Key takeaways

  • VA loans are designed for military members, veterans and their spouses.
  • Spouses can qualify for a VA mortgage by being an active service member, a veteran or by being a civilian co-borrower on a VA mortgage.
  • Spouses of deceased service members can also qualify for a VA mortgage.

A VA loan is a mortgage for members of the military, veterans and their spouses that allows the borrower to buy a home without a down payment, and often at a favorable interest rate.

In certain instances, military spouses can also qualify for a VA loan if they meet certain criteria. It’s important to understand how a VA loan works for military members and their spouses if you are considering a VA loan.

Can a military spouse get a VA loan?

A service member’s spouse can get a VA loan in a few ways. They can be an active service member (for at least 90 continuous days — all at once, without a break in service) or veteran, or they can be a civilian and agree to be a co-borrower on the mortgage. In addition, if they are the surviving spouse of a service member or veteran, they may also qualify under specific conditions.

If you are married to a service member or veteran and you are a civilian, however, you cannot apply for a VA mortgage solely in your name. VA loans are only for people who have served in the military.

If you are married to a civilian with whom you plan to co-borrow on a VA loan, you and your spouse must meet certain criteria. The good news? You may qualify for a larger loan if your spouse has a higher income. Most VA loan eligibility requirements are based on your military service, along with financials like credit score and debt-to-income ratios. These standards also apply if one or both spouses are military members or veterans.

In most cases, you will need the following to qualify for a VA loan:

  • A credit score of at least 620 (the VA has no minimum credit score requirement, but many lenders typically set one)
  • A debt-to-income (DTI) ratio of no more than 41 percent

In addition, unless you (or your spouse) are on active duty, you will both need to move into the property within 60 days of closing the mortgage.

VA loan surviving spouse requirements

If you’re the spouse of a deceased veteran, you could qualify for a VA loan under these circumstances:

  • The veteran died while in service (or from a disability related to service) and you didn’t remarry, or the veteran had been disabled and died, but their disability might not have been the cause of death
  • The veteran died while in service (or from a disability related to service) and you didn’t remarry before Dec. 16, 2003, or turning 57 years old
  • The veteran is missing in action or a prisoner of war

To apply, you must first obtain the veteran’s certificate of eligibility (COE) and DD Form 214 (record of service). You can get these online through the VA website or by contacting a regional VA office.

Getting a Certificate of Eligibility as a surviving spouse

To get a VA loan as a surviving spouse, you must get a VA loan certificate of eligibility from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. These certificates serve as evidence that you’re eligible for a VA loan.

How you get a COE depends on if you’re receiving dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC). If you are, you’ll need to complete the VA’s Request for Determination of Loan Guaranty Eligibility–Unmarried Surviving Spouses form. In addition, you’ll need to have your spouse’s military records. If you don’t have a copy, you can get one through the National Archives.

If you currently aren’t approved for DIC, you’ll need to fill out a separate form to apply for it. You’ll also need to provide copies of your spouse’s military records, your marriage license and your spouse’s death certificate.

Do service members have to list spouses on VA loans?

If you’re a service member or veteran, you’re not required to co-borrow with or list your spouse on the VA loan application. If your spouse isn’t a co-borrower, however, you won’t be able to have their income count, which probably will curtail the amount you might qualify for. For this reason, many military couples jointly apply for a VA loan.

Having a spouse as a co-borrower on a VA loan can also improve other features of your financial profile, like debt-to-income ratio and credit score. Making both items appear stronger may help secure a lower interest rate on your mortgage.

There are not a lot of downsides to co-borrowing on a VA loan, although all the things that make it a positive choice (credit score, income, debts) may also have a negative impact — if your spouse’s financials are in poorer shape than yours.

How does divorce impact a VA loan?

The general rule: Unless the service member or veteran is deceased, you’ll need their participation to qualify for another VA loan, including if you’d like to refinance in divorce proceedings.

If you’re currently divorcing a spouse you co-borrowed the mortgage with, your next steps depend on how you decide to handle the marital property and the applicable laws in your state. If you are not a co-borrower on the mortgage, you would have to assume your mortgage or refinance the mortgage to stay in the home.

Another aspect that could make things difficult is the loan’s VA entitlement on the property. A full VA entitlement affects the money the government guarantees to your lender if you default on a loan that’s over $144,000. In that case, the government will pay up to 25 percent of the total loan amount. The entitlement situation can be complicated when a service person has a civilian spouse who keeps the home and the mortgage in a divorce.

If the loan remains active, the service member has only “remaining entitlement” — and that affects the size of an additional VA loan they could take out, say to buy another home with a new spouse. When this occurs, the civilian ex-spouse is responsible for paying off or refinancing the VA loan. Only then will the service member’s full entitlement be restored.

And if you’re already divorced from a service member or veteran, you can’t get a new VA loan based on their eligibility.

VA loan spouse requirements FAQ

  • If you’re co-borrowing a VA loan with your spouse, your and your spouse’s credit, debt and income determine what you might qualify for. If you aren’t co-borrowing with a spouse but live in a community property state, your spouse’s finances might still come into play. If your spouse’s credit needs work, it might make sense to leave them off the mortgage but add them to the home’s title. This means your spouse has an ownership stake but isn’t liable for making mortgage payments, which could help you qualify for better loan terms.
  • To qualify for a VA loan with a partner who is a service member or veteran, you’re required to be “married” as defined or recognized by your state. This includes common-law and same-sex marriages. However, if you’re unmarried but both have served, you could qualify for a VA loan based on both your entitlements.
  • The people allowed to be on a VA loan title are limited to a military member or veteran, a military member or veteran along with their non-military spouse, two unmarried veterans or two married veterans. Some lenders also allow veterans to co-borrow with a non-spouse, non-veteran, but you’ll need to find lenders that allow this option.