Eligible veterans or active-duty personnel looking for a home can use a VA loan for financing. These types of mortgages, which are guaranteed by the federal government and available through lenders nationwide, tend to offer attractive fixed-rate loans with no (or little) money down. VA loans are also known for their more flexible credit score requirements.

How to get a VA loan in 9 steps

Here’s what a typical VA loan process looks like:

1. Shop around for a VA-approved lender

Find a mortgage lender that participates in the VA loan program. A loan officer can help you identify the documents needed and what size loan you can qualify for. Be sure to shop around, since different lenders can offer deals that vary by interest rate, closing costs and discount points.

2. Obtain a certificate of eligibility

You need a certificate of eligibility, or COE, before you can get preapproved for a VA mortgage, since it shows that you meet the initial eligibility criteria for the loan. To get a COE, check the eBenefits portal on the VA.gov website or contact the VA for help. Borrowers may also be able to apply through their lender.

Documents you might need to provide to obtain the COE include:
  • Driver’s license or other government-issued ID
  • Recent financial information, including W-2s, pay stubs and bank statements
  • For active duty members, a signed statement of service
  • For veterans, discharge or separation papers (also known as form DD214)
  • For surviving spouses, a marriage certificate or license

3. Get preapproved for a VA loan

Getting preapproved for a mortgage shows sellers you’re serious about purchasing a home and that lenders deem you creditworthy to borrow money from them. It’s a statement or letter indicating how much, in principle, they will lend you. It’s not a guarantee of the mortgage — for that, you need to present a specific property for appraisal and possibly additional documentation — but it’s an important first step.

4. Find a home

Work with a real estate agent who understands VA loans; better still if this person specializes in helping members of the military. Veteran-friendly agents can help you understand what to look for in terms of maximizing your benefits.

5. Sign a purchase and sale agreement

Your agent’s job is to help you craft a strong offer and formulate a sound negotiation strategy.

Once you’ve got an accepted offer and hammered out the details, you’ll sign a purchase and sale agreement with the seller. Don’t forget contingencies: These can include how long you have to secure financing, the amount of earnest money you’ll need and the right to have a home inspection. It can also include sellers paying for some or all of the VA closing costs.

6. Go through a VA home appraisal and inspection

A VA-approved appraiser will determine the value of the home. This person will also help you assess whether a property meets the VA’s property condition requirements, or Minimum Property Requirements.

This is also the stage where you’ll commission a home inspection if that was agreed upon in the purchase and sale agreement. In general, you shouldn’t skip this step. You’ll be able to get to know your property better and back out if you can’t get the seller to agree to make certain repairs before closing.

7. Complete the mortgage underwriting process

Your bank or lender’s underwriters will need additional documentation to evaluate your loan eligibility. Documents you might need to submit include proof of income, assets and other types of financial documents. If your information checks out, you’ll be “cleared to close.”

8. Close on your new home

The closing step is where you’ll sign documents indicating that you understand and agree to the terms of your loan. Before your scheduled loan closing, you’ll receive a document called a closing disclosure, where you’ll be able to see a breakdown of your final closing costs.

The typical costs include a funding fee, which varies from 1.5 percent to 3.3 percent of the loan amount. Usually, the higher your down payment, the lower the fee. There are also exceptions: Surviving spouses and veterans with service-connected disabilities don’t have to pay the funding fee.

A day or so before signing, you can also do a final walkthrough of the property. Once you sign all the closing documents, including the purchase agreement, you’ll receive the keys to your new house.

9. File your certificate

After closing, the VA will return your certificate of eligibility with a note stating that you have used (all or part) of your VA mortgage loan entitlement. Qualified borrowers can use their eligibility more than once to obtain a loan on a new home they intend to live in.

VA loan requirements

You must meet certain VA loan eligibility requirements to be approved for a VA mortgage. For one, you must intend to use the home as a primary residence and occupy it within 60 days after closing. You must also demonstrate you have sufficient income and an acceptable debt-to-income ratio (DTI).

While there’s no minimum credit score required for getting a VA loan, approval comes down to each lender, and many lenders will want to see a credit score of 620 or higher.

VA loan process vs. other loan types

The process to get a VA loan can take longer than that of conventional loans since there are additional documentation requirements as part of the appraisal and inspection process. However, borrowers who qualify for a VA loan could get more favorable terms than they would with a conventional mortgage or FHA loan.

Frequently asked questions about buying a house with a VA home loan

  • A certificate of eligibility (COE) serves as evidence that you meet the VA’s mortgage eligibility requirements. To get a COE, you can apply through the VA eBenefits online portal, ask your mortgage lender to help or apply via mail.
  • The VA does not require a home inspection and doesn’t impose requirements on home inspections. Regardless, a home inspection is an important step toward ensuring that your desired property is safe and fit to live in — don’t skip this step.