What Is a VA Loan? | Rates & Guidelines 2021


Aly Yale
Military VA Loan contributor

A VA loan is a mortgage loan that’s backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. These loans are reserved for military service members, veterans, and their spouses. The VA home loan program is one of the lowest-cost, most valuable mortgage loan options currently available.

See if you’re eligible for a VA home loan. Start here. (Dec 7th, 2021)

Benefits of a VA loan

VA loans come with a number of significant benefits to home buyers, particularly when compared with other types of mortgage programs.

Just a few VA loan advantages include:

  • No down payment required: Most other loan programs require at least 3% down ($9,000 on a $300,000 house).
  • Competitively low interest rates: Rates on VA loans are some of the lowest you’ll find. This saves you both monthly and in the long run.
  • Closing costs are limited: You can’t be charged an origination fee of more than 1%, and sellers can contribute a large portion of your closing costs.
  • No prepayment penalty: This means you can pay off the loan or refinance quickly without an added fee.
  • No private mortgage insurance (PMI) is required: The majority of other loan products require mortgage insurance, which adds upfront and monthly fees.

VA loans are also assumable, which means if you eventually sell the house, the buyer can take over your loan, too — a huge perk, given the low rates and other benefits VA loans come with.

VA mortgage rates 2021

When compared to other loan types — conventional loans and FHA loans, for example — VA home loans offer consistently lower rates than loans for the average consumer.

VA Conventional FHA
August 2021 2.88% 3.19% 3.23%
July 2021 2.94% 3.27% 3.27%
June 2021 2.92% 3.25% 3.23%
May 2021 2.98% 3.30% 3.25%
April 2021 2.95% 3.25% 3.23%
March 2021 2.72% 3.02% 2.99%

Source: Ellie Mae Origination Insight Report, June 2021

*These rates are only averages. Your VA loan rate could be higher or lower than average depending on factors like your credit score and down payment size. Check with a lender to find out what rate you qualify for.

Click here to request a VA home loan quote. (Dec 7th, 2021)

Types of VA loans

There are several types of VA loans to choose from. The right one depends on your goals as a borrower, as well as how you’ll be using the funds.

The four main types of VA loans include:

  • VA purchase loan: These are VA loans designed for purchasing a property. You can buy a single-family home, a multifamily home with up to four units, a manufactured or mobile home, an approved condo unit, or a new construction home.
  • VA Streamline Refinance: The VA’s Streamline Refinance — also known as a VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (IRRRL) — is for existing homeowners looking to refinance their mortgage and reduce their interest rate.
  • VA cash-out refinance: With a VA cash-out refinance, you take cash out of your home. It replaces your existing mortgage with a newer, larger one, giving you the difference in cash.
  • VA energy efficient mortgage: Also called EEMs, these are VA loans that can help you finance energy improvements on your home.

The VA also offers NADL loans, which are mortgages reserved strictly for Native American veterans buying on federal land.

VA loan eligibility requirements

VA loans are only for qualified veterans, active-duty service members, and, in many cases, their surviving spouses. To qualify, you’ll need to meet specific service requirements.

These service requirements vary slightly based on when you served, but generally speaking, you will need to have at least one of the following:

  • 90 consecutive days of active service during wartime
  • 181 days of active service during peacetime
  • 6 years of service in the National Guard or Reserves
  • A veteran/service member spouse who died in the line of duty or due to a service-related disability or injury

To prove you have the above service record, you’ll need to submit a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) to your lender. This is a document that details your service record, the nature of your release from the military, and your VA loan entitlement.

You can get your COE through the VA eBenefits portal online. Or, when you apply for a VA loan, the lender can request a COE on your behalf. This usually takes only a few minutes.

Qualifying for a VA loan

Beyond service eligibility requirements, the VA doesn’t set specific financial standards for these mortgages. The individual private lenders that issue VA loans, however, often do. While these vary from one lender to the next, you can typically expect to need a 620 credit score and a 41% debt-to-income ratio or lower.

The good news is, there’s no down payment required for a VA loan. So eligible borrowers can qualify for a VA home loan with very little cash upfront.

VA property requirements

The VA home loan program is designed to help military service members and their families purchase a primary residence, which means you cannot use your VA home loan benefits to purchase a second home, vacation home, or investment property.

Additionally, the home must meet certain standards set by the VA to ensure the home is safe and livable.

How does a VA loan work?

The VA loan process is fairly similar to that of other mortgage programs, just with a few added steps along the way.

Are you considering a VA loan for your home purchase or refinance? Just follow these steps:

#1. Verify eligibility and request your Certificate of Eligibility (COE)

The first step is to make sure you meet the VA’s service requirements (you can see the full list here). If you do, you’ll need to request your Certificate of Eligibility, which proves you’re eligible for the program. You can get your COE in your eBenefits portal, request it by mail, or ask your lender to pull it on your behalf.

#2. Get prequalified

The next step is to get prequalified for your loan. To do this, you’ll give a lender some basic information about your finances. They’ll then determine if you’re a good candidate for a VA loan and how much home you can likely afford.

#3. Get pre-approved

Next, you’ll apply for a full pre-approval. This requires filling out an application and submitting to a credit check, both of which your lender will consider in detail. Once they’ve analyzed it all, you’ll get a pre-approval letter stating how much you can borrow and at what interest rate. You can use this to guide your home search.

#4. Put in an offer

After you’re pre-approved, you can start shopping for a house. When you’ve found that perfect property, submit an offer, and include your pre-approval letter. If the seller accepts, it’s time to move through the rest of the VA loan process.

#5. Go through the VA appraisal and underwriting

You’ll need to fill out your lender’s full loan application next, and your lender will order an appraisal of the property you intend to buy. They’ll also begin underwriting your loan, which essentially means verifying all your information to ensure you can meet the obligations and pay your mortgage.

#6. Close on your new home

When your loan is fully underwritten, you’ll be scheduled for a closing appointment, which is when you’ll pay your closing costs, sign your paperwork, and get your keys.

What is the VA funding fee?

The VA funding fee is a one-time fee you’ll pay at closing. It varies from 0.5% to 3.6% of your loan amount and is used to help sustain the VA mortgage program.

The amount of the VA funding fee you’ll pay depends on the nature of your military service, the size of your down payment, the type of loan you want and the number of times you’ve previously used your VA home loan benefit.

First-time use purchase VA funding fee

Down Payment Veteran/Active Duty Reservist/National Guard
Less than 5% 2.3% 2.3%
5% to 9.99% 1.65% 1.65%
10% or more 1.4% 1.4%

How does VA loan assumption work?

With a VA loan assumption, the VA loan transfers with the house. The buyer assumes the seller’s VA loan, including its same rate, terms, and balance, and resumes making payments as initially planned through the original loan. Though the buyer doesn’t need to be a veteran or military member to assume a VA loan, they do need to meet all the financial requirements of the loan program (and the lender) to be eligible.

Ready to get started? Request a VA home loan quote here. (Dec 7th, 2021)

VA Home Loan FAQ

What is a VA loan?

A VA loan is a mortgage backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Only active duty military members, veterans, and their spouses are eligible.

What are the benefits of a VA home loan?

There are many benefits to a VA loan. They require no down payment, have low interest rates, and do not require mortgage insurance. They also come with limited closing costs and are assumable.

How does a VA loan work?

VA loans are guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, meaning it will pay back the lender if a borrower defaults on the loan. This reduces the risk that lenders take on and allows them to offer loans with no down payments, no mortgage insurance, and lower credit score minimums.

What’s the difference between a VA loan and a regular loan?

VA loans are only for military members and veterans, so that’s the biggest difference. They also require no down payment, which is rare when it comes to mortgage loans. Most other loan programs require 3% to 3.5% down payments minimum.

What is the interest rate on a VA home loan?

Your interest rate will vary depending on your credit score, debt-to-income ratio, loan amount, down payment, and other details. Generally speaking, VA loan rates are lower or comparable to rates on other loan programs.

What credit score is needed for a VA home loan?

The VA doesn’t have a set credit score minimum for its loans, though individual lenders often do. This is typically between 620 and 640, depending on your mortgage company.

What is the minimum income for a VA loan?

There is no minimum income to be eligible for a VA loan. Your lender will, however, consider your debt-to-income ratio to be sure you can comfortably make your monthly payments.

What are VA loan limits?

There are no limits on VA loans. You can borrow as much as you can financially qualify for, given your credit history, debt-to-income ratio, and other financial details.

What is the VA funding fee?

The VA funding fee is a one-time fee all VA borrowers pay at closing. It goes toward supporting and sustaining the VA loan program. Funding fees vary between 0.5% and 3.6% of the loan amount depending on your down payment size, type of loan, and the number of times you’ve used your VA loan benefit.

What is needed for a VA home loan?

For a VA loan, you (or your spouse) will need to meet the military service requirements set out by the Department of Veterans Affairs. You will also need to submit a Certificate of Eligibility, as well as various forms of financial documentation, including tax returns, W-2s, and more.

What is needed to get a VA home loan?

To get a VA loan, you’ll need to work with a VA-approved mortgage lender, submit your COE, and meet the remaining eligibility and documentation requirements of your lender.

How does a VA assumable loan work?

VA loans are assumable, meaning when a VA-financed home is sold, the buyer may be able to assume the VA loan attached to it, too. The buyer does not need to be a military member for this to happen, though they will need to meet other financial requirements set out by the VA and the lender.

What are the pros and cons of a VA loan?

The pros of a VA loan are many. There’s no down payment or mortgage insurance, and rates are competitively low. On the downside, they come with strict appraisals and can sometimes take a bit longer to process than loans through other programs.

Is a VA loan really worth it?

If you can qualify, VA loans are most often worth it. With zero down payment and no mortgage insurance requirement, they can make buying a house much more affordable than an FHA or conventional mortgage. They also have no hard-and-fast credit score minimum.

Do you pay back a VA loan?

You repay a VA loan just as you would any other type of mortgage or loan product. VA loans come with either a 15- or 30-year loan term, which means your monthly mortgage payments are spread out over either 15 years or 30.

If I’ve previously used a VA loan, can I use it again?

Your VA loan benefit never expires. After you pay off your existing VA loan, you can continue to use the VA loan again and again. In some cases, you may be able to have two VA loans simultaneously.

Are VA loans a good deal?

When compared to other mortgage loans, VA loans are absolutely a good deal. Thanks to the VA guarantee, your mortgage lender can afford to pass significant benefits along to borrowers. VA home loans have fewer upfront costs, low interest rates, and no mortgage insurance, making them one of the best mortgage loan products on the market.

See if you’re eligible for a VA home loan. Start here. (Dec 7th, 2021)