What Is a VA Loan?
A VA loan is a mortgage loan available through a program established by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) (previously the Veterans Administration). With VA loans, veterans, service members, and their surviving spouses can purchase homes with little to no down payment and no private mortgage insurance and generally get a competitive interest rate.
How a VA Loan Works
VA loans help active service members, veterans, and their surviving spouses become homeowners. They provide up to 100% financing on the value of a home. Eligible borrowers can use a VA loan to purchase or build a home, improve and repair a home, or refinance a mortgage.
The VA sets the qualifying standards, dictates the terms of the mortgages offered, and backs the loan, but doesn’t actually offer the financing. Instead, VA home loans are provided by private lenders, such as banks and mortgage companies.
When borrowers apply for a loan, they need to provide the lender with a certificate of eligibility from the VA. To get the certificate, you’ll have to produce service-related documentation, which can vary based on whether you are active duty or a veteran. The certificate can be obtained from the VA website. Although some of the lender’s own underwriting requirements still must be met, in most cases, VA loans are easier to qualify for than conventional loans.
VA loans, Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans, and other loans insured by departments of the United States government have securitization through the Government National Mortgage Association (GNMA), also known as Ginnie Mae. These securities carry the guarantee of the U.S. government against default.
VA Loan Terms
The terms of VA loans are quite generous compared to other mortgages and even to other federal loan programs. Among the benefits:1
- No down payment is mandated unless required by the lender, or if the residence’s purchase price is above the established property value.
- There is no private mortgage insurance requirement.
- Closing costs are limited and may be paid by the seller.
- There is no prepayment penalty if the borrower pays off the loan early.
- Assistance is available from the VA to help borrowers avoid default.
Credit score minimum requirements differ slightly from lender to lender. The VA’s only credit requirement is for the borrower to be considered a satisfactory credit risk by a lender. The benefits of a VA loan are the same no matter which lender you choose.