A VA loan is a mortgage guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and issued by a private lender, such as a bank, credit union, or mortgage company. A VA loan can make it easier to buy a home because it typically doesn't require a down payment. Only qualified U.S. veterans, active-duty military personnel, and some surviving spouses are eligible for VA loans. The GI Bill of Rights created the VA home loan program in 1944 to help veterans get a foothold in civilian life after World War II.
The VA’s guarantee means the government will repay the lender a portion of a VA loan if the borrower doesn't make payments. This assurance reduces the risk for lenders, which makes it possible for them to offer favorable terms and require no down payment. If eligible, you can complete the VA mortgage application process through a lender of your choice. Many, but not all, lenders offer VA loans, and some lenders specialize in serving VA loan borrowers.
You are likely eligible for a VA mortgage if:
To show that you meet the military service or surviving spouse requirements, you'll need to get a VA certificate of eligibility before the loan closes. You can ask a VA-approved lender to obtain the document for you or request the certificate through the VA.
Besides mortgages to purchase homes, the VA loan program offers refinancing options and loans for home improvements:
Here are the biggest advantages of VA loans compared with conventional and FHA loans:
No down payment or mortgage insurance required: Other loan types require down payments and can include an extra cost for mortgage insurance. FHA loans require mortgage insurance regardless of the down payment amount and conventional loans usually require mortgage insurance if the down payment is less than 20%.
Competitive interest rates: Average 30-year mortgage rates were lower for VA home loans than for FHA and conventional mortgages in every month of 2019, according to mortgage data provider Ellie Mae.
Limited closing costs: Closing costs are the various fees and expenses you pay to get a mortgage. The Department of Veterans Affairs limits the lender's origination fee to no more than 1% of the loan amount and prohibits lenders from charging some other closing costs.
Every type of loan has drawbacks for some borrowers. Here are the potential disadvantages of a VA loan.
VA loan funding fee: Although VA loans don't require mortgage insurance, they come with an extra cost called a funding fee. The fee is set by the federal government and covers the cost of foreclosing if a borrower defaults. The fee ranges from 1.4% to 3.6% of the loan, depending on your down payment and whether it’s your first VA loan. You can pay the fee upfront or fold it into the loan.
Purchase loans only for primary homes: You can't use a VA loan to buy an investment property or a vacation home.
Not all properties eligible: A VA-approved appraiser will evaluate the home you want to buy to estimate the value and make sure it meets the VA's minimum property requirements. Some fixer-uppers may not meet the VA's minimum standards.