Top 12 Things You Need to Know About a VA Loan
- 5 min
What you'll learn.
- The financial intracacies of a VA loan
- Requirements of a VA loan
- Understanding how a VA loan can benefit you.
Are you thinking of buying a home? If you’re a military service member or Veteran, you may be eligible for a VA loan. And the great news is that many of the perks of this loan are unmatched by any other home loan option.
What is a VA loan?
A VA loan is a mortgage loan for service members that’s guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Its main purpose is to help Veterans finance a home purchase with favorable loan terms.
Who is eligible for a VA loan?
To qualify for a VA loan, you must meet certain income and credit requirements (similar to other loan programs) and have a valid Certificate of Eligibility (COE). While length of service, duty status, and conduct can also affect your eligibility for a VA loan, you may be able to obtain a COE if you belong to any of the categories below.
Active-duty service member
National Guard member
What is there to know about a VA loan?
There are many features to the VA loan that are unique to them specifically versus any other loan option out there. We’ve broken down the must-know items just for you!
1. VA loans are government-insured.
As mentioned above, the VA guarantees a portion of the loan will be paid back to the lender, as a security precaution in case the homeowner defaults. Government backing gives lenders the confidence to extend financing with great rates and terms. While the VA insures the loan, the government itself does not lend money for the loan, which is a common misconception. Financing goes through a private mortgage lender just like you would with a conventional loan.
2. No down payment is required.
The single biggest advantage of a VA loan is that qualified buyers can typically finance 100% of their primary home’s sale value. Nearly every other loan option requires some percentage of a down payment. Surely you can put money down if you have the ability to, but it’s not a make-it-or-break-it kind of deal.
3. There's no private mortgage insurance (PMI).
With most Conventional loans, you’re required to pay mortgage insurance if you don’t put down at least 20%. But that’s not the case with a VA loan. With a VA loan, there’s no PMI, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars each month as compared to a Conventional loan.
4. It comes with a mandatory fee.
One unique cost to this loan program is the mandatory VA Funding Fee applied to every VA purchase loan or refinance. It’s required by the VA, who uses it to cover losses on loans that may go into default. The fee is a percentage of the loan amount, and it’s based on whether this is your first time using a VA loan, if you’re making a down payment, and if you’re purchasing or refinancing. The fee is listed as a closing cost, but you can finance it in addition to your loan amount.
5. A VA appraisal is required.
One contingency of a VA loan is that you must get a VA appraisal - an evaluation of your proposed property value. An independent VA-certified appraiser inspects the condition of the home, compares surrounding sales, and makes a value assessment. The appraisal typically ranges anywhere from $300 to $500.
Don’t mistake this for the home inspection though as these are two different things. The purpose of the appraisal is to determine if your home is at fair market value. This helps you, the VA, and your lender ensure you’re not overpaying for your property.
The VA appraisal typically takes around 14 days, but don’t be surprised if it takes longer. Timelines vary by state based on specific state guidelines.
6. A VA loan is more forgiving with credit scores.
Since the VA backing reduces lender risk, they can be more flexible with their terms, such as credit score minimums and ranges. The minimum will vary from lender to lender. Credit ranges are broader as well, and interest rates are not based heavily on credit scores. In addition, the VA program is more lenient with things like previous bankruptcy, short sales, and foreclosures than a conventional loan program.
7. Your closing costs could be covered by the seller.
With a VA loan, the seller can pay an unlimited amount of your closing costs and prepaids (settlement costs associated with the loan), including up to two discount points to buy down your interest rate. And they could also pay up to 4% toward your discretion, such as paying off your debts, appliances, etc. All of these terms, however, must be negotiated in your contract with the seller. Some loan options won’t allow closing cost assistance, meaning the buyer would be responsible for these up-front expenses. And no other program will allow the seller to pay discretionary costs, which makes VA loans very unique.
8. VA loans must be used for your primary residence.
It’s important to note that the VA loan can only be used for your primary residence, where you plan to spend the majority of your time. This means you can’t use your VA eligibility to buy a temporary residence like a vacation home. With that said, you should also be aware of the following:
9. You can own two homes at once with a second VA loan.
Let’s suggest you’re locating to a new duty station, but you want to keep and rent out your primary residence. Having a renter locked into a lease who will cover those old monthly payments can go a long way toward making this scenario work. Veterans with enough remaining entitlement can then go on to secure a second VA loan with little to no money down to purchase a home in their new area.
10. There's no prepayment penalty.
While you might not be planning to pay more than your required monthly mortgage payment, it’s nice to know that if you choose to do so, you won’t be penalized. Many are surprised to learn that some loan options actually charge you extra if you pay off your mortgage early – known as a prepayment penalty. But don’t worry, a VA loan doesn’t have one.
11. A VA loan is reusable.
Once you completely pay off a VA loan, you regain your full VA eligibility and can reuse it for another VA loan. You can reuse a VA loan as many times as you want, as long as the previous loan is paid off. And remember! You can also have two VA loans at a time if you have enough entitlement available.
12. A VA loan is assumable.
Your VA loan can also be assumed by someone else, meaning another buyer could take over your existing mortgage (as long as the lender and VA approves). It’s basically a transfer of loan terms from the current owner to a new buyer.
The only contingency is that the new buyer must also be VA loan eligible. If the new buyer doesn’t have VA entitlement, your entitlement will remain attached to the loan even after assumption. However, this means that the current owner is basically putting their entitlement on the line, so beware and make sure your entitlement will be fully restored after assumption.
Overall, a VA loan is an amazing option for service men and women to achieve homeownership. If you’d like to know if you’re eligible for this program, a Mortgage Banker knowledgeable in VA loans can help guide you through the process.