Rate Mortgage

If you have an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM), you could benefit from switching to a fixed-rate mortgage.

Say you have an ARM that had a fixed rate for seven years, but now that the fixed period is over, the rate is starting to change from month to month or is increasing.

Whether you want the stability of a constant rate or you want to take advantage of locking in lower rates before they rise, a refinance can help you.

You Want to Switch from a Non-VA Loan into a VA Loan

If you currently have a non-VA loan and are paying mortgage insurance and a high interest rate, it may be beneficial for you to refinance into a VA loan.

With VA loans, rates are usually lower than those for conventional loans, you don’t have to pay mortgage insurance, and you don’t have prepayment penalties.

You Want to Cash Out on Your Equity

VA cash-out refinance loans allow veterans to both take advantage of lower rates and take cash out of the equity on their home. This money can be used for whatever you want, from student loans to car payments to a vacation with your family.

You Want to Consolidate Your Debt

You could benefit from using a VA cash-out refinance to transfer your debts from high-interest accounts (like credit cards) into lower-interest mortgage debt. This way, you may be able to save money on interest and enjoy the extra convenience of having your debts all in one place.

When a VA Refinance Could Be a Bad Idea

You Won’t Be in the Home Long Enough to Make It Worth It

Since refinances require closing costs, you want to make sure that you plan on being around past the breakeven point, as we’ve already discussed.

This means that if you’re planning on living in your home for 2 more years, but the monthly savings don’t make up for the closing costs until 3 years down the road, refinancing will actually have a negative impact on your finances.

Current Rates Are Higher Than Your Rate

If current rates are higher than your mortgage rate, it is generally not a good idea to refinance. Switching into a shorter term or a fixed rate are exceptions to this rule of thumb.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, it’s a good idea to look at various aspects of your loan to make sure that a refinance is worth it.

There are unscrupulous lenders that may try to get you to refinance even when it doesn’t actually save you money (and can even cost you). Be wary of unsolicited offers, making sure to compare offers from at least two or three lenders before you decide to refinance.

Contact Us

To take advantage of current rates and learn if you could save money on your loan, speak with one of our VA loan experts. At Low VA Rates, we specialize in VA loans, so we are familiar with the ins and outs of the VA refinance.

Get started online or give us a call today.

When Is the Right Time to Buy a House?

A servicemember and his wife and daughter stand in front of their first home holding their new keys

When it comes to buying a home with a VA loan, timing is everything. But how do you know when the time is right? Is there a fairy of homebuying that will tap her wand three times when everything’s set?

Though we would all love some home buying wand-waving, it’s not quite that simple. However, there are some pretty straightforward signs that indicate you might be ready to start getting that home loan.

Your Finances Can Support a Home Loan

Graphic listing the 5 financial things you need to consider before getting a mortgagePerhaps the most important thing to consider is whether or not you have the resources to afford a VA home loan. The following are some costs you’ll want to be prepared for:

  • Monthly Payment – You’ll need a reliable income that can support a monthly mortgage payment. Many borrowers have to budget carefully to make sure they’re on top of their payments.
  • VA Funding Fee – This fee, which is typically 1.4–3.6% of the loan amount, is a one-time payment that most veterans are required to pay. However, you do have the option to roll it into the overall loan amount.
  • Down Payment – Though a VA loan doesn’t require a down payment, if you can put some money down if you want. Even just 5 or 10% can get you a lower funding fee percentage.
  • Reserves – Having cash reserves is a great idea in case of an emergency. You’ll want to have enough to cover at least 2–3 months’ worth of expenses.
  • Closing Costs – Don’t forget about closing costs, which normally equal 3–5% of the loan amount. You may be able to negotiate with the seller to have them pay some of these costs. Or you can also roll them in to your VA loan amount.

You’ve Got Good Credit & Other Qualifications

Having a good credit history, especially your recent history, will play a big role in determining whether or not you can get approved for a home loan. In addition, your credit score will affect the rate you can qualify for.

Other factors that affect your application being approved or denied include your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, employment history, and a variety of other qualifications.

The Market & Rates Are Favorable

Though it’s impossible to predict how the market and rates will do in the future, there are a few things you can consider when thinking about starting the home loan process:

  • Rates – National rates change all the time. Keeping an eye on current rates as well as expert predictions for future rates isn’t a bad idea.
  • The Current Housing Market – A buyer’s market means that lots of homes are being sold, but there aren’t a whole lot of buyers going for them. Buying during a buyer’s market can help you get a better price on the home you’re looking for.

You’re Ready to Settle Down

A couple & their daughter are moving into their new homeIn addition to being ready to take on the responsibility of large monthly home loan payments and maintaining a home, you also need to be ready to stay in one place for a while.

In order for a mortgage to be worth it, financially, you usually want to be able to start getting back equity in the home. Typically this takes at least 5 years, if not longer.

So, before you buy a home, really decide if you’re ready to settle down for that amount of time.

The Advantages Outweigh the Disadvantages

Before deciding whether to buy a home, think about the advantages vs. disadvantages of homebuying. For example, you may gain a feeling of security or community by buying a home, but you’ll also have less freedom to relocate.

Depending on your values, it may or may not be the right time for you.

Keep in Mind . . .

If you don’t match the above criteria but you want to buy a home, you’ve still got options.

Remember that VA home loans are much easier to qualify for than other loans. You don’t have to make a down payment or pay for mortgage insurance, plus closing costs can be paid by the seller.

Still have questions? Our experts at Low VA Rates can give you advice catered to your situation. Give us a call at 866-569-8272 to speak to a mortgage professional today.

VA Loan Limits Removed in 2020 with New Law

Vets Can Now Get a Bigger VA Home Loan

Because of the sacrifices they’ve made serving our country, veterans have the option of using a VA loan on home purchases. This loan type is designed to be a benefit, allowing more servicemembers access to home loans at great ratesand with no down payment.

In 2020, things are even better for veterans looking to get a VA loan. A recent law change means veteran loans no longer have to be within the VA loan limits that were previously required to buy a home without a down payment.

Why the Change to VA Loan Limits?

In the past, some veterans faced a barrier when they tried to get a home using their VA mortgage benefits: VA loan limits.

Prior to 2020, limits on VA loan amounts were based on conforming loan limits set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. For VA loans, they defined the amount the VA could guarantee on a VA loan in each county.

Let’s go over just what that means.

The VA, under previous requirements, could guarantee 25% of a loan within the loan limit. So if you wanted to borrow more than the limit permitted, you’d need to make a down payment equal to 25% of the difference between the limit and the loan amount.

Say you wanted a loan for $600,000, but you lived in a county that, like most counties in 2019, had a VA loan limit of $484,350. You’d have two choices:

  1. Find a less expensive home that falls under the limit and receive the zero down payment requirement benefit.
  2. Pay 25% of the difference between the loan limit and actual loan amount, or $28,912.50, as a down payment.

This made one of the most important VA loan benefitsgetting a loan with $0 downdifficult for some veterans to access.

What Does This Mean for Veterans?

Under the new law, veterans who qualify can get homes at higher amounts, without having to put money down.

This is great news for veterans in more expensive housing markets or those who would like to get a larger loan while still taking advantage of the benefits they’ve earned.

2020 loan limit changes: Then, veterans had to stay within VA loan limits to receive the no-down-payment benefit. Now: veterans can get a loan of any size they're approved for and still take advantage of the no-down-payment benefit.

It’s important to keep in mind that veterans still need to be approved by a VA mortgage lender to get a loan.

While the law change makes it easier for veterans to get larger loans because of the opportunity to put 0% down on the home, it won’t change the stricter requirements that are often attached to larger mortgages.

With larger VA loans, lenders may require: a higher credit score and a lower debt-to-income ratio

Does This Apply to All Veterans?

VA Entitlement
Your VA loan entitlement is the amount the VA will guarantee on your mortgage. Your current amount depends on things like your service details and whether you’ve used your VA loan benefit before.

Veterans must have full VA entitlement to qualify under the new law. If you don’t have full entitlement, you’ll still be required to get a loan within the loan limits.

You may not have full entitlement if you already have a VA loan or you’ve defaulted on a loan. A VA loan officer (like one from Low VA Rates) can help you check your entitlement and determine what kind of loan you qualify for.

The Law Behind the Change: Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019

The recent change to VA loan limits was part of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 (Public Law 116-23), which offered a variety of adjustments to laws regarding veterans, such as the redefining of Agent Orange Exposure in VA disability benefits and the removal of some fee requirements for Purple Heart Recipients.

There was also a temporary change made as part of this law: slight increases to the VA funding fee. This will help fund the benefits offered to veterans exposed to Agent Orange. In 2022, the fee will return to its original amount, until 2029, when the fee will decrease.

You can learn more about these and other changes in this law made by reading our article about 3 Major Updates to the VA Loan Program.

What Are Non-Allowable and Allowable VA Fees in 2019?

The VA loan is a great opportunity for veterans, offering benefits like low interest rates, no required private mortgage insurance (PMI), and no down payment.

Another lesser-known benefit of VA loans is that there are certain fees a veteran is not permitted to pay at closing. This helps keep closing costs reasonable for veterans and makes sure they’re not offered cheap loans and then charged huge amounts at closing. 

For a summary of VA non-allowable fees, watch the video below:

There are, however, some fees that have more detailed restrictions, and other fees that are allowed to be charged. Continue reading to learn more about non-allowable and allowable VA fees in 2019.

VA Non-Allowable Fees

Some fees can be paid by the veteran as long as they fall into a specified category or within a certain amount, while others cannot be paid by veterans at all. 

Let’s go over the non-allowable VA fees, which cannot be paid by veterans on VA loans. These include:

Lender attorney fees, Prepayment penalties, HUD/FHA inspection fees for builders, Appraisals that the buyer or seller did not request, A lender- or seller-requested Reconsideration of Value, Fees for real estate agents or brokers

VA non-allowable fees are not permitted at any time; however, there are other fees that have specific guidelines about when they are and are not allowed.

VA Allowable Fees with Strict Limitations

Veterans are allowed to pay a 1% origination fee to lenders. (There are certain permitted fees and charges that can be in addition to this fee—but we’ll cover that in the next section.)

The allowable 1% fee is for underwriting, processing, and originating the VA loan, and the VA has certain restrictions regarding the fee.

If the 1% fee is charged as a flat rate fee, lenders have to cover specified costs as part of the flat rate and may not charge them to the veteran outside of the fee, like:

  • Postage
  • Fees for locking in your rate
  • Prepayment penalties
  • Fees for coordinating transactions
  • Fees for tax services
  • Closing fees
  • And more

If it is not charged as a flat rate, the lender can charge itemized fees that equal an amount that is up to 1% of the loan amount. These fees do not have to remain within the same parameters as when the lender charges a flat rate, but they must not exceed 1% of the loan amount.

Fees associated with underwriting, processing, or originating the VA loan can only equal up to 1% of the loan amount."

Talk to your VA lender if you’d like more detail on VA regulations and what you’re being charged.

Itemized Fees That Can Be Charged in Addition to the 1% Fee

So you’re aware when you’re looking at your loan agreement, there are some additional fees that may be charged even outside of the 1% fee. They must, however, fall within certain categories outlined by the VA.

Included in these allowed fees are things like:

  • Charges for the VA appraisal
  • The VA funding fee
  • Credit report fees
  • Title insurance

However, in order for a lender to charge these fees, the amount must be considered “reasonable” to be allowed by the VA.

Keep in mind that while lenders can charge you for a number of itemized costs, they cannot charge you for their coordination of these kinds of transactions with third parties. 

Discount Points

Lenders are also permitted to charge discount points. Discount points are an agreement between borrower and lender where you pay extra at closing in return for a lower interest rate.

The VA requires that the number of these points be “reasonable.” 

So Who Pays VA Non-Allowable Fees?

VA non-allowable fees can be paid for by anyone involved with the VA loan besides the veteran.

This might include:

Real Estate Agents, Sellers, and Lenders

No one party is required to pay these fees, but there are different circumstances that may make it advantageous for one of these parties to do so. For example:

  • The real estate agent may agree to pay these costs in exchange for credit at closing (depending on whether this is legal in your state)
  • The seller may want to contribute so you’ll by the home, especially if it’s a buyer’s market
  • The lender may negotiate with you to pay certain closing costs in return for a higher rate

To protect veterans from being enticed to get loans they can’t afford by offers of huge seller concessions, the VA has limits for what the seller can pay. They are only permitted to concede up to 4% of the loan amount; anything above 4% is considered excessive.

Though no one party must pay non-allowable fees, borrowers should always ask as part of the negotiations during the homebuying process.

Why Sellers Shouldn’t Be Afraid of the VA Loan

Why Sellers Shouldn't Be Afraid of the VA Loan

Common VA Loan Misconceptions & Facts Every Seller Should Know

Some sellers have heard things about the VA loan that make them hesitant when VA borrowers come knocking at their door. They begin to wonder if VA loans are bad for sellers, and they may even end up turning away veterans who are looking to buy a home using their VA loan benefits.

Rumors that VA loan seller disadvantages outweigh the advantages are simply not true. And because these rumors may keep sellers and veterans from perfectly good transactions, they can actually be harmful.

To put it simply, sellers should be excited to work with veterans! Not only are you supporting those who have served our country by allowing them to use their hard-earned benefits, but you are also enjoying the benefits that come with working with US veterans.

Check out our video below for an overview of what a VA loan means for the seller.

Keep reading for more details on how VA loans affect sellers and why working with VA buyers isn’t much different than working with any buyer.

Sellers Can Choose Whether or Not to Pay Concessions

Because the VA prohibits veterans from paying certain fees on VA loans, some sellers mistakenly believe the myth that sellers are required to pay these costs on VA loans.

The truth is that both conventional and VA loan buyers can request that sellers pay some closing costs or fees on their loan, called concessions.

Like with any other loan type, a seller is not obligated to pay any costs a VA buyer asks them to. Buyers can ask for seller concessions on any kind of loan, but it’s up to sellers to choose whether or not they want to pay for some closing costs during negotiations.

Even the VA’s non-allowable fees don’t have to be paid by sellers. They can be paid by any other loan party, including the real estate agent or lender.

Before making the decision to pay or not pay concessions, it’s important for sellers to know that in some cases, paying for some of the closing costs can actually be beneficial.

For example, in a buyer’s market, making some concessions can give you a competitive edge over other sellers and help you sell your home faster.

Plus, home sellers who decide to pay concessions often make up for these costs by either:


            Increasing the Home Price                        Holding Firm on the Listing Price


You can increase the home price an amount that will cover what you agree to pay for the buyer on closing costs and fees. Or, you can hold firm on the listing price, since paying some closing costs may give you bargaining power if the buyer asks for a lower price in addition to concessions.

For more details on how seller concessions work with VA loans, check out our video below.

The Loan Process Is Simple for Both Buyers and Sellers

Automatic Authority Streamlines the Process

Some sellers are concerned that because the VA loan is backed by a government agency, selling their home to a buyer with this loan type will be a long or complicated process.

While buying with a VA loan used to take longer than other loans since the requests had to be processed by the VA, now lenders can be granted automatic authority, which has helped make the VA loan process quick and simple.

What Is Automatic Authority?
Automatic authority is when private lenders are authorized by the VA to process loans without going through the VA.

It’s also helpful to know that VA loans are government-backed, not offered through the government itself. Private lenders are the ones who actually offer VA loans. And most lenders who are serious about the VA loan seek the aforementioned automatic authority from the VA.

This VA authority allows the VA loan process to move smoothly and operate similarly to conventional loans, removing many of the complexities that made the loan process a bit sluggish in the past.

For the simplest process, ask the VA buyer you’re working with to use a lender with VA-granted automatic authority.

Appraisals for VA Loans Aren’t Much Different than Those for Other Loans

Keep in mind that the appraisal on a VA loan is more strict than one for a conventional loan because of the required Minimum Property Requirements (MPRs) that must be met. These MPRs ensure that those who have served our nation are not buying unsafe properties.

Minimum Property Requirements look for evidence that the home is safe, structurally sound, and sanitary

You can find out more details on what these three “S’s” mean by watching our video about the VA Minimum Property Requirements.

Basically, if your home is in good shape, the appraisal should pretty much be just like an appraisal for any other kind of loan. Even with a few extra requirements, the timeframe for VA loans is quite comparable to any other loan type, only taking 2-3 days longer, on average.

Another way to streamline the appraisal process is to make sure that your veteran buyer is working with an agent who is familiar with VA loans. Because VA-familiar agents know the ins and outs of the process, it’s less likely that there will be agent-caused delays.

Want more tips to make sure your appraisal goes as smoothly as possible? Watch our video below to learn why homes may fail the VA loan appraisal and what you can do to prepare.

Veterans Are Reliable

When it comes to mortgages, veterans of the US military are the most reliable group in the nation. Of all loan types, VA loans have the lowest foreclosure rate in the country.

Soldier saluting in front of a list of veteran values: duty, integrity, ethics, honor, courage, loyalty, excellence, respect, selfless service, commitment

Why is this? Well, veteran culture includes many honorable values that make them a great group to work with.

This is meaningful to sellers because with priorities like goal-setting, honesty, and loyalty, veterans tend to follow through on their agreements and have likely thought carefully through the decision of homebuying before looking at homes.

Despite this reality, some buyers may be concerned that a veteran putting $0 down could mean something about their reliability or assets, or that their higher offer on a home signals that something fishy is going on.

However, veterans commonly put nothing down because of the no down payment requirement of the VA loan, which may free up funds to make a higher initial offer. This doesn’t mean anything negative about the veteran; it simply means they’re using the benefits they’ve earned through their service.

In addition to the fact that veterans and servicemembers are some of the most grounded and dependable people to work with, working with someone who has helped secure your freedom is a great opportunity to say thanks and give back.

The Bottom Line

If you have the chance to work with a US military veteran or servicemember, don’t turn them away because of rumors you may have heard.

If you’ve heard anything else about VA loans that makes it sound questionable for the seller, please leave a comment below or contact us. We’ve been working with VA loans for over a decade, so we know the ins and outs and can help you navigate what VA loans mean for you as the seller.


5 Ways to Pay Less in Closing Costs on a VA Loan

If you’ve started the mortgage process, you probably know that closing costs can be expensive, equaling around 1–5% of the home price. That’s why many veterans looking to get a VA loan wonder if there’s an option with no closing costs.

The good news is that there are multiple ways for veterans to lessen or even eliminate VA loan closing costs on their home loan, some of which are listed below:

5 Ways to Reduce Out-of-Pocket Closing Costs. 1. Roll some closing costs into the loan. 2. Use closing cost assistance for veterans. 3. Negotiate with the seller for them to pay closing costs 4. Get lender credits to cover the costs. 5. Look at VA loans with no closing costs.

Keep reading to learn how to make each of these tips a reality for your home loan.

1. Roll Some VA Closing Costs into the Loan

One of the best ways to reduce VA loan closing costs is to roll the VA funding fee into the loan. This fee is typically equal to 1.25–3.3% of the loan amount, so including it in your mortgage can save you a substantial amount at closing.

Most veterans choose to roll the fee into the loan to save on upfront costs, though some do opt to pay it out of pocket.

It’s important to keep in mind that rolling any closing costs into the loan will require you to pay more in interest over the long run. This is because you’re increasing the loan amount, which in turn increases the amount of interest you’ll pay.

However, this option is helpful for those who may not have enough money saved to pay the funding fee upfront or who don’t want to spend their savings and would rather include the fee as part of the loan amount.

How Much Will My Interest Go Up If I Roll the VA Funding Fee into the Loan?

Here’s a simplified example to give you a sense for how costs could change if you included the VA funding fee in your loan.

Let’s say you’re getting a $200,000 mortgage. You put 5% down and are an active-duty veteran, so your VA funding fee amount is 1.25% of the loan, which equals $3,000.

If you pay the fee upfront, you won’t have to pay interest on the fee amount. You’d end up paying $6,500 in interest on the mortgage. In total, you’d pay $209,500 for the mortgage amount, interest, and funding fee over the life of the loan.

However, if you roll the fee into the loan, you’d pay $6,597.50 in interest, which means the total amount you’d pay for the loan would be $209,597.50.

As you can see, the interest added by the VA funding fee isn’t much. You’d only pay $97.50 in interest on the fee over the long run.

Essentially, in this example, you’d have to decide whether it’s worth paying an additional $97.50 over the life of the loan to avoid paying the $3,000 funding fee upfront.

For many veterans, paying slightly more in interest to avoid the significant upfront cost is worth it. However, the best option for you depends on your individual situation.

2. Use Closing Cost Assistance for Veterans

Depending on your area, there may be programs and grants available to help veterans reach their goal of homeownership.

According to VA loan expert Maurice Navarro, these programs usually vary locally, sometimes differing even between counties. You can visit your local VA office to learn more about what programs are available in your area and for your specific situation.

You can also ask your VA lender if they’re aware of any veteran homeownership assistance programs you might be able to apply for. Look for lenders that specialize in VA loans, like us at Low VA Rates, so you’re getting information from experts that are more familiar with opportunities available for veterans.

3. Negotiate with the Seller to Have Them Pay Closing Costs

Perhaps one of the best ways to reduce VA closing costs is to ask for the seller to pay for them. As part of the homebuying negotiations, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for any/all costs to be paid by the seller.

The closing costs a seller agrees to pay are called concessions, and they can include the VA funding fee, property taxes and insurance, and other specified costs.

Did You Know?
According to the VA, seller concessions can equal up to 4% of the loan amount.

Whether the seller will agree to pay for these costs depends on multiple factors, like how long the home has been on the market or what kind of housing market you’re in. If you’re in a buyer’s market, you’ll likely find sellers who are more willing to pay some closing costs.

It’s important to know that no seller is required to pay closing costs, but it’s still in your best interest to make sure you ask.

Learn more details about seller concessions on VA loans in the video below.

 4. Get Lender Credits to Cover the Costs

What Are Lender Credits?
With lender credits, lenders lower your closing cost amount. In exchange, you accept a higher interest rate and potentially pay certain fees.

Another helpful way to reduce upfront costs on a VA loan is to ask your lender for lender credits.

Like with most lender-buyer agreements that lower closing costs, your interest will usually increase with this option. A higher interest rate helps cover the cost your lender is paying for you at closing. It spreads it out over a longer period of time, however, making it more manageable for many borrowers.

Also similar to other closing cost-saving options, you’ll want to consider whether the additional money paid in interest over the long run is worth the upfront savings.

5. Explore VA Loans with “No Closing Costs”

If you’re looking for a “no closing cost” VA loan, the VA IRRRL is a great option if you already have a VA loan and want to refinance. With the IRRRL, you’re able to roll all of the closing costs into the loan.

Similar to what happens when you roll the VA Funding Fee into a loan, this option increases the balance of your loan, but allows you to pay less upfront.

You’ll want to remember that there are no true “no closing cost” VA loans, since you’ll still need to pay for the costs (plus interest) over the life of the loan.

However, any costs you can roll into the loan will mean you pay less money out-of-pocket on your home purchase, which is especially useful for veterans who can’t afford a large upfront payment or would like to keep their money in savings or use it for investments.

Talk to a VA lender to learn about your options for rolling closing costs into your VA loan.

In the meantime, watch Eric Kandell, president of Low VA Rates and VA loan expert, discuss how this works in the video below.


11 Common VA Loan Myths Debunked

Is a VA loan a good idea? You may have heard things about the VA loan program that seem a little fishy or make you hesitate to get one.

Because the VA loan is unique in the mortgage world, it can be easy for rumors and misinformation to spread about how the program works, who can qualify, and other specifics.

However, the VA loan is designed specifically to make homeownership more accessible to veterans. It’s a benefit every veteran has earned through their service, and we would hate for you to miss out on it just because of a few rumors.

So, if you’re wondering if you should get a VA loan, this article can help you sort through what’s fact and what’s fiction.

Myth #1: The VA Offers the VA Home Loan Directly

Perhaps the biggest of the VA loan myths is that the loans are done directly through the VA.

Additionally, some veterans think that both the VA and private lenders offer VA loans, and they wonder why they’d go through a private lender if they could just go straight to the VA.

The VA, however, does not lend money directly to veterans. Instead, it guarantees a certain percentage of each VA loan. The loans themselves are offered through private lenders.

How Does the VA Guaranty Help Veterans?

The VA guaranty means that even if a veteran defaults on a loan, their lender will receive a percentage of the loan back from the VA.

This makes it less risky for lenders to take on VA loans, allowing them to offer major advantages, such as:

  • Lower rates than conventional loans
  • No down payment
  • Requirements that are easier to meet
  • No private mortgage insurance (PMI)

The VA also has certain qualifications that must be met by lenders who offer VA loans, as well as specifications on how they can use the loans. These limitations are in place to protect veteran borrowers from predatory lenders.

Keep in mind that these requirements don’t mean that every VA-approved lender offers similar loans. Once the basic requirements are met, there is breathing room for lenders to offer different rates and terms.

This is why you will want to do your research to find the best deal you can. Comparing lenders is essential to getting the lowest rates possible.

Additionally, even though private lenders offer VA loans, this doesn’t mean they all specialize in this type of loan or have experience with it. So look for a lender who focuses on serving veterans and regularly closes VA loans.

Myth #2: You Can Only Use the VA Loan Once

Another misconception about the VA loan is that veterans can only use it on one purchase or refinance.

The way it really works is simple.

Each qualifying veteran has a certain amount of VA entitlement, which is the amount of money the VA will guarantee on the loan. If you don’t use all of your entitlement on the purchase of your first home, you can usually use the remainder when you buy your next home.

In addition, you can also restore your entitlement in some situations. Restoring your entitlement only works if you have either:

  1. Sold the home under specific circumstances (listed in the graphic below), or
  2. Paid off the loan
Restoring VA Entitlement

Your entitlement may be restored if you meet one of the following requirements:

  • Pay off the initial house you used your entitlement on and have your entitlement restored to get a loan for a second property
  • Have another veteran assume your VA loan, renewing your entitlement
  • Have the original loan paid off after it’s taken on by a civilian
  • In some cases, you don’t have to have your loan paid off, but you do have to have enough leftover entitlement to get another loan without restoring that entitlement

When your entitlement is restored, it’s as if you’ve never used it, and you can have full access for your second VA loan.

For more information about your specific situation and entitlement, you should speak to a VA-approved lender.

Myth #3: You Need Great Credit to Qualify

What Are Overlays?
VA lender overlays are when lenders add their own requirements to a loan, on top of what the VA requires.

One major benefit of the VA loan program is that the VA has no required credit score.

However, private lenders may have their own overlays, including specific credit requirements. Because these requirements vary, veterans should make sure to contact multiple lenders, even if they’ve been turned down by one for having less-than-excellent credit.

Myth #4: VA Loan Requirements Are Hard to Meet

One misconception is that VA loans have strict requirements. This myth is especially surprising considering that the requirements on VA mortgages are more relaxed, which is one of their biggest benefits.

As discussed above, your credit doesn’t have to be perfect to get a VA loan. Though some lenders hold strictly to their overlays, others, like Low VA Rates, are willing to talk to borrowers to look at their individual situation and do what we can to help them qualify.

On top of having no VA-imposed credit requirements, VA loans:

  • Have lower average interest rates than other loan types
  • Don’t require a down payment
  • Limit the closing costs a veteran has to pay
  • Have no prepayment penalties
  • Don’t require private mortgage insurance (PMI)

Check out our video below to learn just how simple it is to qualify for a VA loan.

Myth #5: You Must Be a Combat Veteran to Qualify

Contrary to what you may have heard, many veterans and servicemembers are eligible for a VA loan.

Check out our graphic below for the basics.

VA Service Requirements

You may meet service requirements for a VA loan if you:

  • Have 90+ consecutive days of service in active duty military
  • Served on active duty during peacetime for at least 181 consecutive days
  • Have 6 or more years of service in the National Guard
  • Are the surviving spouse of a veteran who died as a result of service

Myth #6: The VA Loan Process Is Too Complicated

Because the VA loan is part of a government program, some veterans worry about the paperwork and time frame involved.

However, as previously discussed, the VA loan is not offered directly through the government. Instead, it’s offered through private lenders, which take care of any government-related details for you.

What Is Automatic Authority?

Automatic authority is when lenders obtain permission from the VA to close loans independently without VA oversight.

Look for lenders that have automatic authority, which allows the loan process to go smoothly and simply. Unlike other lenders, those with automatic authority don’t have to get approval from the VA every time they close a VA loan.

Additionally, lenders must meet the VA’s experience requirements to be eligible for automatic authority.

Finally, to make the VA loan process even easier, you should also look for lenders that focus on VA loans and close them regularly.

Myth #7: Every Veteran Gets a VA Loan—No Matter What

As previously outlined, you have to meet service requirements as well as other financial requirements in order to get a VA loan. No lender is required to give a VA loan to a veteran if that veteran does not qualify.

Keep in mind that some veterans may meet qualifications with one lender but not another.

Myth #8: The VA Appraisal Is a Huge Hassle

There are a few extra requirements for a VA appraisal. These VA requirements, called Minimum Property Requirements (MPRs), ensure that the home is safe, sound, and sanitary. They can be thought of as an added protection or benefit for veterans.

Let’s say the home you’re looking at has termite or structural damage or is otherwise in bad condition. In these cases, even though the appraisal may take longer, it’s worth it because you’d want to know this kind of information before you buy the house.

Franco Firpo, a former loan officer with Low VA Rates, adds that another reason it can take longer is because, as of 2019, “the VA has to assign the VA-approved appraiser, and there usually aren‘t as many VA-approved appraisers in a specific area.”

But even with their extra requirements, VA appraisals, on average, only take around 10 days. In comparison, conventional appraisals can usually get approved and done within 24-72 hours. While there is a difference, it’s not very significant.

Additionally, the VA requires that VA appraisals close within set time frames that vary between states (and sometimes counties). Visit the online appraiser schedule and click on your state to learn what the VA-mandated appraisal timeline is for your area.

Myth #9: Foreclosures or Bankruptcies Disqualify You for a VA Loan

How Long Do I Have to Wait?

If you’ve had a Chapter 7 foreclosure, you can apply for a loan after waiting for 2 years.

If you’ve had a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you can apply as long as you’ve made on-time payments for 1 year.

Even if you have a bankruptcy or foreclosure in your history, you can still apply for a VA home loan. In fact, VA loans require a shorter waiting period for these situations than conventional loans do.

Keep in mind that it’s still not guaranteed that you’ll qualify, and it can be hard work building credit and other qualifications back up again. If you don’t meet the requirements just yet, a good VA lender will help you create an action plan to get back on track.

To listen to loan expert Maurice Navarro discuss the reality of foreclosure and VA loans, watch the video below.

Myth #10: You Can Only Own One House with a VA Loan

As discussed under Myth #2, if you have enough entitlement to get a second loan and meet the requirements, you can purchase a second home with your VA entitlement.

However, the details depend on your specific situation and get pretty complicated, especially in regards to the occupancy rule.

What Is the Occupancy Rule?

In general, this rule states that you must intend to live in the home you’re purchasing with a VA loan as your primary residence within 60 days.

However, there are some exceptions, like for servicemembers with PCS orders.

To find out if you qualify to buy a second property with a VA loan, you should talk to a VA lender.

Myth #11: VA Loans Can’t Be Used on Condos or for Construction

Both condos and new homes can be purchased using a VA loan.

You can use a VA loan to buy a condo as long as the property is approved by the VA. To find out if the condo you’re interested in is VA-approved, you simply need to check out the VA’s list of approved condos.

If a property you like isn’t already on the list, you can still get it approved through the VA. A realtor familiar with VA loans can help, or you can talk to the property manager to get the process started.

In addition, contrary to what you may have heard, it is possible to use a VA loan to build a new home.

Some VA lenders don’t offer VA financing for building a home because it can be a more complex process than what they want to take on. (No wonder some vets think they’re not offered at all!)

Other lenders, like us at Low VA Rates, do offer the loan type and are happy to work with you as you build your dream home.

Check out our video below for more information on how you can use a VA loan to finance a newly constructed home.

More Myth-Busting

What else have you heard about VA loans?

Leave a comment with anything you’d like to know more about, and we’d love to answer in the comments, or even add it to the article!

Meanwhile, for more resources, check out our videos and posts below.

How to Find a Realtor with VA Loan Experience

Looking for a home? You may have heard that the agent you choose can make or break your homebuying process.

But if you’re a veteran, current servicemember, or eligible spouse looking to buy a home with a VA loan, the agent you choose may be even more important. Finding a realtor who understands the particulars of VA loans can have a huge impact on your experience.

Why Do I Need a Realtor Who Has Worked with the VA Loan?

The VA loan process includes steps that are unique in the mortgage world. If a realtor hasn’t had experience with VA loans, they simply won’t be able to navigate these details as smoothly as a realtor who has.

For example, the VA appraisal is a process that is specific to VA loans and may be unfamiliar to many real estate agents. Agents who have worked extensively with VA loans, however, know the timeline and Minimum Property Requirements (MPRs) of a VA appraisal and can often work efficiently through any issues to help the loan close faster.

Additionally, realtors familiar with VA loans can meet veteran-specific homebuying needs better than other realtors. Their history working with clients in the military can mean they’re easier to work with than other lenders.

Check out our graphic below for quick reference to what veteran real estate agents can offer:

These points are explained in more detail below:

  • Understanding Veteran-Specific Needs, Like Quick Moves – Sometimes, veterans need to find a home quickly or buy a home without looking at it first. A good veteran realtor knows how to work efficiently and provide support within these and other limitations.
  • Finding a VA Lender – If you haven’t found a good VA lender yet, a real estate agent who specializes in VA loans can help. They’ve likely had clients who’ve worked with different lenders, so they can give you some options.
  • Making Sure Properties Are VA-Approved – Condos and townhomes need to be approved by the VA before a veteran can use a VA loan on them. VA home loan realtors will be on top of this.
  • Finding Homes for Veterans with Disabilities/Injuries – Making sure a property meets the needs of veterans with a disability or injury will be a priority for a VA specialist.
  • Assisting Veterans with PTSD – VA-familiar agents will be able to find a good location and a property that accommodates the specific needs a veteran with PTSD may have.
  • Understanding Veteran Culture – Because veterans come from a distinct culture, working with a real estate agent who is familiar with this culture means they can help you navigate the feel of different neighborhoods to find one that’s the right fit for you.
  • Helping Veterans Find Housing Grants – Experienced realtors can lead veterans to helpful resources like grants or other veteran assistance programs.

How Can I Find a VA Home Loan Realtor?

You now know why you want to find a veteran realtor, but knowing how is another story.

Ask a Trusted VA Lender

We just talked about how a good VA-familiar realtor can give recommendations for lenders, but it works the other way around as well.

If you’re already working with a VA lender and they’re a reputable and experienced company, they should have certain realtors they’re familiar with that they can refer you to.

At Low VA Rates, for example, we have a list of local realtors we’ve worked with that we’re happy to share with our clients. (Heck, having an outstanding realtor makes our jobs easier as well!)

Get Recommendations from Other Veterans

Perhaps one of the best ways to find a great, veteran-friendly realtor is to ask fellow veterans. Talk to those who have just bought a home in the area you’re looking in and ask for their suggestions.

Since the veteran community tends to be both honest and loyal to other veterans, you’re likely to get some great pointers for who to go with and who to avoid.

Research Online & Look at Reviews

Of course, one easy way to find realtors in your area is to look online.

Read reviews of local agents to see what experiences others have had with a realtor. Look for notes on whether the realtor specializes in VA loans, and don’t be afraid to make quick calls to check on their experience.

How to Choose a Veteran Realtor

Now that you’ve found a few names to get started with, you’ll want to know what to look for in a realtor.

Check out our video below to get started, then keep reading for some additional pointers.

Interview a Few VA Real Estate Agents

We can’t overstate how important it is to compare multiple real estate agents.

Just like with VA lenders, no two agents are the same. You’ll want to interview a few so you can find the best fit for your personality and needs.

Additionally, as you’re interviewing realtors, you’ll be able to compare their familiarity with VA loans.

What to Ask Your Realtor to Make Sure They Know VA Loans

Asking specific questions, including some of the following examples, can help you get a clearer picture of each real estate agent’s experience with VA loans.

These points are explained in more detail below:

1. Do you have any certifications or specialties in VA loans?

Although not every great veteran realtor will have specific certifications, some will, which can show an added dedication to veteran loans. Perhaps they have a Military Residential Specialist classification or are a Military Relocation Professional. Learning about any titles or training they may have received can be helpful in identifying their experience..

2. How many VA loans did you work with in the last year?

You’ll want to get an idea of how much recent work the realtor has done with VA loans. Anyone can say they’ve worked with VA loans, but not every agent can say they’ve recently done so or are currently.

You could follow up with the question, “How many of the last 10 loans you worked with were VA loans?” The number is less important than the fact that they’ve recently had experience with VA loans.

3. What is the VA homebuying process like?

With this question, you’ll want to look for a confident, easy answer. For a VA-experienced realtor, describing the process should be second nature.

Listen not only to whether they are familiar with the timeline and VA-specific steps, but also to how they communicate. Buying a home is a big commitment, and since the realtor will be leading you through the process, you will want to make sure their communication style suits you.

4. Do you have military experience?

Military experience doesn’t define whether a realtor will do a great job, but it certainly can indicate dedication to veterans and VA loans. It may mean they better understand your unique needs as a veteran.

5. Can you give me a list of veteran references?

This is perhaps the most key question to ask your prospective agents. Not only will you be able to hear from other veterans who’ve worked with this agent, but you’ll be able to observe how quickly the agent offers them to you.

Other Things to Help You Choose a Veteran Realtor

Look for an agent that is respectful and considerate. You want someone who will really take the time to help you through the process. Even the most experienced VA realtor in the world can be very busy or difficult to work with, making the process more complex than it needs to be.

Along that same vein, find a communication style that works for you. Ask your VA realtor (and any referrals) how they communicate with clients, how easy they are to reach, and how updated they keep homebuyers.

Pay attention to how you feel talking to the realtor as well. Do you trust them and feel like you’re in capable hands? Do you feel listened to? Do they seem prepared? These are important qualities to observe in the interaction.

Lastly, check for how much experience an agent has in the specific geographical area you’re looking in. Ask them how long they’ve worked in the area and how many homes they’ve recently helped people find.

Realtors can help you not only put a roof over your head, but also find a community that is safe, clean, and makes you and your loved ones comfortable.

Check out some of our other resources below to learn more about the topic.

9 Questions You Should Ask Before Choosing a VA Lender

"9 Questions You Should Ask Before Choosing a VA Lender" overlayed on an image with a man and woman meeting at a coffee table to discuss business

Did You Know?
While lenders do have to meet certain VA requirements to offer VA loans, they still have plenty of wiggle room in many areas of the loan—like rates, minimum credit scores, and down payment requirements.

Whether you’re using your VA loan benefit for the first time or you’ve bought a home before, it’s in your best interest to compare a few VA lenders rather than going with the first one you find.

This is because lenders—and the loans they offer—aren’t all the same.

Even with VA loans, which are guaranteed (but not directly offered) by the government, details can vary between loans.

That’s why it’s important for veterans to know how to choose the best VA home loan lender. Working with the right lender could save you thousands of dollars and a lot of stress.

Check out some of the questions our experts recommend to help you narrow down the lenders on your list and choose the one that works best for your situation.

What Questions Should I Ask a Lender before Getting a VA Loan?

We’ll go into more detail, but for your quick reference, we’ve listed the questions below:

9 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a VA Lender: 1) Are you a LAPP lender? 2) How many VA loans do you close per month? 3) What rate and APR can you offer me? 4) How do I lock my rate? 5) What are the closing costs involved in the loan? 6) How long is your average closing process? 7) How do you communicate with borrowers? 8) Do you have any overlays? 9) What are the discount points and origination fees?


Now, let’s dive a little deeper into the why and how of these questions.

1. Are You a LAPP Lender?

In the mortgage world, there are many lenders that can do VA loans. However, not all lenders are able to close the loans themselves. Lenders that are approved by the VA to close loans within their company are called VA LAPP lenders.

A Privilege
“LAPP authority is a privilege delegated to lenders at VA’s discretion. Lenders maintain this privilege by complying with all applicable LAPP-related requirements.” –VA Lenders Handbook, Chapter 15

So why does it matter to a borrower whether a lender has been through the VA Loan Appraisal Processing Program (LAPP)?

Well, since the lender won’t have to deal with the extra processing required of non-LAPP lenders, you’ll usually experience an expedited loan process, which means you’ll likely close sooner and get in your home faster.

On top of that, to be LAPP-approved, the lender has to meet additional qualifications set by the VA. A lender must have an effective quality control system to ensure the best work on appraisal reviews.

Also, the lender exercises its LAPP authority through a staff appraisal reviewer (SAR), which is required to have at least three years of qualifying experience and a specified understanding of appraisals.

You can have confidence that LAPP lenders are often a better choice than other lenders.

2. How Many VA Loans Do You Typically Close per Month, and How Many Did You Close Last Month?

The VA loan process is a little more complex than the normal mortgage process. There are specific steps and requirements that the lender must be familiar with to efficiently close a VA loan.

Some lenders offer VA loans but don’t do them very often, which is not in your best interest. You’ll want to look for lenders who are regularly doing this type of loan and can provide you with numbers to back it up.

Pro Tip
Another way to get a feel for a lender’s values and experience is to look at their website and social media profiles. Do they frequently talk about VA loans? Are there resources available for veteran homeowners?

When you speak with a loan officer, ask them about their personal loan experience. A good average monthly range to look for in an individual loan officer is somewhere between at least 5–15 loans, with more being even better. You can also ask them how their number has changed over the last year or so to get a broader picture of their experience.

Keep in mind that if you’re speaking to a newer loan officer or the mortgage market hasn’t been doing too well, a loan officer may not have a large number to give you. This doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t go with that lender, however.

If this happens, you could ask the loan officer how many VA loans their company closes per month and what the numbers have been like over the last year to get a feel for how regularly the lender itself closes VA loans.

Overall, the goal of this question is to find out whether the loan officer and lender are regularly closing VA loans and know the loan type well.

3. What Rate and APR Can You Offer Me?


A common focus for VA lenders is mortgage rate, which is the percentage of the home loan cost the borrower is charged in interest. You’ll want to ask what this number is.

Additionally, if you’re considering an adjustable-rate mortgage, make sure to ask for further details. Ask how often rates will be adjusted, what the maximum rate is, and how much it can increase annually.


Rate is an important aspect of mortgages, but another aspect that is just as important (and sometimes overlooked) is annual percentage rate (APR).

APR is the percentage of the loan cost you pay overall for taking out a home loan, including charges like fees and closing costs. APR not only takes into account a number of fees that the rate doesn’t, but it also includes the rate itself as part of the percentage.

Remember This
Though it may seem like rates or other parts of the loan are set, everything in a mortgage offer is negotiable. Making lenders compete for your business can help you get better offers.

To put it simply, if you ask a few lenders for their rates and compare those, you can get an idea of which of them are offering good deals. However, if you compare multiple APRs, you’ll get the bigger picture of how much it will cost to take out a loan with each lender.

This way, you can compare compare apples to apples and see where some lenders may have lower rates but higher costs in other areas.

At Low VA Rates, we have a $250 Lowest APR Guarantee, where we offer $250 to anyone who closes with another lender at a lower APR than we can offer. We have written a few checks over the years, but we can usually beat other offers.

Check with lenders to see if they have similar guarantees or can beat other offers you find. Remember that you’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to your loan.

4. How Do I Lock My Rate?

It’s also wise to ask what the process is like for locking in your VA loan rate. Locking your interest rate now can protect you when rates change in the future.

Some lenders may lock your rate just a few weeks before closing. Others, like Low VA Rates, will lock loans after the initial disclosures have been submitted; we even make exceptions and can lock the rate shortly after receiving all the initial documentation.

As you learn when different lenders lock rates in on loans, you can narrow your options to those who make it easiest to lock your rate.

Additionally, ask whether they charge for locking your rate. If they do, ask if they’re willing to drop that charge.

5. What Are the Closing Costs Involved in the Loan?

Before choosing a lender, it’s a good idea to have a conversation with them about closing costs.

Comparing costs between lenders is much easier when you know what you’re looking at—plus, you can also compare how straightforward different lenders are in their descriptions of costs you can expect to pay at closing.

One thing that’ll help you in comparing costs is your Loan Estimate (LE), which you’ll receive after applying for the loan. Formerly called a Good Faith Estimate (GFE), an LE is the lender’s best estimate of what your loan rate, closing costs, and monthly payment will look like.

Don’t be afraid to ask lenders to explain the numbers to you. You can also challenge their costs by comparing them with quotes from other lenders.

6. How Long Is Your Average Closing Process?

How quickly VA loans close depends in part on what type of loan they are. Lenders should usually be able to close in around 2–3 weeks for a VA Streamline (or IRRRL); for VA cash-outs and VA purchase loans, you can expect a time frame closer to 30–45 days.

Knowing these time frames is important because some borrowers have a certain amount of time they need to work within.

Perhaps you got permanent change of station (PCS) orders and need to move in the next few months. Or maybe a seller wants to sell their home quickly, and you need a loan that can close within a month.

In either of these situations, knowing each lender’s expected time frame will help you gauge whether their timeline fits your needs.

7. How Do You Communicate with Borrowers?

Even though it can be an easy part of the loan process to overlook, your lender’s communication skills can make or break your loan experience.

Though most lenders will probably feel like they communicate well with their clients (and tell you that), asking them how they communicate can still be useful.

Ask and listen for specifics they can provide on the spot, such as:

  • How quickly they respond, on average, to clients
  • Whether their loan officers are available at any time
  • What kinds of relationships they have with borrowers
  • How often and how quickly they communicate updates about the loan
  • What communication methods they use (like phone calls, texting, emails, video calls, and Facebook chat)
Some Trustworthy Review Sites
  • Trustpilot
  • Better Business Bureau
  • Yelp
  • Zillow

You won’t want to take their answers at face value, however. One of the best ways to feel out which lenders are a good bet is to look at trustworthy reviews online. Though most lenders will probably feel like they communicate well, reviews can tell another story entirely.

Ask lenders where you can find their reviews, but also do some exploring on your own. Look for reviews hosted by third-party websites. As you look through reviews, you’ll pretty quickly learn how borrowers felt about the communication skills of their lenders.

8. Do You Have Any Overlays?

The VA has specific requirements that every VA loan must meet, but as previously mentioned, not every VA loan is the same. Lenders can add their own requirements, called overlays, that go beyond what the VA requires.

Ask what these overlays are for the specific type of VA loan you’re looking for (purchase, cash-out refinance, IRRRL, etc.). This can help you figure out whether you’ll qualify and give you a feel for just how veteran-friendly a lender is.

One specific question you may want to ask about overlays is this: Do You Have Minimum Credit Score Requirements?

While the VA does not require VA loans to have minimum credit scores, most VA lenders have credit score overlays. Asking about overlays can help sort out which lenders are most willing to work with you.

At Low VA Rates, we’re adamant about this one because we feel like lenders should not turn veterans away based solely on a number. That’s why we don’t have a minimum credit score requirement and, when determining eligibility, are open to considering the broader picture of a veteran’s financial life.

9. What Are the Discount Points and Origination Fees?

Many lenders charge discount points, which are payments you make to receive a lowered interest rate.

These points can be helpful, especially if you plan to stay in the home long-term. However, if you’ll be in the home for just a few years, using discount points will usually end up costing you more than if you simply went with the higher interest rate.

Find out what each lender charges for these points and how they’d negotiate if you’d like to pursue paying or not paying them.

Additionally, origination fees are costs you pay for the processing, underwriting, and origination of a loan. These fees are only permitted to add up to 1% or less of the loan amount, but this can still be a substantial amount of money.

Find out what kinds of fees you’ll be charged so you know upfront what to expect.

Additional Resources

Watch our video below to listen to one of our loan experts, Maurice Navarro, discuss what to look for in a VA lender:

And if you’re still wondering about what questions you should ask a VA lender or how to navigate finding a good lender, please explore our additional articles and videos below:



Feel free to contact us at Low VA Rates anytime. We’re happy to help you compare offers, understand the numbers, and even find the best lender.



Continue reading “9 Questions You Should Ask Before Choosing a VA Lender”

7 Benefits of VA Loans: Why It’s Still King, Even as Rates Are Rising

A veteran and his family stand in front of their dream home thanks to the benefits of VA loans

Veterans, It’s Still a Good Time to Buy a Home—As Long as You Don’t Wait Too Long

If you’ve been paying attention to mortgage rates, you know that right now, they’re rising.

In fact, they’re the highest they’ve been in four years.

We can’t say that it wasn’t expected to be this way. To the delight of homebuyers everywhere, rates stayed below 4% for a long while—but they couldn’t stay that way forever.

At the end of 2017, most of the major analytical companies predicted that rates would increase to 4.4% by the end of 2018.

But here we are in the first half of 2018, and rates have been “on a tear,” according to Freddie Mac. They’ve already reached the 4.4% mark predicted for the end of 2018. Who knows what they could be by December?

The good news is that if you’re a veteran, you’re still in a good position to buy a home—at least for a while. Here are seven big reasons why you shouldn’t give up on homeownership with a VA loan, despite climbing rates.

1. VA Loan Rates Are Lower Than Conventional Rates

One of the major benefits of VA mortgages is that their rates tend to be lower than rates for conventional loans.

It’s not just a tiny amount, either.

According to Interest.com, in December 2017, on average, VA loans had a 4.05% interest rate, while conventional loans had a 4.32% interest rate. For the borrower, that kind of difference can mean thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the loan.

This is something that good VA-approved lenders take very seriously. For instance, at Low VA Rates, we do everything we can to give you the lowest rates possible. We’ll even pay you $250 if you find a competitor that we can’t beat.

So, even as rates are rising across the nation, with a VA loan, you’ll be paying less than many will be on their conventional loans.

2. Interest Rates Are Predicted to Continue Rising

You might be thinking about waiting to buy a home because of the possibility that rates could go back down. Though it’s true that it could happen, predictions are that it won’t.

According to the director of economic research for Realtor.com, rates are predicted to rise to 5% by the end of 2018.

When it comes to your mortgage payments, that much of a difference in rates can mean thousands of dollars.

For instance, if you had a loan for $100,000 and rates were at 4.4%, you’d be paying $501 per month, or $180,274 altogether. If that $100,000 loan were made with rates at 5%, you’d have a monthly payment of $537, or $193,256 over the life of the loan.

That’s a difference of over $13,000. So if you’re looking for a home, it might be in your interest to go for one sooner rather than later.

Keeping Historical Rates in Mind

The last few years, rates have stayed under 4%. When you consider that rates have historically been closer to 7%, this seems miraculous.

But at some point, things have to change. And as we mentioned previously, they’re starting to increase quicker than experts predicted.

What’s more, when compared to historical numbers like 8%, 4.4% suddenly doesn’t look so bad. Don’t let the thought that maybe things will go back to the “normal” of the last four exceptional years keep you from getting into a home.

To take advantage of rates before they rise even higher, get started on a loan with us today. VA loans can help you get into a home before rates are too high, since they offer some of the most competitive rates in the market.

3. VA Loans Don’t Require a Down Payment

One major aspect of VA mortgages is that they require absolutely nothing for a down payment. This is a glowing benefit, considering that conventional loans require up to 20% down.

And even as rates are rising, you still won’t have to make a down payment, making it all the more affordable for you to get a home. You’ve earned it through your service to the country.

4. Home Prices Are Still Increasing

According to Forbes, home prices have been increasing for 23 consecutive months, but this increase can’t last forever. Forbes predicts that during 2018, home price increases will start to slow.

However, according to the same Forbes article, these price increases aren’t predicted to stop, just slow, so in order to take advantage of the current market, you may want to consider looking for a home sooner rather than later.

5. No Required Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

Most loan types require that you purchase PMI, which protects the lender in case you default on the loan. PMI can be around 0.5% to 1% of the loan amount, which can add up to thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.

But VA loans don’t require it at all. A portion of these loans are insured by the government, creating less risk and allowing for more lenient guidelines.

There is, however, a VA Funding Fee that is required of most veterans. This is a one-time fee that is between 1.25% and 3.3% of the loan. The good thing about it is that you can roll it into the cost of the entire loan. And with no required down payment, lower rates, and other benefits of a VA mortgage, this doesn’t end up having as big of an impact as it would otherwise.

6. Inventory Levels Are Expected to Increase

According to both Forbes and Realtor.com, inventory levels, or the number of houses on the market, will slightly increase in 2018.

The growth will likely be slow, but it’s still predicted to happen. This growth can give you and other homebuyers some relief, allowing you to choose from more properties without as much competition (and stress).

7. It’s Easier to Qualify for a VA Loan

VA loans are often easier to qualify for than other loans. These loans are a benefit to the veterans who defend this country, so they are designed to have less strict requirements.

Though many VA-approved lenders prefer that you have a credit score of at least 620 to qualify for a VA loan, some will work with you to look at your entire financial situation instead of just one detail. At Low VA Rates, we’ve approved people with low credit scores after taking their overall situation into account.

There are a few additional things a VA loan requires, like a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) and that a property that meets minimum VA standards. But, as far as the qualifications go, it is often easier to qualify for a VA loan than for other types of loans.

Don’t Miss out on That Perfect Home

The bottom line is that even though interest rates are going up, the VA home loan is still a great choice for many veterans to make.

Don’t give up on ownership just yet. There are so many benefits to VA loans, you won’t want to miss out.

To figure out whether you’re in a good space to get a VA mortgage, talk to one of our mortgage professionals today. We’ll help you look at rates, your personal finances, and other things all woven into becoming a homeowner. We strive to get you into your dream home by getting you a great loan.

As a veteran, you deserve it.

Pros and Cons to an Adjustable Rate Mortgage

Home with a line graph overlay depicting adjustable rate mortgages

Adjustable rate mortgages are less predictable and less common than fixed rate mortgages, which drives some potential borrowers away. But, depending on your circumstances, it could end up really saving you some money—so don’t move on until you’ve looked at the pros and cons.

What Is an Adjustable Rate Mortgage?

Unlike a fixed rate loan, an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) is a mortgage with interest rates that can change throughout the life of the loan. Fixed rate loans have a set interest rate throughout the life of the loan.

For most ARMs, there is an initial period, from one month to 15 years, during which the rate is fixed, making the loan a hybrid mortgage. After this period, however, the market index and margin determine how your interest rates will change.

For more information on how an ARM works, check out this post from our sister company that answers the question, “How Does an Adjustable Rate Mortgage Work?

Pros and Cons of an Adjustable Rate Mortgage


Some of the best things about ARMs are the following:

  • Possibility of Low Rates – Because ARM rates are designed to reflect a market, they can fluctuate pretty widely. You have the possibility that the market will do well, lowering your rates and saving you money.
  • Caps on Payments – Certain rates and payments of your ARM loan may have caps, meaning they may not exceed a certain amount. There can be caps for the first percentage change to your rate, how much it can change each period, and how much it can change over the whole life of the loan.
  • Flexibility – For people who want the freedom to sell or move within a few years of getting their loan, an ARM may be a good option. Talk to your lender to be sure there aren’t any penalties for moving or refinancing in the early stages of the loan.

Hybrid ARMs also offer the following benefits in addition to those listed above:

  • Low Initial Interest Rate – One of the major attractions to a hybrid ARM is the low interest rate during the initial period of the loan, which is normally between three and ten years. During this period, it is often lower than rates for fixed-rate mortgages. This can be particularly attractive for people who plan to refinance or move after the initial period.
  • Ability to Qualify for a Larger Loan – Because of the lower initial rates, you may be able to qualify for a loan amount that you wouldn’t otherwise qualify for. So if you’ve got your eyes on a dream home with fixed-rate payments you couldn’t afford, an ARM might give you the freedom to get into that home.


Some things you should keep in mind about ARMs are the following:

  • Possibility of Rising Rates – An ARM is a riskier loan to take on because of the instability of the market, which could then impact your monthly mortgage payments. Because of the changing market, interest rates may rise, and pretty sharply in some cases. You’ll want to be prepared for the possibility of spikes in your payments—you could end up being incapable of making your payments and, in the worst case scenario, default on your mortgage.
  • Caps Can Fall Short – Caps can sometimes backfire. Payment caps and interest caps are separate from one another, so if you reach the limit for your monthly payment but the interest rises, you may not have to pay more that month, but you will still owe the amount for the interest, which gets added to your overall loan amount. This addition to your overall balance is called negative amortization.
  • Less Stability – Since the payments can change at any time, you will have to be prepared for less stability than what a fixed-rate mortgage would offer. You may see sudden increases in your monthly payments, which can make planning your finances more difficult.
  • Prepayment Penalties – Some ARMs may include prepayment penalties. So if you’re planning to move or refinance early on, as many borrowers do, you’ll want to be sure there aren’t any extra fees for doing so.

How to Know If an Adjustable Rate Mortgage Is Right for You

Finding the right loan for your situation depends on your circumstances and qualifications, so you should always speak to different mortgage professionals to find what will fit your specific needs.

That being said, an ARM or hybrid ARM may be right for you if you are in one of the following situations:

  • You are planning to leave or refinance a home before or around the end of the initial period (for a hybrid ARM)
  • You are very confident that your future income or career will allow you to cover substantial increases in rates
  • You want to qualify for a larger loan
  • You think the market is going to become more favorable (but you should still be pretty confident that you can make the payments if this doesn’t turn out)

If you start looking into an ARM, make sure to ask your lender about worst-case scenarios. Since ARMs are riskier than fixed-rate loans, you’ll want to understand the possibilities so that you can take on a loan you’re confident you can handle.

Starting the Loan Application Process

As you begin looking for a mortgage and a lender, make sure not to settle on the first offer that comes your way. Rates, terms, and fees can be quite different from lender to lender, so you want to be sure that you go with the best option for your situation, which often won’t be the first offer you receive.

Similarly, explore different types of loans to be sure you find the one that will work best for you. There are many different types of loans to choose from, including VA loans, FHA loans, and jumbo loans. Know that it may take time to find what works for you, but the effort and energy you put into such a huge decision will be worth it.

To Learn More

At Low VA Rates, we understand how overwhelming it can be to find the right loan. We are committed to getting you into the right home with the right loan. Our caring loan officers, underwriters, and processors are here to help you with your unique situation and home needs.

For questions about ARM loans, or to start the loan application process today, give us a call at (866) 569-8272.

A Veteran’s First Home: Should You Use a VA or Conventional Mortgage?

If you’re a veteran looking to get into your first home, your Google searches on what kind of mortgage to choose have likely resulted in a flood of jargony opinions and advice.

It’s our goal to help you get out of the confusing stage of online searches and into the first steps of actually applying for a mortgage.

In this post, we’ll go over what each loan is and which points you need to consider when making your decision. We’ll also discuss how you can start the process of getting into that home you’ve got your eye on.

VA Loans and Conventional Loans Defined

  • VA Mortgage – A home loan that is guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
  • Conventional Mortgage – A home loan that is not government-backed, but rather purchased by government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and then kept as an investment or sold to investors.

Which Is Better, a VA Mortgage or a Conventional Mortgage?

A VA home loan is designed to offer a more attractive loan for qualified veterans to take advantage of. It’s backed by the government, so your lender takes on less risk with VA loans than with conventional loans and can often give you better terms and rates.

However, the choice that is right for you depends on your circumstances. There are some aspects of the loans, such as terms, fees, and rates, that you can compare to help make your decision.

Conventional Mortgages vs. VA Mortgages

Conventional Mortgage VA Mortgage
Down Payment Can go as low as about 3% No down payment required
Fees Varies between lenders VA Funding Fee (though there are exceptions, including for some veterans with service-related disabilities)
Required Documentation Employment history, pay stubs, 2 years of W2s, assets Same as conventional mortgage, plus Certificate of Eligibility, request form for CoE, and other military documentation
Interest Rates Vary depending on lender and your qualifications Usually lower than those for conventional loans
Mortgage Insurance Premium Often required on loans with less than 20% down Not required
Credit Score Above a 640 credit score usually required, but varies depending on lender and qualifications No VA-directed credit score requirement, though lenders can look for certain scores
Loan Limits
(How Much You Can Borrow)
$453,100 in most areas (2018), though it varies between counties No VA-directed loan limits, but they’ll only guarantee a certain amount of a loan, which is $453,100 in most areas (2018)
Properties Accepted Property borrower buys as either an investment, a property to rent out, or a living space Property where borrower has primary intention of living in the home
Debt-to-Income Ratio
(How Much of Your Gross Monthly Income Goes to Payment of Debts)
Around 43% or lower, with good credit Around 41% or lower

What This Means

If you’re a qualified veteran, you have the opportunity to take advantage of your VA benefits, which will almost always offer more favorable rates and terms than a conventional loan. You’ve taken time to serve your country, so you now have the opportunity to receive some assistance getting into a home.

Other positive aspects of a VA mortgage to keep in mind include:

  • May have lower closing costs than a conventional loan
  • You can receive help from the VA if you struggle to make payments at some point during the loan
  • Option to roll the VA Funding Fee into the overall loan balance
  • No prepayment penalty, which means you can’t be penalized for paying your loan early
  • Easier to qualify for

How to Know If You Qualify for a VA Loan

Many veterans can take advantage of the VA mortgage benefit, including active duty veterans who have served either 90 consecutive days during wartime or 181 consecutive days during peacetime, those who have served six years in the Reserve or National Guard, and some surviving spouses. For more information on who is eligible, visit the VA Eligibility site.

What to Do Now

To find a loan that is right for you, start by talking to mortgage professionals. They can help you sort through the details of different loan types and how they apply to your specific situation.

Rates, terms, and fees can vary between lenders—even with government-backed loans like VA loans—so be sure to get bids from multiple lenders before you decide to go with one.

You can also get pre-qualified now, which gives lenders a good idea on whether you’re a good investment for their firm.

Visit our VA loans page for more information on VA loans and how to get pre-qualified for one.

Who We Are

As a VA-approved mortgage company, we’ve been working with loans for years. But beyond that, we hire experienced, talented professionals who really care about the people they help with loans.

Our loan officers can help you understand your options so you can move confidently through the process of applying for a mortgage. With questions or for help finding the mortgage that is right for your unique situation, give us a call at 866-569-8272 or visit us online at www.lowvarates.com.

African Americans in Times of War: Black Women and the US Military

A company of African American WAACs line up for review during WWII

With this year’s Black History Month theme, “African Americans in Times of War,” we should all take time to honor the servicemembers who had to struggle for the right to serve in the US military.

African Americans have a rocky history with the military, battling unequal pay, segregation, systematic oppression, and, at the beginning of it all, the very right to serve.

This same right, the right to serve their country as part of the military, was battled for even longer by women. Many of the very first women in the US military had to pose as men to be allowed to fight at all.

Racism and sexism are two major civil rights issues that have reared in the military’s history—and African American women in the military have had to battle both.

Black Women in the Early Military

Even during times in America’s history that are stained with slavery and the terror it created, black American women served in multiple military support roles.

The American Revolution

Despite the fact that most black American women at the time of the American Revolution were slaves, they still contributed to the war. African American women, promised freedom from slavery, served as spies for the Patriot cause. Others supported the war by cooking, washing, and working on fortifications.

One enslaved African American woman, Mammy Kate, saved her Georgian master from British imprisonment “on [the] eve of his execution,” according to her grave inscription. The story goes that she sneaked her master, Governor Stephen Heard, out of prison by hiding him in a basket of laundry that she carried on her head.

After the successful plan, Kate was freed and given land on her master’s plantation. Later, the state of Georgia honored her as a patriot of the Revolution, and she was the first black woman to be so honored by the state.

Since the Revolutionary War was fought to give people freedom (though those who received it were mainly white), women who helped begin the end of slavery during the time should be remembered as war heroes as well.

Elizabeth Freeman, called “Mum Bett” by her owners, was one such woman. She grew up in slavery, but sued her master for her freedom and won. In 1781, the Massachusetts court ruled that under the state’s new Constitution, she was not ever the property of her masters, and Mum Bett was freed. She took the name Elizabeth Freeman after gaining her freedom. The case served as precedent for the abolishment of slavery in the state.

Civil War Heroines: Nurses, Cooks, and Spies

During the Civil War, many black women served in military support roles such as nurses, launderers, cooks, and spies.

Susie King Taylor was the first black nurse for the Army, serving as nurse and laundress with the 33rd United States Colored Infantry Regiment for four years. And, since she had an education (a rare thing among people who grew up enslaved), she also taught black Union soldiers to read and write. She said she gave of her services “willingly . . . without receiving a dollar.”

In addition to providing integral nursing services, black women also served as spies for the Union cause. Some southern slaves aided the North, relaying Confederate information and helping Union soldiers escape from Confederate camps. Other free African American women posed as Southern slaves to get information.

Mary Elizabeth Bowser was one famous African American spy. She worked in Confederate homes and used her photographic memory to remember military documents and other information useful to the North.

Another woman famous for her work as a scout, spy, and abolitionist during the Civil War is Harriet Tubman. She started as a nurse for the Union, but eventually, she started to do scouting and spy missions for the northern cause. In 1863, she and Colonel James Montgomery led troops in raids into the South, freeing over 700 slaves. She was called “General Tubman” by the soldiers.

Undercover Black Female Soldiers

The first known African American woman to serve as an enlisted soldier was Cathay Williams, who enlisted in 1866, just after the Civil War. She was the only known female in the ranks of the buffalo soldiers, a group of six all-black regiments that fought in the Indian Wars, as well as others.

To be allowed into the military at a time when it was illegal for a woman to enlist, she had to pose as a man, calling herself William Cathey. She served with the 38th Infantry Regiment for two years before her gender was discovered and she was released honorably with a certificate of disability.

Just how many black women may have posed as men and served at the time or previously, in the Civil and Revolutionary War, is unknown.

The “Immunes” of the Spanish American War

In the Spanish American War, African American women continued to nurse soldiers. When looking for soldiers and nurses to serve in illness-heavy areas of the war, leaders searched for “immunes,” or men and women who they thought would not be harmed as badly by yellow fever and typhoid.

People chosen as “immunes” often had already had the diseases. Additionally, many white people mistakenly thought that black people were naturally more immune to the diseases. Thirty-two black “immune” nurses were hired.

“Immunes” served in contact with the worst diseases. Two of the thirty-two black nurses, T.R. Bradford and Minerva Trumbull, contracted typhoid fever and died while serving.

During this time period, 80 other black women served in different hospitals and schools.

World War I and World War II

Nurses of World War I

During WWI, the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses was formed, which was the first official military group for African American women; however, black women were not allowed to serve until the war was a few months from finished.

The Red Cross, responding to public pressure and an influenza epidemic, assigned 18 black nurses to Army Nurse Corps positions in Illinois and Ohio in 1918. Over 1,800 were actually qualified to serve, yet these 18 were all that were allowed.

The Slow Progression of World War II

At the beginning of WWII, Mabel K. Staupers of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses asked that the Army Nurse Corps change its discriminatory practice of not allowing black nurses to serve. In 1941, the Corps allowed a quota of 56 black women—a small number, but still a marked step toward equal treatment nonetheless.

In 1943, Congresswoman Frances Payne Bolton led Congress in amending the Nurse Training Bill to attempt to eliminate racial bias in the Nurse Army Corps. By the end of the war, the quota was eliminated and 600 black women had served as nurses; one nurse, Margaret E. Bailey, accepted a commission. She later became the first African American lieutenant colonel in the Army Nurse Corps, and in 1970 was promoted to full colonel. She was also an advocate for integration in the military.

In 1941, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was created. Forty of the first group of 400 were African American women, and they were segregated from white women. In 1943, the group was replaced by an organization with official military status, the Women’s Army Corps (WAC).

The female sections of the other branches were also opened up to black women, but out of all women’s military groups across branches, the large majority of black WWII servicewomen served in the WAC (about 6,500). But while white women in the WAC and other military women’s groups were assigned to overseas tasks, black women were not.

In November 1944, however, this changed. The mail situation in the European theater was chaotic, preventing many soldiers from receiving mail and decreasing morale. The War Department created the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, consisting of all black women.

The battalion was commanded by Major Charity Adams, the first black officer in the Women’s Army Corps and a strong leader. The group completed the task in half the time of the deadline given.

A Woman’s Right to Serve—But Only If She’s Ladylike

Two law changes in 1948 gave women fuller access to military service. On June 12th, the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act was signed by President Truman, allowing all women to serve in the Regular Army as well as in the Organized Reserve Corps.

And on July 26th, Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which desegregated the military across male and female ranks.

These laws, however, did not mean that racism in the military was suddenly a thing of the past, or that women were seen as able to do work equal to that of men. The Women’s Armed Services Integration Act stated that women could only make up two percent of servicemembers, could only rise to the rank of colonel or commander, and could not hold leadership positions over men.

Military “Ladies”

Additionally, recruiting ads at the time featured white, slender women with full faces of makeup. And out of a public fear that homosexual women would be attracted to joining the military, the ads avoided depictions of the sisterhood of the military.

Even in the military training itself, women were taught to be “ladylike.” Female military groups had a special emphasis on “ladylike” activities and presentation, with women’s basic training including things like makeup application classes. And because of the abovementioned homophobia, servicewomen were also discouraged from displaying closeness with one another in public through linking arms or holding hands.

According to Integrating the Military: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation Since WWII, “A 1954 handbook for new Women in the Air Force (WAF) personnel included thirty-nine out of eighty-seven pages devoted to information on beauty, fashion, and uniforms.”

African American women, though not depicted in recruiting materials, were also subject to the “femininity” focus in the military. Integrating the Military: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation Since WWII points out that Ebony magazine echoed the prevailing sentiments of the time, saying that “the women’s services never make the mistake of considering WACs as soldiers or WAVEs as sailors.”

According to the same book, one WAC woman in Vietnam responded to requests that women focus on always appearing feminine, saying, “There is hardly any doubt that the WACs here are aware that a small part of their femininity had been sacrificed. But then, are we here to satisfy the desires of the male ego or are we here to do a job?”

Motherhood Trumps Military

The focus on “femininity” training as an important aspect of the military continued for years. Women that were pregnant or were mothers of dependent children were not allowed to serve until 1975. That year, a new Department of Defense policy stated that pregnant servicewomen and servicewomen with children had to request a discharge for it to be given to them.

Black Servicewomen in Later Wars

Korea and Vietnam

The Korean War saw the US have the first integrated military since the American Revolution. According to the Buffalo Soldiers Research Museum, black female officers from WAC voluntarily returned to duty where they performed administrative positions, helped soldiers get supplies, and wrote letters to the families of men killed in battle.

Additionally, African American women served as nurses in the Korean theater as well as in Japan, Hawaii, and the western US.

When the Vietnam War started, many African American servicewomen volunteered, including WAC servicewomen and nurses.

One Vietnam hero was Major Marie Rogers. She served for 18 years as an Army nurse and was the operating room supervisor in the 24th Evacuation Hospital. She was awarded a Bronze Star from President Johnson for her service.

Additionally, the Soldier’s Medal of Heroism, the most prestigious non-combat military award, went to First Lieutenant Diane M. Lindsay, who served in the 95th Evacuation Hospital. She received the award in 1970 for convincing a confused soldier to hand over a grenade after he had already thrown a live one.

After the Vietnam War, women were allowed in the National Guard, ROTC programs, and service academies.

Also after the war, Hazel W. Johnson, a woman who had trained surgical nurses preparing to go to Vietnam, became the first black female to be a general in the Army. She was made Chief of the Army Nurse Corps in 1979.

Persian Gulf War and Continued Combat Exclusion

African American women were a large part of the success of Operation Desert Storm. Black women made up 40% of the 35,000 women in the operation.

“The Persian Gulf War marked a turning point in the role of women in war, as women served in mainstream mission roles for the first time,” said Library of Congress Veterans History Director Bob Patrick.

One woman who is famous for her contributions to Desert Storm is Lieutenant Phoebe Jeter. She was the first and only female Air Defense Artillery Officer to lead a platoon shooting down a Scud missile. The platoon she led was comprised of all men.

Thirty percent of all Army troops in the Persian Gulf were African American men and women, representing black people twice as much as in the country’s civilian population. This fact sparked a controversy at the time, with some arguing that this was just a part of the volunteer nature of the military and others pointing out that those dying for their country were doing so disproportionately because of inequities at home.

“This nation ought to be ashamed that the best and brightest of our youth don’t volunteer because they love it so well, but because this nation can’t provide them jobs,” said Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, according to a 1991 New York Times article.

Christopher Jehn, Assistant Secretary of Defense for force management and personnel, had a different opinion. According to the same NYT article, he said: “They’re not victims; they’re willing, patriotic Americans.”

Whatever your opinion on why black women and men served and whether their overrepresentation was a positive, negative, or random reflection of the culture of our country, it is certainly true that they made a sizable contribution to the war effort.

But despite these large contributions, women were still not allowed to serve in some positions, regardless of whether or not they could pass required trainings and tests. They performed well in many different positions involving strenuous and intense work, and were allowed in some combat missions. However, they were not allowed to work with direct combat roles and collocated units.

Combat Changes During the Current Afghanistan and Iraq War

According to Buffalo Soldier Research Museum, women make up 15% of all military service and 10% of all soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Throughout the Afghanistan and Iraq war, the longest war in US history, the level to which women have been allowed in combat has slowly evolved.

Just before the beginning of the war, the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US sent a shock wave through the country. Many Americans remember just how much changed for the country after those attacks. One thing that began to shift was the role of women in the military.

Throughout the war, women commanded fighter squadrons and received the Silver Star for combat action for the first time. And at the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, two women became prisoners of war.

One of these women was Shoshana Johnson, the first African American female prisoner of war. She was ambushed along with Jessica Lynch and Lori Piestewa*, who was killed.

Lynch and Johnson were both taken prisoner and later rescued, but the difference in coverage of the individuals sparked controversy. Lynch, a white woman, received a major book deal and much more coverage than Johnson. Simply compare their Wikipedia pages to see the huge difference in length and listed sources.

*Lori Piestewa was the first female soldier killed in Iraq, and is believed to be the first Native American woman to die for her country. For further reading, check out this post on Native American contributions to the US military.

Allowed in Combat

In 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta removed the ban on all combat positions, beginning the process of women having full access to combat positions.

In 2014, Major General Marcia M. Anderson, the Army’s first female black two-star general, discussed the contributions of African American women to the nation’s military and emphasized the importance of gender integration in the military. “Pretty soon there is going to be no limit, I think personally, to what women can and will do for our services,” she said.

And she was right. Just a year later, in 2015, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that servicewomen could serve in combat posts. This became active in 2016, despite resistance from the Marine Corps and critics.

In late 2017, the first woman ever completed the US Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course, an achieved that has allowed her to become the first female Marine infantry officer. She has chosen to remain anonymous.

Current Battles for Equality

Although slavery, segregation, and gender discrimination are not legal today, that doesn’t mean that all battles for black women in the military are over.

Military Sexual Trauma

Sexual assault in the military continues to be a major problem for both women and men in the military. Though it is a major problem for both genders, the stark truth is that servicewomen are five times more likely to be assaulted than servicemen.

A 2017 survey by the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) found that “service women across the nation say that sexual assault is the number one factor negatively affecting their mental well being.”

Thirty percent of women surveyed identified Military Sexual Trauma (MST) as most impacting their mental health, while only nine percent referred to deployments or combat as having an impact. The group surveyed over 1,300 women across military branches.

And this sort of trauma doesn’t just fade away. Female veterans are 250% more likely to commit suicide than female citizens.

For a detailed report on the topic, read “Sexual Assault in the Military,” a 2013 report by the US Commission on Civil Rights. For a shorter version, read “Why Military Women Are Missing from the #MeToo Moment” by Antonieta Rico of Time magazine.

Systematic Battles

Black women in the military recently saw a change to restrictions in military policies that had previously banned them from wearing hairstyles traditional to their culture. The restrictions forced black women to adhere to hairstyles common among white women, like straight hair, which required expensive, damaging chemical treatments and salon visits (things that are not easy to come by during deployment).

The grooming regulations were changed in 2014 to allow hairstyles that are accessible to most women.

The Legacy of African American Servicewomen

Despite criticisms of Black History Month by some for its focus on one race, history as taught in American classrooms has often left out the achievements and leaders in the black American community.

Though the experience of black Americans should not be relegated to just one month, Black History Month is a crucial part of ensuring that the forgotten stories among us are not lost.

These stories include the important roles black servicewomen have played in American military history. And though not everything is ideal, the long battle to full integration and participation for black women in the military has resulted in many vast improvements.

The determination of American black servicewomen throughout history, as well as today, has produced a society which is much better for it. As we work to continue toward an equal society, we honor what you have done.

Cathay Williams, the First Black Female Soldier in the US Military

Cathay Williams, the first African American woman in the Army

Both black and female Americans fought for years to receive a place in the military equal to that of white men. Early African American servicemembers served honorably despite the racism they faced from citizens, the government, and even fellow servicemembers. And among the first women in the US military are the courageous souls who had to pose as men to be allowed to fight for their country.

One pioneering woman didn’t have to face just racism or just sexism in her quest to serve in the military. She had to face both. Her name was Cathay Williams, and she was the first known African American woman to enlist in the military and the only known female buffalo soldier.

At the time she enlisted, slavery had just ended with the Northern victory in the Civil War. Black men were only allowed to serve in segregated regiments and it was illegal for a woman to enlist in the military.

Needless to say, it was not a time that was friendly to African American women.

Early Life

Williams was born to an enslaved mother and free father in September of 1844 in Independence, Missouri. Not much is known about her early life other than that she was a house slave on a Jefferson City plantation. She lived here until 1861, the first year of the Civil War.

That year, Union soldiers occupied Jefferson City and took enslaved people, including Williams, from their masters in the area. Enslaved men and women that were taken were considered “contraband of war” by the North.

In a later interview, Williams recounted what happened: “…when the war broke out and the United States soldiers came to Jefferson City they took me and other colored folks with them to Little Rock. Col. Benton of the 12th Army Corps was the officer that carried us off. I did not want to go.”

When taken to Little Rock, Williams was a teenager, around 16 or 17. Like most enslaved people at the time, she was illiterate and had only experienced life in bondage.

Army Work

Many of the “contraband” slaves were made to do work for the military. Williams was forced to do laundry and cook.

She said of this early time with the Army, “I had always been a house girl and did not know how to cook. I learned to cook after going to Little Rock and was with the army at The Battle of Pea Ridge.”

She traveled with the army as a paid servant to Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, and other southern locations. She also visited Virginia, Iowa, and Jefferson Barracks, and at one point served under General Sheridan.

Her service with the army allowed her to witness Army life firsthand. She said she “saw the soldiers burn lots of cotton and was at Shreveport when the rebel gunboats were captured and burned on Red River.” Perhaps this exposure to military life influenced her later decision to enlist.


The Civil War ended in 1865, and the following year, the Army Reorganization Act created six segregated African American regiments: the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st Infantries as well as the 9th and 10th Cavalries.

These buffalo soldier regiments offered black men the chance for a job that was better than much of what they could get at the time. It also offered new opportunities for an education, a pension, and health care.

It did not, however, permit the enlistment of any women. Women were allowed to serve as cooks, administrators, nurses, and other support roles, but it was illegal for them to enlist as soldiers. Some women, though, had gone undercover as men to be able to serve—it is estimated that between 400 and 750 women did so during the Civil War alone.

Williams enlisted in the military in November of 1866, telling the recruiting officer that her name was William Cathey and she was a 22-year-old cook. She could have been as young as 16 and lied about her age, which was a common practice among enlistees.

The medical examination for entry apparently did not reveal that she was a woman. According to the officer, she was 5’9″, which was especially tall for the time.

She was assigned to the 38th Infantry, Company A, under Captain Charles E. Clarke, and was assigned to serve for three years.

Military Service

Williams served in different areas with the 38th Infantry, one of the all-black regiments known as buffalo soldiers. Her friend and cousin, both serving in the same regiment as her, knew she was a woman, but none of the other soldiers did.

As for the reasons why she joined the military, she had this to say: “[A cousin and a particular friend] were partly the cause of my joining the army. Another reason was I wanted to make my own living and not be dependent on relations or friends.”

Though no evidence suggests she ever saw combat, she performed normal garrison duties, which included marching and guard duty.

Unfortunately, she got smallpox early in her service and was hospitalized. During the rest of her time in the military, she was admitted to four hospitals for varying reported illnesses. Even after the war, she suffered from illness (once spending a year and a half in the hospital) and later had to have her toes removed, suggesting that she could have had diabetes or another illness.

None of the hospital visits during her time with the Army revealed the fact that she was a woman until two years after she enlisted, when the post surgeon discovered her gender.

How her gender could go undiscovered with so many hospitalizations is unclear. It gives rise to the question of whether her hospital treatment was as high quality as it could have been. Or perhaps she somehow avoided treatment that would require her to undress.

The End of Her Service

Williams was honorably discharged on October 14, 1868, with a certificate of disability. The surgeon’s description said that her condition “dates prior to enlistment.”

Her fellow soldiers apparently didn’t react very well to the discovery. According to Williams, “The men all wanted to get rid of me after they found out I was a woman. Some of them acted real bad to me.”


After her service, Williams returned to using her real name and dressing as a woman and went to New Mexico to work as a cook and laundress. She then moved to Pueblo, Colorado, where she married. Unfortunately, however, her husband stole a good deal of money, a watch and chain, and horses from her.

As if going undercover to join an all-male military and then moving to the west wasn’t enough to prove the independent spirit of this woman, she had her thieving husband arrested, then moved to Trinidad, Colorado.

In Trinidad, Williams worked as a seamstress and was known as Kate Williams. At the time, the area was relatively diverse, with a sizable population of Hispanics and other minority ethnicities as well as European railroad workers from a variety of nations. And with folks of all different backgrounds, Trinidad was not as openly racist as the South.

“I like this town,” Williams later said, “I know all the good people here…I shall never live in the states again.”

It was here that she was interviewed by a reporter from the St. Louis Daily Times. She gave her story, supplying future generations with all her own words of her experience as the first black woman to serve as a soldier in the US Army.

Around 1890, Williams became seriously ill and petitioned for a military disability pension. Her examination by an Army surgeon, however, determined that she was not disabled, despite the fact that she had amputated toes, walked with a crutch, and had military records of illnesses including smallpox, rheumatism, the “itch,” and neuralgia.

Other women who had served in the military pretending to be men, such as Deborah Sampson, received pension, but Williams was denied. Notably, the women before her who had received pension were all white.

Finally, Williams lived in Trinidad until she died. Her burial place and the exact date of her death are both unknown.

The Legacy of African American Women in the Military

Despite the hurdles black women have had to overcome to be able to serve in the military, today, they account for about 31% of women serving in the US military. When you consider that they make up about 13% of women in the US, this becomes a startling testament to the contributions of black women to the military.

According to a report by Julia Melin of Swarthmore College, the representation of African American women in the military is “higher than that of men or women of any other racial or ethnic group.”

This doesn’t mean that things are exactly where we should want them. There are still struggles faced by black female servicemembers, highlighted by the recent hair policies that targeted black women’s hairstyles and, more generally, the increasing number of rape reports in the military.

However, it certainly shows something awe-inspiring when a group of people historically barred from service because of both race and sex become the most-represented group in the military.

African American women have faced discrimination on every front in their journey to be able to fight for our country. We must always honor and remember their service and the sacrifices that have been made for it to be possible, and we must always keep striving toward a fully inclusive military.

Black History Month 2018: The Legacy of Buffalo Soldiers

Old photograph of a regiment of buffalo soldiers

Despite a history saturated with discrimination and abuse from their fellow countrymen, black Americans have fought in every major war in US history, extending all the way back to the American Revolution itself. Early black servicemembers sacrificed a great deal to defend our country, paving the way for the men and women that would fill military positions for years to come.

Among early military pioneers are the men who came to be known as “buffalo soldiers.” They served in many capacities, including fighting in multiple wars, serving as park rangers, and searching for Pancho Villa.

In this post, we’ll dive into some of the history of the buffalo soldiers and what their experiences mean for Americans today.

Predecessors of the Buffalo Soldiers: Black Civil War Soldiers

To provide a backdrop for the buffalo soldiers, it is helpful to understand some basic points about the experience of black servicemembers in the Civil War (which was the time period just before the organization of buffalo soldier regiments).

Thousands of black Americans served in the Civil War, almost exclusively for the Union. This was despite the Confederacy’s threats to execute or enslave black prisoners of war and kill or punish white commanders of black soldiers.

Not only was there opposition to African American soldiers from the Confederacy, but there were also harmful ideas about these soldiers within the Union itself. Many of the white officers didn’t think black men were capable of serving in combat positions, holding the opinion that blacks should only be involved in the war as carpenters, cooks, or other non-combat roles. This thinking revealed the persistence of a deeply entrenched racism.

What’s more, though the Emancipation Proclamation meant that black Union servicemembers were finally seen as an official part of the US, they were paid significantly less than white soldiers until 1864, when they were granted equal pay.

Charles Sumner summarized the experience of many black soldiers in the Civil War in a letter urging African American men to “enlist at once” in order to “Help to overcome your cruel enemies now battling against your country, and in this way you will surely overcome those other enemies hardly less cruel, here at home, who will still seek to degrade you.”

Yet, despite the cruelty faced at home and from the opposition, the 179,000 African Americans involved in the Civil War fought in many grueling battles. By the end of the war, 40,000 had died for the cause and 16 were awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Formation of the All-Black Regiments

In 1866, after the Civil War, Congress created the Army Organization Act. This reorganized the Army and created segregated regiments of African American men, including:

  • Two Cavalry Regiments: 9th and 10th
  • Four Infantry Regiments: 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st

The 38th and 41st Infantry Regiments were combined and became the 25th Infantry Regiment, while the 39th and 40th became the 24th Infantry Regiment.

The military wouldn’t be desegregated until almost a century later, in 1948.

Who Were the Buffalo Soldiers?

The History Behind the Name

When it comes to the origins of the “buffalo soldier” nickname, there is not one account that is agreed upon by historians as being completely accurate.

The most accepted explanation is that the name came from Native Americans, who saw a similarity between the curly, thick, dark hair of the buffalo and the hair of many of the black soldiers. Others think that it was because of either the warm buffalo robes worn by many of the soldiers or their fighting skills.

The soldiers apparently accepted the name. The 10th Cavalry even used the buffalo on their coat of arms.

Some writers talk about the “buffalo soldier” nickname as being “bestowed” upon black soldiers by Native Americans in the area as a name of great honor and significance. It is treated by these writers as though it is a title of deep respect—said to be given because of a Native American view of the African American soldiers’ exceptional bravery and fighting ability. These writers suggest a kind of “special bond” between the two groups.

Though it is true that many American Indian plains tribes had an important place for the buffalo in their respective cultures and this could have had to do with the nickname, it is important to understand that the above-mentioned speculations are just that—speculations—and in some cases, the phraseology is inaccurate and condescending to both Native Americans and black Americans.

Race relations between the two groups should not be construed to fit romantic views of the past. Relations were complex, including some racist mindsets held by people of both races toward the other.

Military Duties Performed by Buffalo Soldiers

The American western frontier has been popularized by many songs, movies, and artists. At the time of buffalo soldiers, American settlers were moving west and facing confrontations and battles with Native American tribes. There were also horse and cattle thieves and outlaws that made western life less than easy.

Buffalo soldiers spent much of their service fighting with tribes the American government deemed “hostile.” They engaged in battles with many tribes, including Comanches, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and others.

According to History.com, “20 percent of US Cavalry troops that participated in the Indian Wars were buffalo soldiers, who participated in at least 177 conflicts.”

Buffalo soldiers also captured outlaws and protected trains, stagecoaches, and cattle trains from thieves. They also went beyond fighting, helping survey and map western areas as well as working on multiple building projects.

After the Indian Wars were over, buffalo soldiers fought in both the Spanish-American War and Philippine-American War. Their participation in important battles, including the Battle of San Juan Hill, was critical, and their courage and bravery was praised by many other soldiers.

In addition, the buffalo soldiers also helped hunt for Pancho Villa in the Mexican Expedition of 1916-1917. And during the Mexican Revolution and First World War, they fought in the Battle of Ambos Nogales.

Non-Military Responsibilities after the Indian Wars

Though they still participated in various military operations as already described, the buffalo soldiers also helped fill a variety of roles after the Indian Wars were over.

For example, it’s a lesser-known fact that about 500 buffalo soldiers served as rangers in Yosemite and Sequoia national parks in 1899, 1903, and 1904. They fought poachers, timber thieves, and forest fires while garrisoned at the Presidio of San Francisco in the winters and the Sierra in the summers.

During this time period, in addition to protecting the national parks, some buffalo soldiers were also assigned a special mission to escort President Theodore Roosevelt during his West Coast tour of California in 1903. Though the President’s history with the buffalo soldiers was a complicated one, the appointment was an honor nonetheless.

Balancing the honor and complications of their position was a hallmark of the buffalo soldiers during this time. According to the National Park Service, “They occupied one of the lowest rungs of the social ladder; a fact which served to undercut the authority of any black man who served in any position of power. Yosemite and Sequoia’s Buffalo Soldiers had to be simultaneously strong and diplomatic to fulfill the duties of their job but to avoid giving offense.”

Despite all of these complications, serving as a buffalo soldier was still a desirable assignment. In fact, according to History.com, buffalo soldiers had the lowest desertion and court-martial rates of all regiments at the time.

In addition, twenty-three of them won the Congressional Medal of Honor, which is the highest decoration in the US military and is awarded to soldiers that demonstrate valor in action.

Edward A. Johnson, a New York State Legislator, said in 1917, “Let it be said that the Negro soldier did his duty under the flag whether that flag protects him or not.”

The Reaction of Whites

Buffalo soldiers had to surmount many forms of racism to serve the United States. According to Smithsonian Magazine, they “often faced extreme racial prejudice from the Army establishment.”

The men served under officers who were usually white. As stated by Smithsonian, “Many officers, including George Armstrong Custer, refused to command black regiments, even though it cost them promotions in rank.” John Smith, a descendant of Custer, is quoted saying, “He [Custer] said they wouldn’t fight, that they were afraid and that they’d run.”

On a positive note, though, there were some black officers as well, like the famed Henry O. Flipper. He was West Point’s first African American graduate.

Officers weren’t the only people who held racist ideas about black soldiers. Civilians around the areas where the buffalo soldiers were stationed often struggled to accept African American soldiers, treating them badly or even reacting violently. Some towns, when requesting military presence in their towns, included a request that those servicemembers not be black.

However, other towns, despite the racism of the time, enjoyed their company, with both the soldiers and the citizens participating in community events like concerts or parades.

And some officers, such as John J. Pershing, felt differently as well. He said of buffalo soldiers, “They fought their way into the hearts of the American people.” For his view on the soldiers, Pershing was called “Black Jack,” a name journalists gave him because his initial nickname from other soldiers included a racial slur.

And Frank Knox, one of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders who fought with them in the Battle of San Juan Hill, said of them, “I never saw braver men anywhere.”

Coming Home

According to the National Museum of African American History & Culture, when the buffalo soldiers returned home, some “were able to get better jobs, own property, and gain access to higher education. At the same time, some returning Buffalo Soldiers were lynched. African Americans realized that even their sacrifices for the war had not yet made them equal citizens.”

The Military Then and Now

The military remained segregated until 1948, when President Truman made an executive order that integrated the military. The order was completely fulfilled in 1951, by which time all buffalo soldier regiments were disintegrated.

Though there is certainly a temptation of some to say that racism in the military ended when military segregation ended, there are still battles for equality. For example, in late October of 2011, Private Danny Chen, a Chinese-American, committed suicide after enduring racial slurs and physical abuse from other soldiers.

A more systematic issue was changed in recent years, in response to a 2014 complaint by the Congressional Black Caucus. The Army had just banned styles like twists or dreadlocks, resulting in many black servicewomen having to buy expensive chemical treatments (many of which can be hard to get when deployed) every few weeks to stay within regulations.

After a negative response to the changes, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the military to review its policies for hairstyles commonly worn by black women. Different branches of the military changed their hairstyle rules to allow these hairstyles.

Continued Racism in the Military

As far as numbers go, the representation of diverse races in the military is better than it has been in much of US history, though there is still room for improvement, particularly when it comes to representation in higher-ranking positions.

In the 2017 Congressional Research Service Report, this discrepancy was made clear:

  • 87.6% of Active Duty General/Flag Officers (O-7 and above) are white, though whites make up 76.6% of the US population
  • 8.2% of Active Duty General/Flag Officers (O-7 and above) are black, despite being 13.7% of the US population

When compared to the percentages of each race in the US population, this report showed that, overall, white servicemembers (both active duty and selected reserve members) are underrepresented while blacks are overrepresented. However, as the numbers above demonstrate, instead of mirroring this fact at higher ranks, blacks become underrepresented while whites are overrepresented. This switched representation for higher ranks is alarming, as it demonstrates a trend where black servicemembers are not being promoted at the same rate as their white counterparts.

In addition, another recent report says that “black service members are substantially more likely than white service members to face military justice or disciplinary action. These disparities have not improved, and in some cases have increased, in recent years.”

Together, these two reports, in addition to other findings, suggest that racism is far from being solved in the US military.

How US Citizens Can Help End Military Racism

In response to racial violence in the US, military leaders continue to speak about the military values of equality and non-racism.

However, it’s up to all of us, as individuals and as a country, to uphold to these values and examine our military’s complex past with our present shortcomings in mind, learning from and working to solve the problems faced by many minority servicemembers today.

Ultimately, all servicemembers are sacrificing their time and their lives in preserving the freedoms of our country.

The Lasting Legacy of Buffalo Soldiers

The last buffalo soldier, 1st Sergeant Mark Matthews, died in 2005 at 111 years old. In 1992, President George Bush made July 28th Buffalo Soldiers Day to honor the regiments’ service to this country.

It’s a complicated legacy, since much of it is built on the conquering of Native American tribes for westward expansion. However, forceful expansionism was the way of the US government at the time, and the buffalo soldiers served their country valiantly as part of its military.

The soldiers also served despite racism and inequality at a time that the US was very unfriendly and dangerous to them. Their pioneering in the armed forces is important to all military members today who, thanks to the buffalo soldiers, benefit from a more diverse and inclusive service.

May we not, through our historical look at racism and those who have fought against it, fall into thinking that it belongs exclusively to the past. May we always honor the legacy of the buffalo soldiers.

Nuts and Bolts: The Specifics of What You’ll Need for Your Mortgage

A couple meets with a loan officer to discuss their mortgage options

If you’re looking for a mortgage, you’ve probably discovered just how much home loan information is out there. The amount of material can get a little overwhelming.

That’s why we’ve done a simple breakdown of the process of getting a mortgage, geared specifically for first-time homebuyers. In this post, we’ll focus on things you’ll need—the nut and bolts—to get your dream home.

General Mortgage Rates and Requirements

There are many details involved in the process of getting a loan. Lenders want to make sure they’re making a good investment by lending to you, so they’ll want to see plenty of information to estimate the likelihood of you repaying your loan. Some of your qualifications will determine the rates and terms they offer you.

Though requirements can differ between loan types and lenders, the following are some expectations you’ll generally want to meet to get a loan:

  • Credit – Credit is an important aspect of the loan. It helps lenders know how much of a risk they’re taking on if they give you a loan, and therefore how much interest to charge you (or whether the risk is worth even giving you a loan at all).

    For most loans, you’ll need a credit score of at least 640. For larger loans, this requirement can be somewhere closer to 740. Additionally, some loans (like FHA loans) allow for eligibility with a lower credit score—though this sometimes means higher interest rates or other increased payments.

  • Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI) – Many loans require that your DTI is less than 43%. This means that the amount you pay for debts every month can be up to 43% of your gross income each month. However, this requirement may be smaller, depending on the loan type, lender, and your other qualifications.
  • Documentation – Required documentation can vary between loans, but will usually include tax returns, W-2s or 1-9s, pay stubs, and more. When it comes to getting a mortgage, you can expect to do a good amount of paperwork.
  • Home Inspection – Before committing fully to a property, you’ll want to find a licensed inspector to make sure the home you’re considering is in good condition.
  • Interest – Interest rates vary between loans and depend on your qualifications. Additionally, you can get either a fixed-rate mortgage or an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM).

    A fixed-rate mortgage means that your interest rates will not change over time, while an ARM has interest rates that are normally fixed at a low rate for the first few years of the loan, but can fluctuate after that period.

  • Down Payment – Depending on the loan, the percentage you’ll be required to put down on a home can vary from 0-20%, but the larger the down payment you can make, the better. It’s definitely worth it to save up some money to be able to make a sizable down payment—it can get you much better terms on the loan.
  • Steady Income – You’ll need to have a steady income, as well as pay stubs to prove it. Make sure you don’t quit your job before the deal is closed, as this can change your terms significantly, or even prevent the loan from going through.
  • Mortgage Insurance – Many loan types will require you to have insurance, depending on factors like the size of your down payment. Insurance reduces the lender’s losses in the event that you can’t make the payments. You may be able to avoid buying insurance if you make a down payment of at least 20%.
  • Closing Costs – Closing costs are often paid when the transaction is over, and they can be somewhere around 3% of the price of the home. Different lenders will charge different fees, and there are some instances where, as a first-time homebuyer, you can get your costs paid for or loaned to you by the government.
  • Time to Pay Off the Loan – You can choose either a 10-, 15-, or 30-year mortgage. Interest rates will usually be higher the longer it takes you to pay off the loan, but that doesn’t mean it’s always better (or possible) to go with a 15-year mortgage. The one that is right for you depends on your circumstances and goals.

Shop Around for a Lender

As was mentioned earlier, requirements and rates are not the same from lender to lender. Make sure to speak to multiple lenders to get the best option for your situation.

Who We Are

At Low VA Rates, we specialize in VA loans for veterans and strive to give each veteran the best home buying experience we can. However, we can help people from all backgrounds find the best loan for their situation.

We know that deciding to buy or refinance a home is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make, and we are committed to doing everything we can to make it the rewarding experience it can be.

If you have any questions or are ready to begin your journey toward homeownership, please feel free to take a look around the rest of our website, or give us a call at (866) 569-8272.

What to Do before Getting Your First Mortgage

A hand puts money into a wooden house

So you’ve made the decision to get a mortgage. Before signing a deal with the first lender that comes knocking, you’ll want to take time to make careful plans for such a big step.

The Planning Stage

There are a lot of requirements that determine whether or not you get approved for a loan, like your income, as well as your debt-to-income ratio. But before all that, you’ll want to do some careful planning to be sure you’re not about to take on more than you can handle.

Some of the things you’ll want to consider before diving in are:

  1. Qualifications and Loan Types – Before choosing just one loan, consider what kinds of loans are out there and what your qualifications are. There are many different loans and lenders with varying terms and rates, so shop around.
  1. Capacity – As you know, buying a home is a big decision. You’ll want to know how much you can actually afford, so take note of as many details of your expenses as you can, from pet food to gas to hair products. You’ll want to be sure that you can make your mortgage payments without suddenly having to sacrifice some forgotten expenses. People sometimes make the mistake of projecting a larger income than they end up having, which can make payments very difficult. It’s better to plan for a safer scenario.
  1. Additional Costs – As you determine your capacity, remember to include upfront and closing costs in your budget, as well as other fees. When discussing loans with lenders, ask about additional costs so you can plan accordingly. You’ll also want to factor in the cost of any appliances or other purchases you may need to make for your home.
  1. Emergency Fund – You’ll want to consider creating a fund in case of unexpected job loss, injury, or other emergencies come up during the life of your mortgage. Having a reserve can actually be favorable to lenders—it shows that you’re more likely to make future mortgage payments, lowering their risk.

Things to Do Before You Buy

Some actions to take before getting a mortgage are the following:

  1. Check Your Credit – Credit is a huge part of getting a home loan. Check your credit at least a few months ahead of applying for a mortgage so you can spot any problems early and have time to fix anything that is hurting your score. If your score isn’t ideal, consider working on raising it, since a higher score can get you better rates on a mortgage. Similarly, if your debt-to-income ratio (DTI)—the amount of money you spend on debts compared to your gross income—is not looking good, consider paying off some debts before applying for a loan.
  1. Get a Pre-Qualification or Pre-Approval – You’ll want to make sure to get pre-qualified or pre-approved. Both can give you useful information to use for negotiations.
    • A pre-qualification is a simpler, earlier step that can give you a general idea of what kind of home loan you could qualify for.
    • A pre-approval can signal to the seller that you’re serious about buying, as well as give you even more information to use for the transaction. It is more involved than a pre-qualification and requires more information, like credit and financial background information.

Finding the Right Loan and Lender

Even if you’ve read everything there is about mortgages, knowing where to start to actually find a good lender and loan can be a little overwhelming.

To fit many different circumstances, there are many types of loans, from conventional loans to USDA and FHA loans.

There are also some loans specifically for first-time homebuyers that may have relaxed qualifications and options for a lower down payment. One great resource is the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Local Homebuying Programs page. Click on your state and then on “Assistance Programs” (under the “Buying a Home” section) to look for first time homebuyer programs that may be available in your area.

Speak to Multiple Lenders

There are hundreds of other helpful pages on the web, but one of the most valuable resources you have are mortgage professionals. They can look at your unique situation and make recommendations based on years of experience. Remember, though, that it is very important to always speak with multiple lenders. Rates, terms, and requirements can vary widely between lenders, even with government-backed loans.

Basically, even if you feel you’ve found the perfect loan type and a great bid from a lender, don’t move forward until you’ve received bids from multiple other lenders.

Here to Help

At Low VA Rates, we specialize in VA loans for veterans. We want the home buying experience to be a great one for every veteran. We are committed to helping you get to the future you want for yourself and your family. We have seen firsthand how owning a home changes lives, and we are here to help you in that journey.

For any mortgage questions or to start looking for a loan that’s right for you, check out other sections of our website or call us at (866) 569-8272.

To Buy or Not to Buy: Making the Decision to Purchase a Home

A young couple is sitting and discussing if they should buy a home

If you haven’t yet ventured into homeownership, the idea of buying a home can be frightening. You may even be among those who are so daunted by it, you’ve thrown up your hands and accepted that your future may be made less of the stuff of dream houses and more of the stuff of landlords and rent.

But, if you’re like many renters, you have a home in your sights, even if it’s been on the backburner for a while. You may have questions like:

  • Should I start thinking seriously about buying a home?
  • Do I qualify for a mortgage?
  • Which options are best for me?
  • How can I start the process of getting a mortgage?

Though becoming a homeowner isn’t right for everyone, it’s more attainable than you might think. We’ve put together a series with simple breakdowns of the process to help you in your journey toward owning a home.

The Advantages of Homeownership

  • Increasing Home Equity – This is possibly the main advantage of buying a home instead of renting. “Equity” refers to how much of your property you really own. As you’re making payments to lenders, you’re basically buying interest in your home from them. You can think of equity as a savings in “house form” that you pay into through mortgage payments. Equity usually builds over time as you pay off your debts to the lender and the property value goes up. You can also build more equity in your home by increasing the property value through renovations and maintenance. Equity is a valuable asset.
  • Stable Monthly Payments – If you’re taking out a fixed-rate mortgage, you can enjoy monthly payments that don’t fluctuate.
  • Privacy – Without the drum players in the room above you or a roommate’s friends coming over at will, a nice bonus of owning a home is that it has more privacy than a rental. You also don’t have an owner of your space to check in with the way you do for a rental.
  • Stability & Community – There is a level of commitment associated with owning a home. Since you and your neighbors understand that you’re probably going to be around for a few years, you may find a more invested community. A more permanent living space can add a feeling of stability to your situation and relationships.
  • Tax Benefits – Different aspects of homeownership, like property tax and mortgage interest, are tax-deductible. These benefits can save you a lot of money.
  • Personal Space – In a rental property, you may have certain rules on how to decorate and processes you have to go through for renovations. In your own home, however, you have much more freedom to make your space your own. You can put in that deep kitchen sink you’ve been wanting or build a loft for the kids.

The Disadvantages of Homeownership

  • Maintenance – With rental properties, a landlord is usually responsible for repairs and maintenance. As a homeowner, however, the time and energy required to keep up on these things will be your responsibility.
  • Payments – Failing to make mortgage payments on time can be a less forgiving experience than it is for rental payments. If your payment is 15-30 days late, you may take a considerable hit to your credit. If your payment is very late, you might have to foreclose on your home. These are things that no one wants to experience, but if you carefully plan and evaluate your ability to pay, the risk can be reduced.
  • Less Relocation Flexibility – Compared to renting, owning a home significantly reduces your ability to just pick up and move. If you’re not ready to settle down for a few years or can’t part with being able to move at the drop of a hat, buying a home may not be the best choice for you just yet.
  • Long-Term Decision – The decision to own a home includes responsibilities that don’t go away after it’s made. Extra responsibility, substantial payment obligations, the need to keep steady employment, etc. are all going to be yours for a number of years.
  • Possibility of Depreciation – If you don’t keep up on improvements to your home as it ages or in the event of changes in the market or your neighborhood, there is the chance that your property may depreciate. This loss of value can end with you losing money when you sell the home.

When Should I Look for a Mortgage?

Finding a mortgage and getting into a home may be one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make, but with the right lender, type of loan, and timing, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

Whether or not it’s the right time for you to look for a mortgage is wrapped up in what you want and feel ready for, which can be hard to measure—only you will be able to decide those things. There are, however, more measurable aspects of the decision to be considered, such as your qualifications, finances, and employment.

Which Loan Works Best for Me?

There is an array of different mortgage types to fit vastly different borrower needs. For more help deciding whether to buy a home, you will want to speak with a mortgage professional. There are many lenders with different rates, so make sure you talk to multiple lenders before deciding on a loan.

The Low VA Rates Difference

Here at Low VA Rates, we are dedicated to helping veterans find the VA loan that works best for their individual situation and needs.

Our loan officers, underwriters, and processors truly care about your future. We understand the importance of the decision to become a homeowner and have the experience needed to help you on that journey. To learn more about what we can offer, feel free to call one of our mortgage professionals today at (866) 569-8272.

How to Avoid Making a Deal with a Predatory Lender

It’s no secret that some home loan lenders are just, well, shady.

As a mortgage company, we get it. In this industry, there are some people you need to stay away from. With the possibilities of taking a hit to your credit score, foreclosing, or facing other financial problems, stumbling into a predatory lender can leave deep scars. It can be especially frightening for first-time homebuyers who haven’t interacted with lenders before and may not be sure what to expect. And with so many lenders begging for your attention, it’s hard to pinpoint where exactly the sweet-talkers are.

As a borrower, you should be able to work with lenders who have your best interests in mind, or, at the very least, who you can trust. Read our tips to help you confidently navigate the world of mortgages and mortgage lenders—and find a lender that will help you get into the right home with the right deal, sans shadiness.

#1 – Talk to Multiple Lenders

One of the most important things to do as a smart borrower is to shop around before making a decision on a specific loan or lender. Considering the life-changing nature of a mortgage, going with the first offer you get is a bad idea.

Whether through a salesman or your own research, you might find a lender offering what seems like a great deal when in reality, you’re dealing with a predatory lender. You’ll want to know whether the terms, rates, and fees of the deal are similar to those offered by other lenders for a similar loan type. Talking to multiple professionals will give you a picture of the general price range.

And if you find that you’re dealing with an outlier that’s too good to be true, you’ll want to investigate further.

#2 – Steer Clear of Lenders Who Try to Pressure You

If you’re working on taking out a loan with a lender and are feeling pressure to do certain things, this is cause for alarm.

Pressure from mortgage lenders can come in different forms. An offer may come with a time limit of a few days for you to make a decision. A predatory lender may try to convince you to add products to your loan that you don’t need or sign documents you don’t understand or that are blank. They may strong-arm you into taking out a very risky loan. Or, they may push you toward a house that is more than what you can afford or would like to spend.

If a lender is using short time limitations or pressuring sales tactics, don’t feel like you need to act on their timeframe. Doing so could end badly. A good lender understands that this is likely the largest purchase you have made in your life. Finding the right mortgage takes time.

Ask questions, and if they go unanswered, don’t be afraid to look for another lender.

#3 – Pay Attention to the Loan Estimate and Closing Costs

Lenders are required by law to give you a loan estimate (LE), which tells you how much you can expect to be charged for different parts of the loan. At closing, costs should be pretty similar to what the LE stated. If they aren’t and it’s not in your favor, you may want to backpedal on the loan.

Until 2015, lenders needed to provide a good faith estimate (GFE), but now, you’ll need an LE instead.

And if you don’t receive a LE within three business days of the lender receiving your application or at any point during the loan process, that is a big red flag (and illegal).

#4 – Question Rates and Fees that Don’t Make Sense

Sometimes, a predatory lender will get you to talk with them by offering you a stellar rate and then changing it later in the process. Or, they may actually give you that low rate, but treat you unfairly in another area, like by charging too much in fees.

Requests for excessively high or low interest rates, high fees, or other unnecessary payments are reasons for you to be wary. More reasons to consider investigating a lender or loan further include prepayment penalties, not being allowed to purchase points (or being offered overly expensive points), giant insurance rates, large broker’s fees, and balloon payments. Ask the lender to give reasons for unusual rates or terms, and always check on the offers of other lenders.

#5 – Avoid Lenders Who Encourage Dishonesty

You should be very worried if you have a lender who is asking you to lie or “exaggerate” on an application. Putting false information on a mortgage application is a crime, so don’t agree to it. The lender may seem like they have a good reason, but it is illegal nonetheless.

What’s more, falsifying home loan information can really harm your life situation. True, it may help you get the loan you are wanting. However, since qualifications and verification of certain information like employment, income, credit, etc. exist to make sure you are not taking on too big of a loan, falsifying information may end with you foreclosing on a loan that you can’t pay for. A lender who allows or encourages this is certainly questionable.

In the same vein, you should be worried if the lender doesn’t seem to care about whether you’ll be able to repay the loan, disregarding low credit or other signs that normally cause lenders to be cautious.

Specific Tips for Veterans

There are a few protections in place for veterans that can reduce their chance of coming into contact with a predatory lender. Caps on interest for veterans and laws that specifically protect veterans taking out VA loans, like the Military Lending Act, are among these protections.

Sadly, however, predatory lenders still target veterans. Although VA loans are insured by the government, they’re offered by private lenders. This leaves ample room for the same dishonest behavior that exists in many pockets of the mortgage world to exist in the VA lending world.

Veterans should be wary of offers in the mail, by phone, in person, etc., promising things that are too good to be true. These sometimes claim to be from the VA or IRRRL and can look official. Don’t pay anyone over the phone or in response to an offer, and make sure to research the firm and speak with other lenders before moving forward. Additionally, veterans should also consider the five tips listed above when taking out a VA loan.

Don’t be Fooled by a Predatory Lender

No one wants to be tricked by shady lenders, and it is often possible to avoid it. When searching for a mortgage, look for an established lender with good customer reviews. Also, make sure that they are patient with your decision and can offer you good, competitive rates. Keep an eye out for any of the red flags we’ve discussed.

As long as you are speaking to multiple professionals and know what to watch for, finding a mortgage can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Whether you’re borrowing for the first time or the fifth, working with a quality lender can end with you reading, sipping tea, or doing whatever you like to do on the porch of your dream home.

For More Information

Whether you have questions on something your lender is doing that doesn’t seem quite right, you want a bid on a loan, or you’re wondering what kind of mortgage options work for you, we have a team of people with years of experience that can help. Visit our website or give us a call at 866-569-8272.

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*Annual savings calculator based on 2015 monthly average savings extrapolated year-to-date.