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VA Home Loan Eligibility Basics: Find Out if You Qualify

For veterans and active-duty servicemembers, understanding your VA home loan eligibility is the first step toward securing a mortgage.

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If you’re a military servicemember in the market for a new home and find yourself wondering about your VA home loan eligibility, you’re not alone.

Figuring out who qualifies for a VA home loan, and for how much, can be a little tricky if you haven’t used your VA loan benefit before.

But it’s easier than you might expect — and you don’t have to figure it out alone.  

Ready to apply? Talk to a VA home loan lender today.

What's in this Article?

VA loan eligibility requirements
Active duty vs. separated from service
How do you get a certificate of eligibility (COE)?
Credit and income requirements
Qualifying for a VA home loan FAQs
How do I find out if I qualify for a VA Loan?

VA home loan eligibility requirements

The VA home loan application process isn’t all that different from other mortgage programs. But the VA loan program does offer some advantages over other loan types: 0% down payments and no loan limits if you have full entitlement, low interest rates, and no mortgage insurance.

And only certain borrowers can qualify. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) insures VA loans given to active-duty servicemembers, military veterans, and some surviving spouses by approved lenders.

But to qualify, you must meet the VA’s home loan eligibility criteria.

Qualifying servicemembers

VA loans are available to current and veteran servicemembers from all branches of the U.S. military:

  • Army
  • Navy
  • Air Force
  • Marine Corps
  • Coast Guard
  • National Guard or Reserves
  • National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • Public Health Service (USPHS)
  • Cadets at the US Military, Air Force, or Coast Guard Academies
  • Midshipmen at the US Naval Academy
  • Veterans of all branches
  • Surviving military spouses who have not remarried and whose significant other:
    • Died in service
    • Died from a service-related injury or disability
    • Has been declared a POW (Prisoner of War) or MIA (Missing In Action) for at least 90 days

Veteran servicemembers must have been honorably discharged to qualify. If you were dishonorably discharged, you may be able to apply for a discharge upgrade, depending on why you were discharged.

Service minimums

The most important factor that determines VA home loan eligibility is the minimum service requirement. You — or your spouse, if you are a widow or widower applying for a VA loan — must have served for a certain amount of time in order to receive the home loan benefit. Service minimums depend on when you were in the military. 

VA Home Loan Active-Duty Servicemember and Veteran Eligibility Table

Service PeriodDatesActive-duty requirement
World War II9/16/40-7/25/4790 total days*
Post-World War II7/26/47-6/26/50181 continuous days*
Korean War6/27/50-1/31/5590 total days*
Post-Korean War2/1/55-8/4/64181 continuous days*
Vietnam War8/5/64-5/7/7590 total days*
Served in the Republic of Vietnam2/28/61-5/7/7590 total days*
Post-Vietnam War (May 8, 1975-Sept. 7, 1980)5/8/75-9/7/80181 continuous days*
Served as an officer5/8/75-10/16/81181 continuous days*
Unnamed era9/8/1980-8/1/9024 continuous months or the full period during which you were called to active duty (minimum 181 days)**
Served as an officer10/17/81-8/1/9024 continuous months or the full period during which you were called to active duty (minimum 181 days)**
Gulf War8/2/90-present24 continuous months or the full period during which you were called to active duty (minimum 90 days).***
Separated from service after Sept. 7, 1980After 9/7/8024 continuous months or the full period during which you were called to active duty (minimum 181 days).***
Separated from service and served as an officerAfter 10/16/8124 continuous months or the full period during which you were called to active duty (minimum 181 days).***
Currently on active dutyn/a90 continuous days
National Guard/Selected Reserve8/2/90-present90 days active duty or 6 years and now honorably discharged, placed on retired list, transferred to Standby/Ready after honorable service, or continue to serve in Selected Reserve
Discharged with Service-Related Disabilityn/aNo minimum service requirements
Dishonorable Dischargen/aNot eligible for VA home loan

*Eligible if served fewer days but discharged due to service-connected disability

**No allowance for fewer service days if discharged due to service-connected disability

***Eligible with minimum days if you were discharged due to a government decision, reduction in force, or a hardship. Eligible with less than minimum days only if separated due to service-connected disability.

Active duty vs. separated from service

You’ll need different documentation to apply for a VA loan depending on whether you’re an active-duty servicemember or a veteran. 

If you’re active-duty military, your commanding officer must provide you with a statement of service that spells out the following information:

  • Your name, date of birth, and social security number
  • Active-duty entry date
  • Timespan of any lost time
  • Name of command submitting the information

If you’re veteran who is separated from service, you’ll need your Discharge and Report of Separation document, also known as Form DD-214, to prove retirement, honorable discharge, or separation to verify your eligibility.

Document requirements

VA lenders will require standard income, asset, debt, and credit documentation. But they’ll also need VA-loan specific documents from you, including: 

  • Certificate of Eligibility (COE): Proves your level of eligible benefits and entitlement
  • Form 26-1880: To request your COE
  • Form DD-214 (Retired Veterans): Details your Discharge and Record of Separation
  • Commanding Officer Statement of Service (Active-Duty Military): A statement from your commanding officer that confirms your current service and expected service length
  • Verification of Childcare Expenses: VA borrowers with dependent children must submit proof of their current childcare costs. If you do not have any expenses due to childcare, you’ll submit a letter confirming that you have no monthly childcare costs

How Do You Get a Certificate of Eligibility (COE)?

The certificate of eligibility is the first thing a lender needs to see before moving forward with a VA loan because it verifies that you meet the minimum service requirement and indicates what level of entitlement you have available. Your entitlement status determines whether you can buy with a 0% down payment and whether you’re subject to loan limits.

Fortunately, your lender can pull it when you apply for a loan, and it takes only a few minutes to access.

You can also look up your COE and apply for it through the VA by submitting Form 26-1880 (download here) through the VA ebenefits portal.

Credit and Income Requirements

Once a VA lender verifies your service and entitlement level, the next step is similar to what you’ll find with other mortgage programs: assessing whether you meet the credit score, income, debt-to-income ratio guidelines.

Unlike other loan programs, however, lenders must determine whether VA borrowers will have enough residual income after their mortgage payments to afford non-mortgage housing costs and general living experiences.

Residual income requirements for loans $80,000 or more

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Residual income requirements for loans under $80,000

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One of the benefits of VA loans is that although the VA sets some borrowing standards, it gives lenders a lot of flexibility in deciding whether someone qualifies. That means that even if your credit score is on the low end or your DTI is a bit higher than the general guidelines, a lender may still approve you for a VA loan if you have other financial factors in your favor.

VA home loan eligibility FAQs

What qualifies you for a VA home loan?

If you’re active-duty military or a retired veteran with an honorable discharge, or you’re the surviving spouse of a veteran who died in service and you have not remarried, you may qualify for a VA home loan. VA borrowers must meet minimum service requirements and have some VA home loan entitlement benefit available. A lender can verify your status by requesting your certificate of eligibility from the VA when you apply for a loan.

Do family members qualify for VA loans?

Surviving spouses whose husbands or wives died during active duty or due to a service-related injury may be eligible for VA loans if they have not remarried. Those who are married to servicemembers who have been listed as prisoners of war or missing in action for 90 days or longer may qualify as well. In some cases, widows or widowers of servicemembers who died from non-service-related causes may be eligible for VA home loans. Children and other relatives of veterans are not eligible, nor are spouses of deceased veterans whose death was not due to military service.

Is it hard to get a VA loan?

For veterans, active-duty military, and surviving spouses, getting a VA loan may be easier than qualifying for a conventional mortgage, as long as they meet the minimum service requirements and have entitlement available. The VA allows lenders to use their discretion in approving VA borrowers, so even those with high debts or low credit scores may qualify.

How can I check my VA home loan eligibility?

If you’ve met the service criteria and are active-duty military or a retired veteran, there’s a good chance you qualify for a VA loan.

To be sure, though, you can talk with a lender who will pull your COE and help you figure out whether a VA loan or another mortgage program may be right for you.

Start your application with a VA lender today.

A down payment is required if the borrower does not have full VA entitlement or when the loan amount exceeds the VA county limits. VA loans subject to individual VA Entitlement amounts and eligibility, qualifying factors such as income and credit guidelines, and property limits. Fairway is not affiliated with any government agencies. These materials are not from VA, HUD or FHA, and were not approved by VA, HUD or FHA, or any other government agency.

Some references sourced within this article have not been prepared by Fairway and are distributed for educational purposes only. The information is not guaranteed to be accurate and may not entirely represent the opinions of Fairway.

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