Home Loans and Housing-Related Assistance

VA Home Loans and Housing-Related Assistance

VA home loan programs may be used to obtain homes, condominiums, or manufactured homes; refinance an existing home loan; or install energy-saving improvements. VA offers these three main types of guaranteed home loan benefits:

  • Purchase Loans
  • Cash-Out Refinance Loans
  • Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loans
Native American Veterans

For Native American Veterans who want to live on Federal Trust land, VA’s Native American Direct Loan (NADL) program is another option. It provides direct loans to eligible Native American Veterans for the purchase, construction, or improvement of a home. Learn more about NADL.

Adapted Homes for Disabled Veterans

VA also offers grants to Veterans with certain service-connected disabilities to build an adapted home or install ramps, widen doors, or make other modifications to live more independently. VA operates three types of grants that accommodate Veterans’ unique circumstances: Specially Adapted Housing, Special Housing Adaptation, and Temporary Residence Adaptation.

Help for Homeless Veterans

If you are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless, contact your local VA medical center; call 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838); or visit va.gov/homeless. VA can connect you with the care you need to get back on your feet.

Underwriting

Private-sector lenders underwrite and fund VA home loans according to established VA standards. VA’s partial guaranty for these loans means that nearly 90 percent of all VA-guaranteed home loans are made with no down payment required.

Delinquency

If a VA-guaranteed loan becomes delinquent, VA works with the borrower to avoid foreclosure, including providing financial counseling and, in some cases, direct intervention with a mortgage loan servicer on the borrower’s behalf. In 2013, VA loans had the lowest foreclosure rate of all types of loans in the market. If you are a Veteran or Servicemember having difficulty making mortgage payments, call 877-827-3702 to speak with a VA Loan Technician. More information about avoiding foreclosure is at http://benefits.va.gov/HOMELOANS/resources_payments.asp.

Borrowers

Borrowers must have suitable credit, sufficient income, and a valid Certificate of Eligibility (COE) to be eligible for a VA-guaranteed home loan.

VA Requirements

Home Loans
  • Suitable credit and sufficient income
  • A valid VA home loan COE that verifies to lenders that you qualify for benefits
  • DD-214 or other applicable service documents
  • Certification that you will occupy the home
  • Other documents as needed for obtaining a home loan
Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) Grants
  • A rating by VA that you are as medically eligible for SAH grant benefits
  • Evidence that it is considered medically feasible for you to live in the proposed housing unit and locality
  • A proper relationship between the cost of the proposed housing and your current and future income and expenses
  • Suitability of the dwelling to your needs
  • Proof of ownership, such that the property can be adapted

VA Application Process

Home Loans
  • Use this detailed table to determine the specific evidence you need to obtain a home loan COE.
  • Prepare all documents and evidence before completing an application for a COE.
  • Obtain a home loan COE through eBenefits.va.gov, your lender, or the Atlanta Eligibility Center.
  • Once a VA COE for home loan benefits is obtained, contact several lenders who participate in the VA program to find out which one will offer the most favorable terms for your unique situation.
  • Work with the lender you select throughout the remainder of the home buying process. View this page for an illustration of the process.
Specially Adapted Housing Grants
  • Fill out and submit VA Form 26-4555, Application in Acquiring Specially Adapted Housing or Special Home Adaptation Grant.

Veterans benefits scam alert: Beware of scammers impersonating VA attorneys

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VA is currently investigating a telephone scam involving an individual or individuals impersonating VA Office of General Counsel  attorneys. The perpetrator reportedly calls Veterans and requests money to process their claims for benefits. Veterans have been given actual VA attorney names and phone numbers to call back. It is important to know that VA — as a cabinet-level agency of the U.S. government, funded by Congress — will never request payment for carrying out our mission to serve Veterans.

If you are contacted by a scammer:
  1. Know that VA will never call you and request money, even if you see “Veterans Affairs” on your caller identification.
  2. Do not give out any personally identifiable information or other personal or sensitive data such as financial and banking information.
  3. Hang up the phone immediately.
  4. Report the incident to your state’s attorney general: naag.org/naag/attorneys-general/whos-my-ag.php.
  5. File a complaint using the Federal Trade Commission’s Complaint Assistant, ftccomplaintassistant.gov/GettingStarted?NextQID=216&Selected=t#crnt.
If you believe you are a victim of this scam and you provided personally identifiable information:
  1. Request a free credit report from annualcreditreport.com.
  2. Watch for any fraudulent charges or activity on your accounts.
  3. Visit identitytheft.gov to obtain a personalized recovery plan and other resources.
If you provided money to the scammer:

Report the incident to your state’s attorney general immediately and contact your financial institution.

For additional information on Identity Theft:

Visit VA’s More Than a Number website at www.va.gov/identitytheft for tips and resources on identifying and preventing identity theft and fraud.

Things to know to build a home using a VA construction loan

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In a previous VAntage Point post, The Plan Collector blogged about how a Veteran could build a new home. They mention that construction to permanent loans can be “difficult to find.” Two years later, more and more lenders are now offering this one-time close product.
However, before you run out to build your dream home with no money down, take a few minutes to read and understand some the guidelines and requirements with this program.
First, you will need a licensed, insured builder that is willing to submit documentation to become an approved builder. The VA program does not allow for owner/builders. While the VA only requires that the builder be registered to participate in the program, each lender can require the builder to go through an approval process.
The borrower and the builder must submit a complete set of plans and specs for the home when applying. Additional forms will be sent to the builder to describe the specific materials to be used and the lot and surrounding area of the future home site.
The builder takes on more responsibility with this loan than with a 20 percent down conventional loan. It’s best to have your builder and lender speak and discuss this early in the process.
Closing costs are a part of the builder’s responsibility. The borrower can pay the closing costs normally associated with a purchase loan, but the builder must pay for all the construction loan closing costs and interest during closing. The VA will allow the builder to incorporate these costs into the agreement to build with the borrower.
Make sure you are building a home that is common in size and design for the area. The home must be appraised per the plans and specs given to the appraiser. If a borrower over builds for the area, or builds an uncommon home, the appraisal may come in lower than needed for a zero down payment.
Don’t build on land that is larger than what would be considered “standard and customary” for the area. The appraiser may feel that some of the land is excessive and again, you may find that the appraisal falls short of what is needed.
Finally, keep in mind that this process takes 45-60 days to process, with an experienced loan officer. If you are purchasing the land as part of this loan you will want to set the proper expectations with the land seller.
FHA and VA construction loans are in the deep end of the mortgage pool. Make sure you are working with a loan officer that understands the program.


About the author: Jerry Thomas is a construction loan officer with 23 years of experience and specializes in VA construction loans.

Step-by-Step Guide to the VA Loan Process

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For many borrowers, applying for any kind of mortgage may seem daunting. But, when broken down, this rundown of 6 steps to getting a VA loan is easy to understand.

1. Select a VA-approved Lender

On the surface, it might appear that any lender will do. However, if you dig a little deeper, you may discover that not all lenders are the same. First, only lenders approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can originate VA mortgages. Secondly, some lenders focus primarily on conventional loans, while others concentrate almost exclusively on the VA loan program for military clients. Using a VA specialty lender with extensive knowledge about the VA loan process vs. a lender who only funds a few VA mortgages a year may translate into an easier and quicker loan process. To connect with a VA specialty lender, please click here.

2. Obtain a Certificate of Eligibility (COE)

An experienced lender can help you obtain what’s called a Certificate of Eligibility (COE). The COE will prove that you meet initial eligibility standards for VA loan benefits. It will also let the lender know how much entitlement you can receive, which is the amount the Department of Veterans Affairs will guarantee on your VA loan. To get your COE, you’ll need to give your lender a bit of information about your military service. Usually, a COE can be acquired online instantly through a lender’s portal or through the eBenefits portal on the va.gov website. Those servicemembers or surviving spouses whose COEs cannot be obtained online will have to get theirs by mail. A VA lender or the VA can help direct you to the right resource for your specific situation.

3. Pre-Qualify for Your Loan Amount (optional)

Pre-qualifying is important, but not required. By choosing to complete this step you can save some time and potential surprises later in the process. To pre-qualify for your loan amount, you’ll have a candid conversation with your VA loan professional about your income, credit history, employment, marital status and other factors. Giving your lender complete details during the pre-qualifying step can help prevent surprises later during underwriting.  The pre-qualifying step can also reveal areas that need improvement before you can be approved, such as credit or debt-to-income ratio.  While a prequalification letter gives you a ballpark price range for house hunting, it does not guarantee that you will be approved for a loan, and your lender will later have to verify the information you provide. To get a loan requires later final approval by underwriting once all documents have been received and reviewed (see Step 5).

4. Go House Hunting and Sign a Purchase Agreement

The fourth step is usually one borrowers enjoy because they get to look at homes they might consider buying. Working with a real estate professional who specializes in the VA process can help you get the most out of your benefits. This is true because the VA allows certain fees and costs to be paid by the seller (if both you and the seller agree), and a knowledgeable agent will know this and help you negotiate seller-paid fees. Once you’ve got a signed purchase agreement, you can move forward in the VA loan process.

5. Lender Processes Application and Orders VA Appraisal

A signed purchase contract is the document you’ll need to finish your initial application. Once your lender has the contract, they will order the VA appraisal. Here again, not just any appraiser will do. Only a professional who is certified to perform appraisals to VA standards can evaluate the home being considered for VA financing. The VA appraiser will make sure the price you’ve agreed to pay for the home corresponds with the current value. Another very important part of the VA appraisal is to inspect the home to make sure it meets the VA minimum property requirements (VA MPRs). However, the VA appraisal does not take the place of a home inspection, which focuses on code violations, defects and the condition of the property. While many borrowers have heard horror stories about the length of the VA appraisal process, the Department of Veterans Affairs gives the appraisers 10 days from order to completion barring extenuating circumstances. While you’re waiting for appraisal documents, you’ll be busy submitting documents of your own to your VA-approved lender to show you have the ability to qualify for the loan. If the home passes appraisal for value and VA minimum property requirements, and it’s verified by the lender that you qualify for your loan, the underwriter will give his or her stamp of approval.

6. Close on Your Loan and Move In

After being approved by the underwriter, all that is left to do is close and move in. During closing, the property legally transfers from the former owner to you. Closing is a step that requires you to sign documents that confirm you understand and agree to the terms of the loan. You will need to provide proof of homeowners insurance and, if required, pay closing costs. Once you’ve signed all your closing documents, you’ll get the keys to your new home.
While these steps may not happen in the order above or be a required part (such as prequalification)*, they represent the typical process for the applicant in obtaining a VA purchase loan. Your lender may need to take other steps. For more information about VA loans, contact an experienced VA-approved lender.

Evacuation Entitlements If the Military Tells You to Go

When and what the military will pay if it tells your base or command to evacuate?
With hurricane season in full swing, it’s a perfect time to talk about when and how the military may pay travel expenses if you are instructed to evacuate.
Many folks have questions about when and how the military might reimburse for evacuations. I’ve pulled together information from the Joint Travel Regulations (it has a whole chapter on evacuations), the Defense Travel website, various service instructions, plus interviewed a few folks who have been ordered to evacuate for past situations. I learned a lot — hopefully you will, too!
Note: This article speaks specifically to evacuations from locations within the continental United States (CONUS) for limited-duration events like a storm.
First things first: The military will not pay for any expenses unless the evacuation is ordered by the appropriate military authorities. If you choose to leave without a military order, you will not be reimbursed for any expenses incurred until such an order is given.
An evacuation order given by local civilian authorities will not qualify you for reimbursement. However, you don’t have to wait for the military to tell you to evacuate. You may always evacuate at your own expense, at any time. I’m a worrier; I’d rather leave and have nothing happen than be stuck with my family in a disaster.
Please keep in mind that ultimately, the safety of your family is up to you. Any actions that the military may or may not take do not impact your personal responsibility to take care of yourself.

Who Is Eligible for Military Compensation for an Evacuation?

In order to be compensated for the expenses incurred when leaving an area due to a situation like a storm, the local military authorities must officially order the evacuation.
Coast Guard wife Kelsey Ramirez was told to evacuate when Hurricane Matthew was headed toward her area. Her advice: “You can evacuate early, which I recommend, and if they call the order, save your receipts (which you should do just in case they call it.)”

How Will You Know an Evacuation Has Been Ordered?

The spouses with whom I spoke all agreed that communication was very clear during an evacuation.
Brooke Goldberg has been ordered to evacuate twice! She told me, “It was made clear that I could leave and where I was allowed to go in order to receive reimbursement.”

Where Can You Go?

An evacuation order can include a designated “safe haven” location or a distance from your base that you can travel. If a specific location is designated, this is the location for which reimbursements will be paid. You may not be required to go to this safe haven, but expenses that exceed the costs of evacuating to the safe haven will not be reimbursed.
Instructions vary in how they present this safe haven option. Some make it seem mandatory that a safe haven is designated; others are less specific. Please pay attention to what your specific command or installation says if they order an evacuation.

What Will Be Reimbursed?

You will be reimbursed for mileage, lodging, and meals and incidentals. If a safe haven location is designated, your reimbursements will not exceed the costs at the designated safe haven location.
You may be authorized mileage for one vehicle per family member aged 16 or older. However, it is recommended that you take as few cars as possible to lessen gridlock on the roads. Mileage is paid at a flat rate based upon the distance from your duty station to the safe haven location, if one is designated.
Each evacuated person aged 12 and over receives meals and incidentals at 100% of the published rate for the safe haven location; those under age 12 receive 50% of the meals and incidentals rate.
Lodging is reimbursed up to the authorized rate for the safe haven location, if one is designated, or the authorized rate for the actual location, if no location is designated. Lodging rates are authorized for each family member over the age of 12, with those under the age of 12 eligible for up to 50% of the lodging amount. Lodging is not reimbursed if you stay with friends or family.
You must save all lodging receipts for reimbursement.
An example taken from the NonCombatant Evacuation Operations Quick Reference Guide for Army Personnel and DA Civilians:
“Family Members: Spouse, 14 year old, and 9 year old Per Diem rate: lodging $100 per day and M&IE $50 per day. Family gets hotel suite for daily rate of $175”
“For lodging, the spouse in our example is authorized $100 per day, first child $100 per day and second child $50 per day, which equals $250 per day, but that is more than what she is paying for the hotel room. Therefore the spouse will be reimbursed for the actual cost of the lodging, which is $175 per day.
“For M&IE, the spouse is authorized $50, first child $50, and second child $25, totaling $125. The family receives the entire amount.”
I have to admit, this seems like a lot of reimbursement to me, but I’ve verified it from three different sources. Please let me know ASAP if you know this to be wrong.
In general, it’s important to remember that your local military leadership has a detailed plan for how this all works out. If your location may be affected, you will be notified.

What Can You Do in the Meantime?

If you’re sitting around waiting on a hurricane, there are several things you can do to prepare for the possibility of an evacuation. You want to be ready to go as soon as you decide it is time, and not be scrambling around packing a car at the last minute.
The most important thing to do: Be sure your contact information is up-to-date on all official records, and that the individual command and its family support team has your details. Brooke Goldberg’s final advice to me: “Definitely keep track of correspondence with your unit. As a key spouse, I saw so many spouses dismiss options for contact with their service member’s unit, but in emergencies, it was very helpful.”

Other Ways to Be Productive While You Storm-Watch:

  • Gather your important documents and put them in a waterproof bag. Make a home inventory, or update your existing one.
  • Get your laundry done, and have an idea of what you might pack.
  • Review your emergency kit and see what items need to be replaced or refilled.
  • Have a plan where you might go. Keep in mind that you may be joining many other people being evacuated — roads will be crowded, hotels may be full.
  • Be sure your car is ready to travel: full of gas, maintenance up-to-date, tires in good shape.
  • Do what you need to do for your particular house and location. At the very least, bring in outside furniture. There are many excellent “to do” lists available on the internet.

Once again, this article deals only with limited evacuations from locations within the continental United States (CONUS). Evacuations for bigger situations, and evacuations from outside the Continental United States (OCONUS) have different and more rules and guidelines.
While we can’t predict when and where an emergency situation will occur, we can be prepared with knowledge and physical readiness. If you are worried about a situation, take steps to be prepared and keep yourself safe. While the military may provide guidance, and financial support in some situations, the ultimate responsibility is yours.
If you’d like to read more, this information was compiled from:
The Joint Travel Regulations, Chapter 6
Defense Travel CONUS Evacuation download
Ready Navy website
Ready Army website
Ready Marine Corps website
Air Force Be Ready website
NonCombatant Evacuation Operations Quick Reference Guide for Army Personnel and DA Civilians
NAS Key West Hurricane Evacuation Entitlements FAQs