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What You Need to Qualify for a VA Loan

What you'll learn: Requirements for VA loan eligibility


Do I qualify for a VA loan?

To qualify for a VA loan, you need to successfully complete a three-part process of approvals involving the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), a VA-approved mortgage lender, and a home appraiser. The first two steps qualify you for the loan and the third step qualifies the property. Here you’ll find details that will help you understand the VA loan qualification process, so you can focus on moving into your new home.

  1. The VA determines eligibility based on the type and length of the applicant’s service, most commonly through a form called a Certificate of Eligibility (COE). 
  2. Once the VA issues the COE, then the mortgage lender conducts reviews of the applicant’s income, debt, credit, and other financial information.
  3. Applicants are then required to have a VA-approved home appraiser check the property to ensure it is safe, secure, and clean. This process is different than a home inspection. 

What are the service requirements for a VA loan?

First, make sure both the type and duration of your service meet the VA’s requirements. If you fall into at least one of the categories on each of the lists below, you may be eligible for a VA loan.

Type of service:

  • Veterans
  • Active-duty personnel
  • Members of the Reserve
  • Members of the National Guard
  • Some surviving spouses

Length of service:

  • 2 years on active duty
  • 90 days of wartime duty
  • 181 days of peacetime service
  • 6 years in the Reserve or National Guard

If your or your spouse’s service doesn’t fall into one of these categories, or you’re not sure, you may still be eligible. You can find a detailed list of requirements on the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs website. If you still have questions, a PenFed loan officer would be happy to help you.

What is a Certificate of Eligibility?

One way to be sure you meet the VA loan service requirements is to get a Certificate of Eligibility (COE). A COE is a document issued by the VA that proves to the lender that you have met the initial service qualifications for a VA loan. You can apply for a COE through:

  • A VA-approved lender
  • The VA’s eBenefits portal
  • The VA Form 26-1880, which you can send by mail

What are the income requirements for a VA loan?

Once the lender has confirmed the service requirements through the COE, they will review your income, debt, and credit to assess whether you qualify financially for the loan. There are no standard income or debt requirements, but lenders will often check an applicant’s debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. DTI is calculated by dividing monthly debt obligations by gross monthly income. A ratio of less than 41% is considered good, although a higher ratio isn’t necessarily disqualifying. If you can show that you have enough residual income after paying necessary monthly expenses to pay for food, medical care, and other costs, you may still be approved.

Similar to debt and income, there is no VA-dictated minimum credit score requirement for qualification. Instead, lenders are allowed to determine their own minimums, which usually fall between 620 and 660. There are always exceptions to the financial requirements. Discuss these and your specific needs when looking for a VA-approved lender.

Why do I need a home appraisal?

The final step in VA loan qualification is the home appraisal, which is done after confirming both service and financial eligibility. Your lender will find a VA-approved home appraiser, who will check the property to make sure it is safe, secure, and clean. The appraiser is different from a home inspector. The home appraiser will check that the property meets the VA’s minimum property requirements (MPRs), and that the property value matches the price you’re paying.

Once you’ve completed the COE, financial qualification, and home appraisal, you’ll know that both you and your property are qualified for a VA loan. Then, you’ll be ready to close the deal and move in.

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Apply before becoming a member.

After your application, we’ll help you:

1. Discover you’re eligible to become a PenFed member

2. Open a Savings/Share Account and deposit at least $5