Are you an eligible veteran, military member, or surviving spouse and thinking about applying for VA home loan benefits or applying for a housing assistance grant?
If your answer is yes, you need to:
Plan ahead to buy a home to ensure the spouse and family agree with the decision to buy and want to live where you are buying.
As a general rule, veterans (and others) should spend no more than 30 percent of their monthly gross income on housing. If you’re a homeowner, that 30 percent includes other home-ownership costs like mortgage interest, property taxes, and maintenance.
Ensure you have enough money saved for costs associated with buying a home and emergency reserves in case of a loss of employment or illness that interrupts your income. Six months and preferably more of savings that cover the mortgage payment costs and other living costs (utilities, insurance, regime fees, etc.).
Ensure your income is stable and reliable. It is much harder to get a loan if you have not had a job for more than one year, change jobs frequently, or have long breaks in between jobs.
Check and improve your credit score (called a FICO score). Check your score at one of the three Credit Bureaus, which are TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. Improve your score to get the lowest cost financing by paying off credit card balances, making sure you make payments on time, and not taking out loans or opening multiple credit cards will help you build a higher score or maintain a strong one.
Read about getting home loan benefits and getting veterans’ housing assistance online at https://www.va.gov/housing-assistance/.
Listen to the VA podcast at https://www.youtube.com/user/DeptVetAffairs or #thesitrep.
Ask a knowledgeable Veterans Service Officer (VSO) for advice. There is a county VSO in every S.C. county. Go to the SC Department of Veterans’ Affairs website at https://bit.ly/3HNQLwt to find the contact information for each S.C. County Veterans Service Office.
Research and find a real estate agent who is experienced in working with military members and veterans and VA home loans. Ask veteran friends for a referral of someone they have used to help them buy a home with a VA loan.
Find a mortgage lender who is reputable, knowledgeable, and experienced with financing VA home loans. Talk to other veterans and fellow military members who have had a good experience with VA guaranteed loans. The best referral is a personal reference.
Ask the mortgage representative, “How many VA Home Loans have you done in the past year?” You can research which companies are rated highest at places like Forbes ADVISER at https://bit.ly/39cqQ5u and other such mortgage company rating sites, but personal referrals are still the best.
Go ahead and request, either online thru eBenefits or by U.S. Mail, from the VA a Certificate of Eligibility (COE). Read the eligibility requirements and how to apply for COE information at https://bit.ly/3N28jXV. Getting your COE before meeting with a lender is a good idea. Veterans are advised to not shop for a home without a COE in hand.
Unfortunately, only about 14 percent of veterans nationally use VA home loans, and many veterans and their surviving spouses do not realize that VA Housing Assistance is one of the best VA benefits available to veterans. Many veterans do not know a VA home loan can allow the veteran to obtain 100 percent financing and require no down payment.
Many veterans do not know the VA guarantees the lender (mortgage company/underwriter) 25 percent of the loan amount, which takes much of the risk out of lender loans to veterans. Many veterans do know that they can get the best mortgage rates (equals lower payments) by using their VA housing assistance benefits. They also do not know that veterans get the most favorable credit guidelines (credit score requirements, debt to income ratios, and down payment) and are not required to buy Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI).
The Department of Veteran Affairs Housing Assistance
The Department of Veteran Affairs Housing Assistance site at https://www.va.gov/housing-assistance/ will explain to a veteran that VA housing assistance can help veterans, service members, and their surviving spouses to buy a home or refinance a loan.
The site also explains that the VA offers benefits and services to help veterans build, improve, or keep their current home.
Housing Assistance Site information
Find out how to apply for and manage the Veterans’ housing assistance benefits you’ve earned. The VA Housing Assistance site at https://www.va.gov/housing-assistance/ will explain to the veteran:
The VA home loan types, eligibility requirements, how to request (online or by mail) your Certificate of Eligibility (COE), VA home programs for surviving spouses, and how to track the status of an open home loan COE appeal.
How to request a decision review or manage a legacy appeal (you disagree with a VA home loan decision), get help to avoid foreclosure because you are struggling to make payments, and how to recognize signs of misleading offers to refinance your VA-backed home loan.
What the home buying process is for veterans, whether or not you will have to pay a VA funding fee, how to find and contact a VA regional loan center, how to buy a home the VA has acquired because its VA direct or VA-backed home loan was terminated, and how veterans get help if they have a VA direct or VA-backed home loan or Specially Adapted Housing grant and your home was damaged by a natural disaster.
Ask the VA questions
Military members, veterans, and surviving spouses can ask the VA questions about VA Housing Assistance by calling the VA Benefits hotline at 800-827-1000 or MyVA411 main information line at 800-698-2411. You can also use ASK VA (AVA) by going to https://ask.va.gov to message the VA with questions you may have.
Disability housing grants for veterans
The VA offers housing grants for Veterans and service members with certain service-connected disabilities so they can buy or change their homes (permanent or temporary residence) to meet their needs and live more independently. Read online about disability housing grants and how to apply for a grant at https://bit.ly/3vWLGP6.
Specially adapted housing grants
Find out how to apply, check appeal status, and request a decision review for a Specially Adapted Housing Grant by reading the information at https://bit.ly/3L0SHT2.
If you are a veteran, military member, or surviving spouse and thinking about applying for VA home loan benefits or applying for a housing assistance grant you should also watch and listen to the following VA Home Loan-related YouTube videos found on the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs You Tube Channel, https://www.youtube.com/user/DeptVetAffairs or #thesitrep, which are produced by the New England Healthcare System:
VA Home Loans Applying, Refinancing, Credit Scores, Cash Out, and More THE SITREP dated July 9, 2021.
How to Cash Out Refinancing Works with a VA Home Loan SITREP dated Nov. 18, 2021.
Options for Refinancing with a VA Home Loan SITREP dated Nov. 11, 2021.
Home Renovations with VA Home Loan Refinancing SITREP.
Save Money with a Cash-Out Refinancing VA Loan SITREP dated December 2021.
This article reminded veterans, military members, and their surviving spouses to take advantage of the excellent VA loan and grant benefits they earned with selfless sweat, tears, blood, and sacrifice. It also explained where to go to find detailed information on the ins and outs of the VA Housing Assistance programs. Next week’s article, the May 19, 2022 edition, will continue explaining the VA Housing Assistance Programs’ wonderful benefits. Next week’s column will cover:
Veterans do need some money to buy a home. How to Apply for a VA home loan? What will the veteran have to give to the lender (underwriter) during the application process?
Eligibility requirements for a VA home loan. How long does it take to close on VA home loan approval? Fixer-uppers. Credit Scores. Types of properties veterans can buy with a VA loan. And Condominiums.
The final article in this series on VA Housing Assistance will be in the May 26, 2022 edition of The Island News. That article will cover how many VA loans a veteran can have, investor property restrictions, owner-occupation, no homes in foreign countries, refinancing, service-connected disability benefits, active-duty quirks, bankruptcy, foreclosure, and things veterans should do when wanting to use their VA Home loan benefits.
Larry Dandridge is a Vietnam War wounded warrior, disabled veteran, ex-Enlisted Infantryman, ex-Warrant Officer Pilot, and retired Lt. Colonel. He is a past Veterans Service Officer, a Patient Adviser at the RHJ VA Hospital, the Fisher House Charleston Good Will Ambassador, and the VP for Veteran Affairs for the local Army Association Chapter. Larry is the author of the award-winning book Blades of Thunder and a contributing free-lance writer with the Island News. Contact him at LDandridge@earthlink.net or 843-276-7164.