Janice Walker's Blog
We all know that buying a home is expensive. For first-time buyers who don’t have the luxury of equity for a down payment, it can be difficult to find a way to finance your home without taking on a huge interest rate and mortgage insurance.
Fortunately, loan programs like those offered by the U.S. Veterans Affairs can be a godsend. However, there is a great deal of confusion around who is eligible for VA loans and how to acquire them.
So, in today’s post, we’re going to cover some of the frequently asked questions of VA loans. That way, you can feel confident in knowing whether or not it’s a good financing option for you and your family.
VA Loans FAQ
Who is eligible for a VA Loan?
VA loans aren’t just for veterans. Most members of the military, including Reserve and National Guard members can apply. Additionally, spouses of service members who died from a service-related disability and those who died on active duty can apply as well.
How long do you have to service to be eligible?
The VA defines eligibility as having served no less than 90 days of service during wartime and 181 days of continuous service during peacetime.
Who are VA Loans offered by?
Like any other loan, VA loans are offered by private lenders. The difference is that VA loans are guaranteed by the government. That means that the federal government takes on some of the risk of lending to you, therefore making it possible to secure a loan with little or no down payment.
Should I make a down payment on a VA loan?
If you have the means, making a down payment will almost certainly save you money in the long run. If you can put down 10% of your total mortgage amount, you can also significantly reduce the VA Funding Fee.
Will I have to pay private mortgage insurance?
Private mortgage insurance (PMI) is something that borrowers pay on top of their mortgage payments and interest. This additional insurance helps borrowers buy a home with a small down payment. VA loans allow you to secure a mortgage without PMI.
Are VA loans different for active duty, National Guard, and Army Reserve members?
Each type of service member is eligible for a VA loan. However, there are some minor differences regarding the VA Funding Fee. With no down payment, an active duty member would pay 2.15% of the loan amount in fees. National Guard and Army Reserve members pay around 2.40% with no down payment.
What does my credit score need to be to get a VA loan?
The VA doesn’t have a set minimum credit score. However, the private lenders that offer the loan do. On average, the lowest credit score that you can secure a VA loan with is around 620. That being said, a higher score will secure you a lower interest rate, saving you money over the lifetime of your loan.
Preparing to buy a home is a long and stressful process for many. You’ve spent months, or even years, saving for a down payment, planning your future, and building your credit to ensure you get the best possible interest rate on your loan.
Then you find out, when getting preapproved for a mortgage, that your credit score dropped by a few points. So, what gives?
There’s a lot to understand about how credit scores affect mortgages and vice versa. In today’s post, I’m going to attempt to cover everything you need to know about how applying for a mortgage can affect your credit score so you’ll be prepared when it comes time to buy a home.
Prequalification, preapproval, and credit checks
There are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be preapproved or prequalified for a loan. Some of it is due to the jargon that is used in real estate transactions, and some of it is just a marketing technique on the part of lenders.
So, what does it mean to be prequalified and preapproved?
The short version is that getting prequalified is a quick and easy process to determine whether you’re eligible to lend to and how much you’re likely to receive. It involves a quick review of your finances, and often includes either a self-reported or soft credit inquiry.
A “soft inquiry” is the type of credit check that employers typically use for a background check. It doesn’t affect your credit score, as you are not applying to open a new line of credit. In fact, many lenders’ process for prequalification is a simple online form that doesn’t even require a credit check. We’ll talk more about the difference between soft inquiries and hard inquiries later.
The simplicity of prequalification makes it a simple and easy way to get started. But, it isn’t always accurate in how well it predicts the type of mortgage and loan amount you can receive. That’s where preapproval comes in.
When you get preapproved for a loan you fill out an official application (you often have to pay for these). This will request documentation for your finances and assets, and will ask your approval to run a detailed credit report.
These credit reports are considered “hard inquiries” and are a vital step in getting approved or preapproved for a mortgage. However, they also, at least temporarily, lower your credit score.
Why hard inquiries lower your credit score
When any creditor, be it a bank or credit card company, is determining whether to lend to you, they want to know that you are a safe investment. To determine this, they want to know how frequently you pay your bills on time, how much you owe to other creditors, and how financially stable you are right now.
When you make multiple inquiries in a short period of time, it’s a red flag to lenders that you might be in trouble financially. Thus, hard inquiries will lower your credit score for 1 to 2 months.
Applying to multiple lenders: the silver lining
When borrowers apply for a mortgage, they often shop around and apply to multiple lenders. While it may seem that all of these hard inquiries will add up and drastically lower their credit score, this isn’t the case.
Credit bureaus take into account the source of the inquiries. If they realize that you are applying for mortgages, they will typically recognize this as rate shopping and group these applications together on your credit report, counting them only as a single inquiry. This means your score shouldn’t drop multiple times for multiple mortgage preapprovals that were made within a small time frame.
Now that you know more about how mortgage applications affect your credit score, you can confidently shop around for the best mortgage for you and your family.
For those who want to acquire a house, it helps to get your finances in order. That way, you can quickly and effortlessly navigate the homebuying journey without having to worry about how you'll afford your dream house.
There are many quick, easy ways to straighten out your finances before you embark on the homebuying journey, such as:
1. Assess Your Credit Score
Your credit score ultimately can play a major role in your ability to secure a great mortgage. If you understand your credit score, you may be able to find ways to improve it prior to conducting a home search.
It is important to remember that you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report annually from each of the credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Request a free copy of your credit report today, and you can take the first step to evaluate your credit score.
If you find that your credit score is low, there is no need to worry. You can always pay off outstanding debt to improve your credit score over time.
Also, if you identify any errors on your credit report, you'll want to address these mistakes immediately. In this scenario, you should contact the agency that provided the report to ensure any necessary corrections can be made.
2. Look Closely at Your Monthly Expenses
When it comes to buying a house, it generally helps to have sufficient funds for a down payment. The down payment on a house may fall between 5 and 20 percent of a home's sale price, so you'll want to have enough money available to cover this total for your dream residence.
If you evaluate your monthly expenses, you may be able to find ways to save money for a down payment on a house.
For example, it may be beneficial to cut out cable TV for the time being and use the money that you save toward a home down payment. Or, if your dine out frequently, cooking at home may prove to be a substantial money-saver that could help you speed up the process of saving for a down payment.
3. Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage
With pre-approval for a mortgage, you can enter the housing market with a budget in hand. Then, you'll be better equipped than ever before to narrow your search to houses that fall within your price range.
To get pre-approved for a mortgage, you'll want to meet with banks and credit unions. These financial institutions can teach you about different mortgage options and help you assess all of the options at your disposal.
Furthermore, don't hesitate to ask banks and credit unions about how different types of mortgages work. This will enable you to gain the insights that you need to make an informed decision about a mortgage based on your financial situation.
If you need extra help as you prepare to pursue a house, you may want to hire a real estate agent as well. In fact, a real estate agent can help you find a high-quality house at a budget-friendly price in no time at all.
Making the decision to buy your first home is a big step. One of the most uncertain parts that’s involved in buying a home is that of securing a first-time mortgage. You’ll need to know what types of programs exist to help you on your journey to homeownership. Even if you have owned a home in the past but are now renting your home, you may be eligible for first-time mortgage benefits.
The first thing you should do is understand your options for getting a mortgage. The Department of Housing and Urban Development often provides you with agents to help you see whether you will, in fact, qualify for a first time mortgage and all the benefits that go along with it. They may also help you to see exactly what programs will work best for you. You can find agencies in your specific area on the HUD website.
Each state and local municipality have its own resources for those seeking to buy a home as well. These programs may get more specific, helping low-income earners, first-time home buyers and people with disabilities. Of course, you’ll need to meet certain eligibility requirements before qualifying for the programs. Your state and local housing offices are other great places to start when you’re searching for benefits for first-time home buyers.
Save, Save, Save!
Even before you think you might be ready to buy a home, you need to start saving. You’ll need a significant down payment, especially if you’re hoping to avoid private mortgage insurance or PMI. If you can’t swing a 20% down payment, there’s good news: First-time home buyers are eligible for loans that require a lower down payment- as little as 3%!
You’ll also need a significant amount of savings to pay upfront for closing costs. These fees can come in somewhere between 3 and 4% of the purchase price of the home. It won’t be very pleasant if your bank account is completely empty by the time you reach the closing table. This is why it’s a wise idea to save long before you even think you might want to buy a home.
Look At Your Finances
In the same light of saving money, you’ll want to keep your financial health in check in order to prepare to secure your first mortgage. First, check your credit score and see where you stand. You can take the time to dispute any discrepancies you may find on your report. Then, start paying off any credit card balances that you may have. Remember that the higher your credit score is, the better your chances are of securing a mortgage and being approved for a first-time home buyer program.
Filling out a mortgage application may prove to be a long, exhausting process. Fortunately, we're here to help you streamline the mortgage application process so you can move one step closer to acquiring your dream house.
Now, let's take a look at three tips to help you approach the mortgage application process with confidence.
1. Be Thorough
A mortgage application likely requests a lot of information about you, your finances and your employment history. However, it is important to answer each mortgage application question to the best of your ability. Because if you fail to do so, you risk delays in getting approved for a mortgage. Or, perhaps even worse, a lender may decline your mortgage application.
In addition, be honest in all of your mortgage application responses. This will ensure that if your mortgage application is approved, you will receive a mortgage that corresponds to your finances.
2. Ask Questions
There is no need to leave anything to chance as you complete a mortgage application. Thus, if you're uncertain about how to respond to various mortgage application questions, reach out to a lender for assistance.
Remember, there is no such thing as a "bad" question, especially when it comes to filling out a mortgage application. Lenders employ friendly, knowledgeable mortgage specialists who are happy to assist you in any way possible. Work with these mortgage specialists, and you can get the help you need to finalize your mortgage application.
3. Get Multiple Quotes
It may seem like a good idea to complete a single mortgage application to request home financing from a single lender. Yet doing so may be problematic, particularly for those who prioritize affordability.
Ultimately, meeting with multiple lenders and getting several mortgage quotes is ideal. If you shop around for a mortgage, you may be eligible for a low interest rate that helps you save money when you complete a home purchase.
Once you finish a mortgage application, it may be only a matter of time before you find out if you have received approval. Then, if you receive a "Yes" from a lender, you can accelerate the homebuying journey.
Of course, for those who plan to buy a home soon, it may be beneficial to employ a real estate agent. This housing market professional can put you in touch with the top lenders in your area, as well as help you complete a home search in no time at all.
A real estate agent typically learns about a homebuyer's goals and crafts a strategy to help this buyer accomplish his or her aspirations. Furthermore, a real estate agent provides recommendations and tips to help a homebuyer make informed decisions throughout the property buying journey. And if a homebuyer ever has concerns or questions, a real estate agent is available to respond to them.
Ready to complete a mortgage application? Use the aforementioned tips, and you can finalize a mortgage application, obtain home financing and make your homeownership dream come true.