If you qualify for a VA loan, you can obtain a mortgage without needing a down payment or having to pay for mortgage insurance. However, you need to apply for a VA loan certificate of eligibility before you can apply for the loan.

What is a VA certificate of eligibility?

A VA loan certificate of eligibility (COE) is the first step toward getting a VA loan. The COE is provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and serves as evidence that you meet the VA loan requirements to be eligible for funding. Without it, you won’t be able to take advantage of VA loan rates and other benefits.

How to get a VA loan certificate of eligibility

To get a VA loan certificate of eligibility, you’ll need to meet some key requirements. These vary based on your status (active duty or veteran), the period of time you served and your discharge status:

Who qualifies for a VA certificate of eligibility?

  • If you are on active duty now, you need to have served at least 90 continuous days.
  • For veterans, the service requirements are a bit more complex, varying from 90 days of active duty to 24 continuous months. Your discharge status is also a factor. To determine if you meet the requirements, review the VA’s standards.
  • For National Guard or Reserve members who served between August 2, 1990 to present, you need to have served at least 90 continuous days on active duty. If you served prior to August 2, 1990, review the VA standards above.
  • Surviving spouses might also qualify for a COE under certain circumstances: Your spouse must either be missing in action or a prisoner of war, or died in service or of a service-related disability, and you can’t have remarried before December 16, 2003 or before your 57th birthday.

There are three main options for getting your certificate of eligibility:

  1. Apply online: The VA eBenefits online portal is the easiest and fastest route to get your certificate of eligibility.
  2. Ask your mortgage lender: If you know which VA lender you’d like to work with, you can ask the lender for help obtaining your COE.
  3. Apply via mail: You can print out the VA’s COE request form, complete it and mail it to the appropriate regional loan center (the addresses are on the form). Keep in mind that this option will take additional time.

What you need to get a VA COE

If you are currently active, you’ll need a statement of service signed by your commander, adjutant or personnel office that includes your name, your Social Security number and date of birth. It’ll also need to document the day you started your service, any lost time and the name of the command providing the information.

If you are a veteran, you’ll need your discharge or separation papers (DD214).

If you are a discharged member of the National Guard or Reserves and were never activated, you’ll need to meet a few other requirements in order to document your eligibility. Check the VA’s complete list of what you need for your application.

Surviving spouses also have some additional paperwork. You’ll need to complete the VA’s Request for Determination of Loan Guaranty Eligibility–Unmarried Surviving Spouses form. Then, you’ll need to track down your spouse’s military records, which you can do via the National Archives; a copy of your marriage license; and a copy of your spouse’s death certificate.

How to read a certificate of eligibility

Most of the information on your certificate of eligibility is easy to read and understand. You’ll see your name, Social Security number, branch of service and any prior loans that were charged to the entitlement.

The one section that might need some deciphering is the two-digit entitlement code. This code refers to when you served or other circumstances that make you eligible for a VA loan. There are 11 codes (01-11). Code 05, for example, denotes your entitlement has been restored, while Code 10 denotes you served in the Persian Gulf War.

COE for VA loans FAQ

  • If you apply online and your eligibility is easy to verify, getting your COE can be a relatively quick process: roughly 30 days. If you can, though, apply early, and leave six weeks for processing.

    In rare cases, verifying service and eligibility can take time. For example, if your discharge was classified as “less than honorable,” you can go through the VA’s Character of Discharge review process, which can take up to a full year.
  • When you have your COE, it’s time to move forward with the VA loan process. Receiving a COE doesn’t automatically mean you are approved for a VA loan; it only means you’re eligible to apply for one. You’ll still need to go through the application process and meet the lender’s criteria, which can vary from lender to lender.

    The process looks fairly similar to other loans at this point, and involves reviewing your credit history, debt-to-income (DTI) ratio and overall financial picture.
  • Your VA home loan certificate of eligibility never expires; once you’re eligible, you’re all set. However, one caveat: If you receive your COE while you are on active duty, you will eventually need to obtain a new COE once your status changes to veteran.