If you’re a veteran looking for a home loan, there’s good news: you’ve got the very best mortgage choices at your fingertips. Thanks to the VA loan program, veterans can get some of the lowest mortgage interest rates possible and are often able to get a loan that requires no down payment – all because they served in the military.
The VA loan is by far the best mortgage option for veterans. It’s estimated that out of veterans who own a home, almost 80 percent used a mortgage loan through the VA program. It’s likely the best home loan that exists period, and it’s only open to people who are presently serving or who have served in the US military.
Beyond the VA loan, there are other fantastic mortgage options veterans can take advantage of, also with excellent benefits, including the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) loan. All three of these loan options are only for people purchasing a primary residence – no vacation or investment properties are allowed. However, almost any home qualifies, like a condo, a house, a new construction home or a manufactured home. Some of these loans also allow borrowers to refinance to take money out of their equity for home repairs or upgrades, also at low rates.
VA Loans: Unlike the other options on this list, the VA loan is exclusively for people who served in the military or are actively serving. A VA loan is guaranteed by the U.S. Veterans Administration to allow lenders to offer special perks that are unavailable to anyone else. VA loan features include zero down payment requirements, lower interest rates, exceptions for low credit scores, and more. Nearly any armed forces member, retired or active, who meets the service requirement of 181 days active duty during peacetime or 90 days during wartime qualifies. VA loans also have special programs to help people struggling to make payments, something that’s helped many save their homes.
FHA Loans: Similar to a VA loan, a FHA loan is also backed by the government. In this case, though, it’s the Federal Housing Administration. FHA loans are open to anyone, but they’re particularly popular with veterans purchasing their first home because they allow for a down payment as low as 3.5 percent as long as your credit score is above 580. People with a credit score as low as 500 can get an FHA loan, but they’ll need to pay 10 percent down. It’s worth noting that FHA loan holders will have to pay PMI until they pay down their loan enough to have 20 percent equity in the home.
USDA Loans: The best thing about a USDA loan is that they offer zero percent down mortgages, allowing many veterans to purchase a home when they otherwise couldn’t. Unfortunately, this loan only applies to homes in rural and suburban areas. USDA loan rates are usually very competitive. These loans require PMI payments for a while, but at a lower cost compared to PMI paid with other mortgages. People who have a credit score of 640 or above should have no problem getting approval for this loan while people with a lower credit score will be evaluated on a case by case basis.
Native American Direct Loans: This loan is a lesser-known program, as it only applies to a home on federal trust land or a Native American reservation. Native American Direct Loans are a part of the VA loan program, so it has its benefits. If you use this loan, which is designed to improve Native American land, the land’s tribal government must sign off on it along with the VA.
While the government does guarantee VA loans, they don’t administer the loan – private lenders do the administration. Most lending institutions have “military friendly” rates, but there are a few that specialize in the process of helping veterans get a home. If you’re looking for VA loan, try to go through one of these companies first:
NBKC: NBKC offers loan options for all veterans and their spouses and makes sure interest rates are competitive. You can choose a VA home loan in all 50 states or, if you’re looking to refinance, a VA streamline refinance loan option.
USAA: Probably the most highly rated VA loan vendor, USAA also provides investment accounts, and insurance and more. Membership in USAA is open to active or retired military, officer candidates ROTC/Academy programs, adults who had parents with a USAA auto or property insurance policy, or a widow/widowers of someone with a USAA membership.
Pentagon Federal Credit Union: PFCU is open only to service members and people who work for the Department of Defense. They have the advantage of being a credit union which, unlike a bank, is wholly owned by the members. This results in better rates and fees on all products, not just home loans.
Navy Federal Credit Union: Don’t be fooled by the name – Navy Federal Credit Union is open to anyone in the armed forces and their families. Also a credit union, NFCU has VA loans with no money down and many other financial programs designed just for veterans.
There’s a bit of a difference from the VA loan to the FHA or USDA loan, but in general, the documents needed to apply are the same.
The application form: There’s an application form for each loan type. For the VA loan, it’s the Freddie Mac Form 65.
W2 forms from all employment: You will need copies of your W2 statements from the past two years to verify your household income. You will need these forms for every person named on the loan.
Pay stubs: Usually, you’ll need your last two paycheck stubs to verify your current income.
Bank statements: All of your assets are considered in the loan application, including checking accounts, savings accounts, trust and investment accounts.
DD 214: Also known as a Discharge from Active Duty or Certificate of Release, a DD 214 is required if you’ve been discharged. A Certificate of Guarantee that verifies your current military service is sufficient for others.
What’s even better than military service earning you a great mortgage? Military service earning you no mortgage at all. There are non-profit organizations that work to provide free homes to veterans wounded in combat and Gold Star families (those who had a family member killed in combat). If you fall into either category, you may be eligible to receive a new home entirely mortgage free. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s certainly something to consider if you qualify.
Each one of these groups has roughly the same qualifications: the borrower must be wounded in combat or training, honorably discharged or retired, and not a current homeowner. These companies have waiting lists of course, but they all try to help as many families as they possibly can.
Military Warriors Support Foundation: Focusing on combat-wounded veterans and Gold Star spouses. They also provide three years of financial counseling and mentoring for the whole family.
Building Homes For Heroes: Specifically for those who were injured while serving the United States during the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. Also offers financial planning, family funding, and emergency support services.
Operation Homefront: Offers rent-free housing options as well as help with food, home and auto repair, help with moving, travel and transportation.
Operation Finally Home: Providing housing and home repair or modifications for injured veterans, specifically those with traumatic brain injuries, and spouses of fallen service members.
Even though these organizations can get a veteran a mortgage-free home, the homeowner is still responsible for things like homeowners insurance and property tax. Some of these companies only serve certain states, and some have specific guidelines like a veteran who served in one particular war, so search through each one to see if they fit your situation.
If a veteran needs part-time or full-time care and is unable to live on their own, he or she can obtain up to $2,200 per month towards a senior living community, thanks to the Aid and Attendance benefit through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Thanks to a number of different programs, veterans trying to purchase a home will often find themselves in a much better position than civilians. Regardless of which loan you go with, your military service helps you financially with home ownership, especially if it’s your first home.
Mortgages for veterans not only help them qualify for a loan in the first place, but they can help veterans save thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.
Take the time to talk to a certified lender to find out your options, and you’ll probably find that your dream of homeownership is more attainable than you ever thought.