VA Loan Pre-approval | Checklist & Guidelines 2023
The VA home loan is the best mortgage available in today’s market. This loan program helps eligible veterans buy homes with no money down and no monthly mortgage insurance.
When you’re ready to take advantage of your VA loan benefits, you should start by applying for VA loan pre-approval.
Your pre-approval letter will show your price range so you can go house hunting with confidence. Pre-approval also shows home sellers you’re a serious buyer who has the backing of a VA lender.
What is a VA loan pre-approval?
You could think of a pre-approval as a training exercise. When you apply for pre-approval, you’ll go through the motions of applying for a VA loan, except no money changes hands.
The pre-approval process will show how your personal finances would perform if you were applying for a real mortgage loan.
Through this process, you’ll learn:
- How much money the lender would let you borrow. This helps define your home shopping price range
- The kind of mortgage rate you may qualify for based on your credit score, debt-to-income ratio (DTI), and assets
- The size of your mortgage payments if you choose to take the next step and make your application official
There’s nothing like feeling confident and ready before you make an offer to buy a home. Pre-approval is an excellent way to prepare.
Pre-approval vs pre-qualification: Is there a difference?
Like a pre-approval, getting prequalified for a VA mortgage can tell you a lot about your home buying power. But a pre-qualification doesn’t have the authority of a pre-approval.
That’s because getting pre-approved requires real financial documents, like W2 forms or pay stubs, so the lender can verify the data and show you a loan estimate based on facts.
With a prequalification you tell the lender how much you earn and how much money you have saved, and the lender estimates your interest rate and mortgage payment based on the numbers you gave.
It’s a subtle difference, but it’s also a difference with real-life effects. When you have a pre-approval letter in hand, real estate agents and home sellers can expect you’ll follow through on the home purchase, all the way to the loan closing.
How to get pre-approved for a VA loan
Ready to take the next step toward homeownership? Here’s how:
Step 1: Gather your financial documents
VA loan underwriting works a lot like other types of loans, including conventional loans and FHA loans. Your lender may ask for:
- Your recent W2 forms to show your income history
- Recent pay stubs to show current earnings
- Bank statements to show assets
- IRS income tax form transcripts (if you’re self-employed)
Gathering this information before you start the application process will save a lot of time.
Step 2: Decide which VA lender to use
The Department of Veterans Affairs runs the VA loan program and insures VA mortgage loans. But the department does not lend money.
Instead, the VA partners with private lenders who loan money to qualifying veterans and current military service members.
Not every VA-approved lender works the same way. You could get a better mortgage rate or better customer service with some lenders, for example. It’s possible one VA lender could deny your loan while another one approves it.
So narrow down your list of possible lenders by reading customer reviews or talking to other veteran homeowners before you apply for pre-approval.
Step 3: Apply for pre-approval
Now it’s time to put all the pieces together. If you’ve chosen an online lender you should be able to apply for pre-approval and upload your documents using your computer or smartphone.
If you’re working with a traditional bank or credit union, you may need to fill out a traditional application, though most financial institutions offer online applications.
Step 4: Talk to your loan officer
You’ll benefit from a conversation with a loan officer even if you’re an online borrower. Your assigned loan officer should take the financial data you’ve submitted and help connect you with the right mortgage loan.
With home loans, small details can make a big difference. For example, getting a 15-year loan term instead of a 30-year term could save thousands of dollars in interest charges, but it would require a higher monthly payment, too.
It’s even possible you could save more money by getting a conventional loan instead of a VA loan if you have an excellent credit score and the ability to make a large down payment.
Your loan officer can help you make these decisions.
Step 5: Get your pre-approval letter
You’ll receive a pre-approval letter showing your maximum loan size and other details about your borrowing power and costs.
With the letter in hand, you’ll be able to make confident decisions about your price range. When you make an offer to buy your next primary residence, the home’s owner will know your offer has a VA-approved lender’s backing.
But the pre-approval isn’t a guarantee that your loan would be approved, especially if you lose income, add more debt, or spend money from savings before making your loan application. So you should try to avoid big financial changes after getting pre-approved.
Pre-approval checklist: Common documents needed for a VA home loan
VA loans are approved much like other loans. The income, assets, and credit information on your loan application will be examined.
Your pre-approval process won’t require every document required for your full loan application. But it never hurts to be prepared just in case. If all goes well with the pre-approval, you’ll likely be making a full application soon anyway.
You can use this checklist to get all your information in one place before starting your home buying process:
- Your basic information like name, address, and phone number
- Previous addresses for the past 2 years
- Date of birth
- Social Security numbers for all applicants for a credit check
- Race and Ethnicity information (for government monitoring – requested on all mortgage loans)
- Copy of valid ID such as a driver’s license or government ID
- State where you plan to purchase
- Number and age of dependents
- Copy of your DD214 if separated from the military
- Completed Request for COE form 26-1880
- Statement of service from your commanding officer if you are on active duty
- Your Certificate of Eligibility (COE). Your loan officer can help you get this quickly
- Name, address, phone number, and dates of employment for all employers over the last 2 years
- 30 days’ worth of recent pay stubs or most recent LES
- Last 2 years’ W2s
- If self-employed: Last 2 years’ tax returns with all schedules (if you have any commission or rental income to qualify, you will also need to provide tax returns)
- Copies of social security, pension, and/or retirement award letters and corresponding 1099s (if you receive this type of income)
- Divorce decree and settlement paperwork (if applicable)
- If some of your income comes from child support or alimony, you’ll need to provide additional documentation verifying continuance of at least 3 years, including the divorce decree and settlement paperwork
- 60 days’ bank statements for checking and savings accounts showing enough money for your down payment (if any) and closing costs (if not covered by the seller)
- 60 days’ statements for retirement accounts
- Real estate currently owned, if any
- Purchase contract accepted and signed by you and the seller
- Appraisal showing a value of at least the purchase price (your loan officer will order)
- Name and contact information for the homeowner’s insurance agent you will use
- Name and phone number for the homeowner’s association, if applicable
- A home inspection report is typically not required by your lender, but it’s a good idea to get an inspection
- You must occupy the property after the purchase is complete. No rentals/investment properties allowed
- See the Property Eligibility section below
- General knowledge of your current credit card, student loan, auto loan, and other credit accounts. Your loan officer will pull a credit report that shows your accounts, but on occasion, the information may be outdated, missing, or erroneous.
- Amount paid each month in child care
- Explanation for derogatory credit (if applicable)
- Bankruptcy and discharge paperwork (if applicable)
- Documentation disproving any erroneous items on your credit report
If you are applying for a VA streamline refinance — sometimes called a VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinancing Loan (IRRRL) — then much less documentation will be required. For more information, see our VA streamline page.
Types of properties eligible for VA home loans
VA home loans are only for eligible properties as defined by the Department of Veterans Affairs. These include but may not be limited to:
- New or previously-occupied home purchase
- New home construction or rehab
- Purchase of a single-family home
- Townhouse (VA approved projects only)
- Condominium (VA approved projects only)
- Mobile homes (see our blog post)
The property must also meet standards set by VA called Minimum Property Requirements (MPRs). For an in-depth look at MPRs, see our blog post.
Speaking with an experienced VA loan specialist will give you a good idea if the property you are considering will qualify for VA financing.
Download a PDF of this list here.
VA home loan benefits
The VA Home Loan Program is an excellent option for active-duty military personnel as well as non-active duty veterans. The program is also open to many National Guard members and Reservists, and some surviving spouses of veterans can get this benefit.
Because these loans are guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, your mortgage lender is able to pass many benefits on to the borrowers. If you are eligible, be sure to take advantage of your benefits to save.
VA mortgage benefits include:
- No VA-imposed loan limits
- 15, 25, and 30-year loan options
- Up to 4% seller paid closing costs allowed
- 0.5% – 3.6% funding fee which can be financed into the loan amount
- No VA funding fee for veterans with a service-connected disability as determined by VA
- No private mortgage insurance required
- Eligible for up to $6,000 financed for VA-approved Energy Efficiency Home Improvements
VA mortgage pre-approval FAQs
How do you get pre-approved for a VA home loan?
You can get pre-approved by contacting a VA-authorized mortgage lender, assuming you meet the service requirements of the VA loan program. The lender will assess your personal finances and credit score, determining whether you could qualify for a mortgage loan.
How long does a VA loan pre-approval take?
Borrowers can usually complete the pre-approval process within a couple of days. Then, the pre-approval will last for a specific amount of time, usually 60 to 90 days. If you don’t complete your loan application before the pre-approval expires, you may need a new pre-approval to proceed with your loan.
Can you get pre-approved for a VA loan?
Yes, you can get a VA loan pre-approval just like you would with a conventional loan or FHA loan. A pre-approval helps define your price range and shows buyers you’re a serious buyer, one that can likely finalize a mortgage loan.
What is the minimum credit score for a VA loan?
The VA does not set a minimum credit score for VA loans. Instead, the VA lenders who underwrite these loans set their own qualifying standards. Most VA-approved lenders look for credit scores of 620 or higher, though you may be able to qualify with a lower score with some lenders.
What does it mean to be pre-approved for a VA loan?
Getting a VA loan pre-approval means you can likely get approved for a mortgage loan. If your pre-approval letter includes conditions, you’ll need to meet them before beginning your loan process. Pre-approval is not a guarantee that you can get final approval.
Is prequalification the same as pre-approval?
The terms prequalification and pre-approval are used interchangeably by some lenders, but there is a difference you should know about. A prequalification may not use documents to estimate your borrowing power. Instead, the process may use ballpark estimates. Because of this, a prequalification could be based on old or inaccurate information.
I’m ready to apply for a VA home loan
You’ve earned the privilege to apply for this great loan program. Call (866) 313-9804 to speak with a mortgage professional, or complete our no-obligation, simple contact request form to speak with one of our experts.