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After your time in military service, you may be eligible for numerous veteran benefits. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, offers a range of services and assistance for eligible U.S. veterans and qualifying family members to help transition into civilian life. Read on to understand the different benefits and loans available through the VA.
- VA housing and homebuying assistance
- VA disability benefits and programs
- VA education, training and employment benefits
VA housing and homebuying assistance
One of the most well-known veteran benefits is VA housing assistance. It is meant to help veterans, service members and surviving spouses buy or build a home, refinance a home or make home improvements. Below are some of the specific programs and insights into each one.
VA home loans
A VA home loan is a type of mortgage loan that is backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Note that just because the loan is backed by the VA doesn’t mean it’s risk free. The VA backs the loan to protect the lender, not the borrower. If you miss payments, you still risk getting hit with late fees, decreased credit scores or — worse — possible home foreclosure. VA loans can be used to …
- Buy a home
- Build a home
- Buy a home and fund improvements
- Make energy-efficiency improvements to an existing home
- Refinance an existing loan
Specific eligibility requirements can vary based on when you served. But veterans, surviving spouses and those joining the military today must generally meet one of the following eligibility criteria to qualify for a VA loan:
- Served 90 total days of active service during wartime
- Served 181 continuous days of active service during peacetime
- Served six years of service in the National Guard or the Reserve
- The applicant is a surviving spouse of a service member who died in the line of duty or passed away from a disability that resulted while serving.
Additional eligibility requirements apply in some circumstances, so check with the VA for specifics.
The VA offers just one type of direct loan — through its Native American Direct Loan program for purchases on qualifying tribal lands. Otherwise it offers borrowers indirect, VA-backed loans from private lenders that participate in the VA loan program. Be sure to shop around and compare mortgage rates to choose the best mortgage for you. Ask friends and family for lender recommendations and be sure to look at online reviews.
VA loan programs specify that the home purchase being financed must be for a property used as a primary residence. Here are some other rules to keep in mind:
- Property requirements: VA loans are for single-family residences with one to four family units and must be primarily residential in nature.
- Qualifying income considerations: VA loan rules on using rental income as qualifying income for the loan include having cash reserves for at least three months’ worth of mortgage payments and providing the previous two years of tax returns showing the rental income.
There are some key differences between VA loans and other types of mortgages that make VA loans so appealing. These differences are:
- No down payment may be required: Most types of home loans generally require some form of down payment. The VA loan typically requires nothing down — although you can make a down payment if you want to try to lower your total loan amount and monthly payment. If your home is appraised at a lower value than the listing or asking price — or if the lender needs it to meet secondary market requirements — you may have to make a down payment.
- The VA has no minimum credit score requirement: There are no credit score requirements set by the VA — however, the specific lender you go through to apply for a VA loan may have their own credit requirements.
- You may not be subject to loan limits: Unlike FHA loans, VA loans of more than $144,000 do not have a borrowing limit, as long as you have full VA loan entitlement — meaning you have not already taken out a VA home loan, or you have fully repaid a previous VA loan.
- You do not need mortgage insurance: Unless you put 20% down, lenders typically require mortgage insurance to protect themselves in case you don’t pay your mortgage. Since a VA loan is backed by the VA, you are not required to pay for mortgage insurance.
- VA loans have a funding fee: VA loans may require a one-time funding fee. This fee can range from 0.5% to 3.6% of your loan, depending on a number of factors, and can be wrapped up in your loan if you’re unable to pay it outright.
Types of VA home loans
There are several types of VA loans that are designed especially for the varying borrowing purposes listed above. These are:
- VA purchase loans: A loan program that qualifying individuals use to buy, improve or build a home
- VA cash-out refinance loans: A loan program that allows qualifying veterans, service members or surviving spouses to replace an existing loan with a new one, allowing them to borrow against equity in their home or refinance a non-VA loan into a VA loan
- VA interest rate reduction refinance loan (IRRRL): A program that allows qualifying individuals to refinance your VA loan under new terms, potentially allowing you to reduce your monthly mortgage payments or interest rate.
There are both fixed-rate and adjustable-rate VA mortgages. With fixed-rate mortgages, you lock in your interest rate for the life of the loan. With adjustable-rate mortgages, your interest rate fluctuates according to the index of interest rates. The VA no longer prescribes specific interest rates — adjustable-rate loan changes depend on whether the loan is a standard or hybrid adjustable rate mortgage. Be sure to talk with your lender about which option is best for you, and learn how often these rates are subject to adjustment.
Homeowners insurance for veterans
Like almost any type of mortgage, institutions offering VA loans will typically require the borrower to purchase homeowners insurance. Additionally, the VA requires borrowers to have a hazard insurance policy where appropriate (flood insurance, for example, in known flood zones), which may be included in the conventional homeowners policy required by your lender. It may be worth asking your insurer or agent about possible military discounts for these types of programs.
State-specific veterans benefits
If you do not qualify for a VA loan or you are simply looking for additional housing benefits, there are generally state-specific organizations and programs designed to help veterans and others with housing at the state level. Be sure to check with your local VA office to help point you in the right direction.
VA disability benefits and programs
If you became sick or injured while serving in the military, or have an existing condition that got worse as a result of military service, you may qualify for VA disability compensation. You can file a claim for VA disability compensation online or at your local VA regional office — or send the appropriate information via mail to the address below.
Department of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
P.O. Box 4444
Janesville, WI 53547-4444
You will need the following documentation to submit your claim:
- Military discharge papers (DD214 or any other separation documents you may have)
- Any service treatment records
- Medical treatment records that show proof of disability (for example, doctor reports, X-rays, test results, doctor orders/recommendations for treatment, mental status examination or operative reports)
Be sure to apply for disability compensation as soon as possible since the claims process can take a while — generally in the neighborhood of four to five months. The VA site regularly updates the average time it takes to approve or deny a claim — it was 134.4 days as of June 2021 and 139.6 days as of July 2021.
VA benefits for disabled veterans
- Disability compensation: This is a tax-free monthly benefit paid to disabled veterans who are considered 10% disabled or higher. The exact dollar amount you receive each month fluctuates based on the degree of your disability and if you have dependents.
- Clothing allowance: This is an annual allowance for eligible veterans and service members whose clothing has been damaged by prosthetics/orthopedic devices or topical medication for a skin condition.
- Service-disabled veterans’ life insurance (S-DVI): This insurance benefit is for eligible veterans who may have service-connected disabilities but are in good health otherwise. The amount of premium you pay depends on your age, the type of plan and the amount of coverage you need.
The eligibility requirements and application process for each benefit can change, so be sure to check with your local VA center to determine whether you qualify and how to access the benefit.
VA disability housing programs
- Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA): The HISA program provides up to $6,800 in funding for home improvements and structural alterations to a disabled veteran’s primary residence. The intent behind the program is to improve home accessibility.
- Specially Adapted Housing grants (SAH): The SAH grant helps certain veterans and service members with disabilities work toward independent living by creating barrier-free environments.
- Temporary Residence Adaptation grant (TRA): The TRA grant may be available as part of the SAH program described and linked above. It is used to help veterans and service members make accommodations when living temporarily in a family member’s home that needs changes to meet their needs.
Automobile allowance for veterans
Although the VA does not offer specialized car loans for all veterans, it does provide an automobile allowance for veterans and service members with qualifying injuries. This is a one-time allowance for disabled veterans and service members to help them purchase a vehicle that better accommodates their needs.
Qualifying individuals can use this allowance to purchase a new or used vehicle that is already equipped with adaptive equipment, or they can purchase and install adaptive equipment to an existing vehicle.
VA education, training and employment benefits
The VA offers several education, training and employment benefits to veterans, service members and their qualified dependents to help with education costs, finding a training program or career guidance and counseling. Below are the different VA education and training benefits.
- Veteran Readiness & Employment (VR&E): The VR&E program is designed to help veterans and service members with service-related disabilities with job training, employment accommodations, resume developments and job-search coaching. In some cases, these benefits may extend to dependents.
- Personalized Career Planning and Guidance (PCPG): The PCPG program offers education/training, career, academic, resume and goal-planning counseling to eligible service members, veterans and dependents.
- Dependents and Survivors Educational Assistance: This is a specialized program for spouses and children of veterans or service members who died or received permanent disabilities while serving. The program helps with tuition, housing, books and school supply costs.
- Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC): The VET TEC program helps veterans with training and educational courses in high-demand areas of the tech industry. The training is for computer software, computer programming, data processing, information science and media applications.
- VetSuccess on Campus: This program is designed to help veterans and service members transition from life in service to life on campus. Each school that is a part of the program has a VA Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor to help support veterans with assistance needed to pursue their educational and employment goals.
- Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR): The MGIB-SR program pays for up to 36 months of education or training benefits for qualifying reservists and members of the Army National Guard or Air National Guard.
- The National Call to Service Program: This program offers a choice between a $5,000 cash bonus, up to $18,000 of student loan repayment, or educational assistance for eligible veterans who performed a period of national service.
- Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP): The VRRAP is a temporary program that provides up to 12 months of tuition and schooling fees as well as a monthly housing allowance for qualified veterans who became unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligibility for other unemployment and education benefits can impact eligibility for this program.
If you qualify, you can start researching local lenders to find an institution you can work with to apply for a VA home loan and begin the process of financing the purchase of a home.
The VA provides a lot of services and benefits to America’s military veterans, and for some it may be key to unlocking affordable homeownership.