A lot of veterans want to know if they can get a VA loan after they get out of the military. And in most cases, the answer is yes.
If you served for at least 90 days on active duty, or six years of regular service in the National Guard or Reserve, you’re probably qualified for a VA loan. You can use this benefit to buy a house even after you get out of the military.
Using a VA Loan After You Leave the Military
In a typical year, hundreds of thousands of military members and veterans use VA loans to either purchase or refinance a house. And many of those borrowers use VA loans after they get out of the military, enjoying the benefits that they earned while serving.
That’s the first and most important takeaway from this article. You do not have to currently be serving in the military in order to use a VA loan. You can use this benefit long after you leave the military, as long as you meet the basic eligibility criteria.
VA loans are a lifetime benefit for military service members, veterans, and certain qualifying spouses. Once you’ve checked the boxes for basic program eligibility, you can use VA loans repeatedly for as long as you want—even if it’s 20 years after you leave the service.
Let’s start by reviewing the basic eligibility requirements. If you meet one of the classifications listed below, you are probably eligible for a VA loan even after you leave military service.
- Active Duty: You served for at least 90 days continuously, without a break in service.
- National Guard or Reserve: You served for at least six years, or for at least 90 days of active-duty activation.
(Note: The surviving spouses of veterans who died while serving can also be eligible for the VA loan program, but that’s beyond the scope of this particular article.)
This is just a basic overview of the eligibility requirements. For a more detailed explanation, you can refer to the VA.gov website.
Honorable Versus Dishonorable Discharge
As mentioned above, veterans who meet the basic eligibility requirement can use a VA loan after they leave military service. But there’s another important distinction to be made here, and it has to do with the nature of your discharge.
Generally speaking, VA loans are only available for active duty, National Guard and Reserve members who have been honorably discharged. Those who have been discharged for “less than honorable” reasons are typically considered to be ineligible for this home loan program.
As it states on the Department of Veterans Affairs website:
“If you’ve received an other than honorable, bad conduct, or dishonorable discharge, you may not be eligible for VA benefits.”
A former military member might be able to apply for a “discharge upgrade” through the Department of Veterans Affairs, to restore some of their VA benefits. But this is the exception rather than the rule.
In most cases, former service members with dishonorable or bad conduct discharges cannot use a VA loan after leaving the service.
If you were discharged under honorable conditions and meet the time-in-service requirements mentioned above, you’re probably good to go. In that case, you could use a VA loan after your military service. You could even use it repeatedly over the years.
How to Apply for a VA Loan After Serving
So you’ve left the military, gotten a job in the civilian sector, and want to buy a home using a VA loan. How do you get started? What steps do you need to take to get the ball rolling?
For the most part, the VA loan application process is the same for those who are still in the military and those who have gotten out.
But the one big difference is that those who have left the military no longer have access to a personnel officer, yeoman or adjutant. So they have to initiate the paperwork process on their own, perhaps with the help of a mortgage lender.
Here’s how to apply for a VA loan after getting out of the military:
1. Determine eligibility: Not all veterans qualify for VA loans. Check the VA website or consult with a lender to determine your eligibility based on your service history and discharge status.
2. Get your COE: Next, you’ll need to obtain a Certificate of Eligibility from the Department of Veterans Affairs. This document shows that you are eligible for a VA loan after getting out of the military. You can request it through the VA.gov website using your separation papers (DD-214). A mortgage lender can also request it on your behalf.
3. Find an approved lender: Many, but not all, mortgage lenders offer this type of loan. Look for one that’s experienced in VA loans and familiar with the specific requirements of this program.
4. Gather your documents: You’ll need various documents, including your DD-214 (separation document), COE, pay stubs, bank statements, tax returns, and photo ID. Your lender should provide you with a list of required documents. Many of them can be submitted electronically.
5. Submit an application: Borrowers applying for a VA loan typically use the Uniform Residential Loan Application, or URLA. You might start this application when you get pre-approved for a loan, and then finalize it once you’ve found a home and made an offer. But this can vary.
In conclusion: yes, you could use a VA loan after leaving the military, if you were honorably discharged and meet the minimum service requirements mentioned above. If you are eligible for this program, you owe it to yourself to explore the many benefits it can provide!