Back to Basics: Are You Eligible for a VA Loan?
Veterans and servicemembers often ask us how to know if they qualify for a VA loan. That’s a very important question.
Not everyone qualifies, but if you’ve served on active duty in the military and received an honorable discharge, you’re probably eligible. There are other qualifications to check out, which we’ll explain below. We’ll also explain what types of properties are eligible and how to get a Certificate of Eligibility.
One of the most important qualifications for VA loan eligibility is whether or not you’ve served in the military on active duty for a certain amount of time, with different requirements for regular military, for the Reserves and National Guard, and for wartime and peacetime.
Whether you’re in the US military now or are a veteran, your VA eligibility depends on the amount of active duty you’ve served:
- At least 90 days of wartime duty during these conflicts:
- World War II: September 16, 1940 to July 25, 1947
- The Korean War: June 27, 1950 to January 31, 1955
- The Vietnam War: August 5, 1964 to May 7, 1975
- At least 181 days of active duty during peacetime before the 1980s
- At least 24 months of continuous active duty service during the 1980s and after, unless:
- You served the entire time you were ordered to during the Gulf War, if it was at least 90 days OR
- You’re on regular duty now (not active duty training) and have served at least 181 days (OR at least 90 days if you started your service during the Gulf War)
You also must have an honorable discharge. You may qualify with less active duty time than listed above if you were discharged because of other reasons, including:
- A service-related disability
- Convenience of the government
- Early out
Some other types of service may qualify you for a VA loan. You might be eligible if you are:
- A cadet with the US Military, Air Force, or Coast Guard Academy
- A midshipman at the US Naval Academy
- An officer of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
- A merchant seaman from World War II
- An officer of the Public Health Service
- A US citizen who served with a country that was a US ally during World War II
Reserves and National Guard
Reservists/Guards that aren’t already eligible for VA loans from prior full-time military service become eligible after completing 6 years of service in the Reserves or Guard, unless they are released earlier due to a service-connected disability. Reservists/Guards must have an honorable discharge, while full-time can have less-than-honorable and still be considered for their VA loan benefits. The only exceptions to this rule for Reservists/Guards are if they are currently in an inactive status awaiting final discharge or still serving in the Reserves or Guard and therefore have not yet received a discharge of any kind.
If you haven’t qualified for a VA loan from any other service, you can qualify based on your Reserves or National Guard service. To be eligible, you must have served for at least six years with the Guard or Reserves (including attending annual active duty training and weekend drills) AND
- Have an honorable discharge OR
- Be in the Standby Reserve or Ready Reserve OR
- Be on the retired list after honorable service
If you were discharged for circumstances outside of your control, you can still apply for a VA loan, even if you didn’t serve for six years. Those other reasons for discharge may include discharge for a disability related to your service, reduction-in-force, and hardship.
If you continue to serve after six years, you can apply for a VA loan while still serving. If you’re not sure if you qualify, please contact Low VA Rates, so we can help figure it out.
Is there an age limit or age requirement to qualify for a VA loan? No, there isn’t. The only age requirement is the one that’s true of all legal contracts: a borrower has to be at an age and level of mental competence to be able to enter a legally binding contract. Those requirements vary by state.
For many military servicemembers, it makes sense to use their VA loan benefits early in life in order to start paying off a home. Others wait until they’re older so that their VA loan can help them lower their expenses around the time of retirement.
Some veterans even pay off a VA loan and then buy another house using a new VA loan. If you’re in that situation, you can use VA Form 26-1880 to apply to have your VA loan entitlement restored so you can use it on another home.
If you’re the surviving spouse of a veteran, you may also be eligible for a VA loan in any of the following circumstances:
- Your veteran spouse died during his or her military service or because of a service-related disability AND you haven’t remarried.
- You’re the spouse of a servicemember who is MIA or is a POW.
- Your veteran spouse was completely disabled and died for a reason other than his or her disability.
If you did remarry after your veteran spouse passed away, you may still be eligible for a VA loan if you remarried after you turned 57 OR you remarried on or after December 16, 2003. (If you remarried before December 16, 2003 and you were 57 or older, you may still qualify if you applied for your eligibility on or before December 15, 2004.)
Eligible Home Types
Only certain properties are eligible to be purchased with a VA loan. Here are some of the types of homes that can qualify:
- Many normal houses that are outside of a city center (as long as they don’t have HOA terms that are too difficult)
- Condominiums and townhouses that are on the VA’s approved list
- Manufactured houses, as long as:
- They are attached to a permanent foundation (or will be when purchased)
- They and their lot are classified as real estate
- Multi-unit properties with up to four residential units and one commercial unit, as long as the veteran lives in one of the units as a primary residence
A property must meet the standards of the VA’s Minimum Property Requirements (MPRs). That simply means it’ll be structurally sound, have good access, be in good repair, and so on.
Some properties are disqualified for VA eligibility. These include:
- Residences that are not attached to a permanent foundation, such as trailers and RVs
- Properties purchased just to be rented out
The way a property is zoned can affect whether or not it’s eligible to be purchased using a VA loan. Some multi-unit properties, for example, are zoned as both commercial and residential, such as a condo that’s over a store.
In those cases, the VA decides if a property is eligible by determining its “remaining economic life,” which is a measure of the length of time the residential unit(s) will still be usable to be lived in. A VA appraiser is the only party that can officially decide whether or not a mixed-zone property is eligible.
Certificate of Eligibility (COE)
When you determine you’re eligible for a VA loan, you need to get your Certificate of Eligibility (COE) from the VA. It’s a document that declares to lenders:
- That you’re entitled to use VA loan benefits
- The dollar amount of your entitlement
- Whether or not you’re exempt from the VA funding fee
- Any exceptions to your eligibility
Most veterans and servicemembers simply ask their lenders to download a COE for them. Lenders can do this in a few minutes using their electronic connection to the VA’s system.
It’s unusual, but you can request your COE by mail. If you have a special reason to do so, print out VA Form 26-1880, complete it, and mail it to the address for your state, which is on page 3 of the form.
Another way to get your COE on your own is to use the COE section of the VA’s eBenefits portal. If you already have a login, you can use it to access the page on which you request your COE. Otherwise, you can register to get an account.
Benefits of a VA Loan
Remember, a VA loan is a benefit that is mostly exclusive to veterans, current servicemembers, and surviving spouses. The VA gives a guaranty to private lenders, which ensures that they’ll get back a portion of each loan (in case a borrower doesn’t repay his or her loan).
With the VA’s backing, private lenders are able to offer amazing terms and rates—better than many conventional loans can offer. These features include:
- No requirement for a down payment on a home purchase
- Potentially faster processing
- Lower closing costs
- Flexible options, such as buying land, building a new home, and making home improvements