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    Who We Serve

    Since 1944 the United States government has been honoring the service and sacrifice of American military members through the VA loans program, which is administered by Department of Veterans Affairs. When a VA loan is received, the government makes a guaranty to the lender to pay the balance of the loan in the rare case the borrower should default, meaning that the potential risk to lenders decreases dramatically, even if the borrower does not have a high level of income or impeccable credit. VA loans are an invaluable resource for current and former members of the armed forces and their families who are looking to become home owners or who are looking to refinance home loans on which they are already paying.

    The Department of Veterans Affairs hopes to help as many people as possible through the VA loans program, but they have established a few eligibility requirements that must be met for borrowers to qualify:

    • Military veterans and current personnel who have actively served at least ninety days during wartime
    • Military veterans and current personnel who have actively served at least 181 consecutive days during peacetime
    • National Guard members and reservists who have served at least six years

    Some Americans may be eligible for VA loans even if they have not directly served in the U.S. military:

    • Surviving spouses of service members who are missing in action or prisoners of war
    • Surviving spouses of service members who were killed in the line of duty or who died because of a disability sustained during service (as long as the spouse has not yet remarried)
    • Surviving spouses of certain totally disabled veterans may qualify even if their spouse’s cause of death was not related to a disability incurred during service
    • Surviving spouses who remarried on or after their fifty-seventh birthday and on or after December 16, 2003
    • Certain U.S. citizens who served in the armed forces of an Allied government during World War II
    • Merchant seamen who served during World War II
    • Cadets at various U.S. military academies
    • Officers of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
    • Members of certain organizations, such as officers of the Public Health Service

    The final determination of eligibility for a VA loan rests with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

    VA loans can only be taken out for a property that will be the individual’s or family’s primary home, which means they cannot be used for second homes, vacation homes, or rental properties where the borrower does not live. In addition to simply purchasing a home, however, VA loans can be received to build a home, to simultaneously purchase and improve a home, to improve the energy efficiency of an existing home, or to refinance an existing home.

    There is no minimum required threshold of income required for VA loan eligibility, but potential borrowers must prove that they have a stable household income that will allow them to cover their monthly expenses, including their mortgage payment, food, transportation, and other necessary incidentals. These requirements greatly increase the likelihood that VA borrowers will be able to meet all their financial obligations and will have a monetary buffer in case of an emergency, giving the VA loan one of the lowest foreclosure rates of all prominent lending options.

    The VA has its stipulations for loan eligibility, but individual lenders also have their own criteria that must be met. These may include certain maximum or minimum thresholds for debt, income, and credit. When you begin the VA loan process with Fortress VA Loans, our family of VA loan specialists and lenders will guide you through the entire system, finding solutions that best meet your particular needs.

    What Is a Certificate of Eligibility?

    A Certificate of Eligibility, or COE, is an official document issue by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and it is one of the most important parts of the VA home loan process. No matter how qualified you’re sure you are to receive a VA loan, the ability obtain a COE is the final determination of whether or not you’re entitled to this military service-related benefit. However, you can certainly start the loan process before you secure your COE; many lenders can and do grant pre-qualified status before a COE is received. If questions about a service member’s eligibility status come up before a loan is closed, the process could be delayed or possibly fall through entirely, which is why obtaining a COE is so important.

    In order to generate a COE, the Department of Veterans Affairs will need proof of your military service. For veterans of the Armed Forces, you’ll need a form called a Certificate of Release or Discharge From Active Duty, commonly known as a DD214. You may have received several copies of your DD214 upon retirement or separation; if you don’t have this paperwork, you can request it through a portal on the VA website. The different copies of your DD214 display different sets of information, and they are labeled in their bottom right corners. In most cases, “member copy 4” is the one necessary to obtain a COE. Veterans of the National Guard and Reserves do not receive a DD214 or any single certificate of discharge. They will need to send in their latest annual retirement points summary and evidence of honorable service. Army or Air National Guard members can use NGB Form 22, a Report of Separation and Record of Service, or a points statement. If you’ve misplaced your proof of service paperwork, don’t panic. You can go ahead and submit a Request for a Certificate of Eligibility to keep the process moving along, and the VA may be able to determine your eligibility by consulting its own service records.

    If you are still on active duty in the Armed Forces, you will not have a DD214 yet. Instead, you will need to submit a current statement of service that lays out the following:

    • Your full name
    • Your Social Security number
    • Your date of birth
    • Your branch of service and rank
    • Your active duty entry date and your current date of separation
    • Your unit assignment and current duty location
    • Any duration of lost time
    • Your last discharge and type of discharge
    • The identity of the command providing this information

    Active-duty reservists or National Guard members must submit the same type of statement, and it must clearly identify them as an active member of the Reserves or National Guard.

    If you would like to secure your COE directly from the VA, you can do so by using an online portal, mailing or faxing the necessary documents, or visiting a Regional Loan Center. Alternatively, many VA loan applicants can have their lender obtain their COE for them. You’ll simply provide your loan officer with your proof of service documentation, and he or she will use the VA’s Automated Certificate of Eligibility (ACE) portal. This is usually the easiest method and can be accomplished in a few seconds. However, the ACE portal cannot make eligibility determinations in the following cases:

    • If the loan applicant is or was part of the Reserves or National Guard
    • If the applicant had a previous VA loan fall into foreclosure
    • If the applicant is a surviving spouse
    • If service requirements have not been met and the applicant does not fall under an authorized exception
    • If the applicant received a discharge status other than honorable
    • If the applicant is wanting to restore an entitlement that has already been used

    If you received a COE generated by the ACE portal and you decide to change lenders during the home loan process, you will need to obtain a brand new COE, because these documents cannot be transferred from one lender to another. Additionally, if you begin the VA loan process and receive a COE while you are an active-duty service member, but you are discharged or released prior to closing on your new home, your lender will require a new COE to ensure that you are still eligible to receive a VA loan.

    Call Fortress VA Loans or connect with us online today to begin the process of obtaining your COE or to ask any related questions you may have. Our outstanding family of VA loan specialists and lenders have seen, heard, and done it all when it comes to VA loans, and we’re committed to helping you reach your home owning goals.

    Can I Receive More Than One VA Loan?

    Although it is rare, certain qualified borrowers are able to receive more than one VA loan during their lifetime, thanks to the concept of “second-tier entitlement.” This can be a little confusing, but hang in there – we’ll explain it all.

    First, it’s important to understand that “entitlement” refers to the amount of potential money the VA grants to each eligible military member for the purpose of home loans. In most parts of the country, a service member has a maximum entitlement of $36,000 and a secondary entitlement of $70,025, for a total of $106,025. (In certain counties where home costs are higher, these amounts of money are also higher.) When you take out a VA loan, the Department of Veterans Affairs typically makes a guaranty for a quarter of the loan amount. That figure becomes the amount of entitlement that you actually use on that loan, so if you take out a loan valued at $250,000, both the guaranty and the amount of entitlement you are using will most likely be $62,500.

    If you subtract that $62,500 of used entitlement from the total amount of $106,025, you end up with $43,525 that are not currently being used. That’s how much entitlement you have left over, and it may be possible to use that remaining (“second-tier”) entitlement in a couple of different ways.

    How Can I Use a Second-Tier Entitlement?

    If you meet the right requirements, you may be able to take out a VA loan for a second property with the remaining $43,525 of your entitlement. Usually, this happens when you’ve already used a VA loan to purchase a home, but you receive PCS orders to transfer far away. You decide to purchase another home in your new location but keep and rent out your original home while you’re away.

    Because you have $43,525 remaining in your VA entitlement, that is the maximum amount the VA will guarantee on a loan for a home at your new location. Remember that the VA guaranty is usually a quarter of the total loan amount: $43,525 x 4 = $174,100. If everything lines up correctly, you could receive a loan of up to $174,100 to purchase a home at your new location and make no down payment. If you’re able to make a down payment on the home at your PCS location, you could receive an even larger loan.

    But what if your initial loan for $250,000 went into foreclosure, or you had to sell that property in a short sale? Well, after a “seasoning period,” which will usually last about two years, you may be able to receive another VA loan with the amount of entitlement you have left. As we described above, in this hypothetical scenario, you’d have $43,525 of VA entitlement left after your initial loan. If everything works in your favor, the VA will be able to guarantee $43,525 on a loan for you to purchase a new home after the seasoning period has passed. Multiply that amount by four, and you’ll be able to secure a new VA loan of up to $174,100 without having to make a down payment.

    One sticking point of second-tier entitlements is that their loan amounts cannot be less than $144,001. So if you have very little entitlement left over after your first VA loan, you may not be able to secure a second one. But no matter what you think your entitlement situation is, our family of VA loan specialists and lenders is experienced with all the quirks related to second-tier entitlements. Contact us today and let us see if there’s anything you missed. Whatever your circumstances, you can count on Fortress VA Loans to help you determine your VA loan eligibility.