VA Loans 101: How Veterans Can Get Low Interest Mortgages

There are a number of programs, government-sponsored and otherwise, that are designed to help aspiring homeowners find and get approved for a mortgage that works for them.

Among these are first-time homeowner loans insured by the Housing and Urban Development Department, mortgages and loans insured by the USDA designed to help people living in urban and rural areas, and VA loans, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

In today’s post, I’m going to give you a basic rundown of VA loans, who is eligible for them, and how to apply for one. That way you’ll feel confident knowing you’re getting the best possible deal on your home mortgage.

What is a VA Loan?

VA loans can provide soon-to-be homeowners who have served their country with low-interest rates and no private mortgage insurance (PMI).

If you’re hoping to buy a home soon and don’t have at least a 20% down payment, you typically have to take out private mortgage insurance. This means paying an extra insurance bill on top of your monthly mortgage payments. The downside of PMI is that it never turns into equity that you can then use when you decide to move again or sell your home.

Loans that are guaranteed by the VA don’t require PMI because the bank knows your loan is a safer investment than if it wasn’t guaranteed

VA loans may also help you secure a lower interest rate, or give you some negotiating power when it comes to discussing your interest rate.

Finally, VA loans set limits on the number of closing costs you can pay in your mortgage. And, if you’ve ever bought a home before, you’ll know how quickly closing costs can add up.

Who is eligible?

There are some common misconceptions about who can apply for a VA loan? So, we’ll cover all the bases of eligibility.

If you meet one of the following criteria, you may be eligible for a VA loan:

  • You’ve served 90 consecutive days during wartime

  • You’ve served 181 days during peacetime

  • You’ve served six or more years in the Reserves or National Guard

  • Your spouse died due to their work in the military

There are some restrictions to these eligibilities. For example, your chosen lender may still have credit score minimums.

Applying for a VA Loan

There are two main steps for applying for a VA Loan. First, you’ll have to ensure your eligibility. You can do this by checking the VA’s official website. Be sure to call them with any questions you may have.

Next, you’ll need a certificate of eligibility. The easiest way to acquire one is through your chosen lender.  If you haven’t chosen a lender, you can also apply online through the eBenefits portal, or by mailing in a paper application.

Once you have a certificate, you can apply for your mortgage and you’ll be on your way to buying a home.

Why Your Credit Score is So Important When Taking Out a Mortgage

Credit is tied to most big financial decisions you will make in your life. From things as little as opening up a store card at the mall to buying your first home, your credit score is going to play a factor.

When it comes to mortgages, lenders take your credit score, particularly your FICO score, into consideration in determining the interest rate that you will likely be stuck with for years.

How is your credit score determined and what can you do to use it to get a better rate on your mortgage? We’ll cover all of that and more in this article.

Deciphering credit scores

Most major lenders assign your credit score based on the information provided by three national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These companies report your credit history to FICO, who give you a score from 300 to 850 (850 being the best your score can get).

When applying for a mortgage (or attempting to be pre-approved for a home loan), the lender you choose will weight several aspects to determine if they will lend money to you and under what terms they will lend you the money. Among these are your employment status, current salary, your savings and assets, and your credit score.

Lenders use this data to attempt to determine how likely you are to pay off your debt. To be considered a “safe” person to lend money to it will require a combination of things, including good credit.

What is good credit? Credit scores are based on five components:

  • 35%: your payment history
  • 30%: your debt amount
  • 15%: length of your credit history
  • 10%: types of credit you have used
  • 10%: recent credit inquiries (such as taking out new loans or opening new credit cards)

As you can see, paying your bills and loans on time each month is the key factor in determining your credit score. Also important, however, is keeping your total amount of debt low.

Most aspects of your credit score are in your control. Only 10% of your score is determined by the length of your credit history (i.e., when you opened your first card or took out your first loan).

To build your credit score, you’ll need to focus on lowering your balances, making on-time payments, and giving yourself time to diversify your credit.

What does this mean for taking out mortgages?

A higher credit score will get you a lower interest rate. By the time you pay off your mortgage, just a hundred points on your credit score could save you thousands on your mortgage, and that’s not including the money you might save by getting lower interest rates on other loans as well.

If you would like to buy a home within the next few years, take this time to focus on building your credit score:

  • If you have high balances, do your best to lower them
  • If you have a tendency to miss payments, set recurring reminders in your phone to make sure you pay on time
  • If you don’t have diverse credit, it could be a good time to take out a loan or open your first credit card

When it comes time to apply for a mortgage, you’ll thank yourself for focusing more on your credit score.

Key Questions to Ask a Mortgage Lender

Ready to buy a home? You’ll likely need a mortgage to ensure you can afford your dream residence. Lucky for you, many banks and credit unions are happy to help you discover a mortgage that suits you perfectly.

Ultimately, meeting with a mortgage lender may seem stressful at first. But this meeting can serve as a valuable learning opportunity, one that allows you to select a mortgage that is easy to understand and matches your budget.

When you meet with a mortgage lender, here are three of the questions to ask so you can gain the insights you need to make an informed decision:

1. What mortgage options are available?

Most lenders offer a broad range of mortgage options. By doing so, these lenders can help you choose a mortgage that meets or exceeds your expectations.

Fixed-rate mortgages represent some of the most popular options for homebuyers, and perhaps it is easy to understand why. These mortgages lock-in an interest rate for a set period of time and ensure your mortgage payments will stay the same throughout the duration of your mortgage.

Meanwhile, adjustable-rate mortgages may prove to be great choices for many homebuyers as well. These mortgages may feature a lower initial interest rate that rises after several years. However, with an adjustable-rate mortgage, you’ll know when your mortgage’s interest rate will increase and can plan accordingly.

2. Do I need to get pre-approved for a mortgage?

Pre-approval for a mortgage usually is an excellent idea, and for good reason.

If you get pre-approved for a mortgage, you may be able to enter the homebuying market with a budget in mind. That way, you can pursue houses that fall within a set price range and avoid the risk of overspending on a home.

On the other hand, you don’t need to be pre-approved for a mortgage to submit an offer on a home. But with a mortgage in hand, you may be able to gain an advantage over the competition, one that might even lead a home seller to select your offer over others.

3. How long will a mortgage last?

Many mortgages last 15- or 30-years – it all depends on the type of mortgage that you select.

A lender can explain the length associated with various mortgage options and highlight the pros and cons associated with these mortgages.

Moreover, you should ask a lender if there are any prepayment penalties if you pay off your mortgage early. This may help you determine whether a particular mortgage is right for you.

When it comes to finding a lender, don’t forget to meet with several banks and credit unions. This will allow you to discover a lender that offers a mortgage with a low interest rate. Plus, it enables you to find a lender that makes you feel comfortable.

If you need assistance in your search for the right lender, be sure to reach out to a real estate agent. This housing market professional can provide details about local lenders and ensure you can accelerate your push to acquire your dream residence.

How a USDA Loan Can Help You Buy a Home

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers multiple housing assistance programs for people hoping to achieve home ownership.

In spite of being offered by the USDA, you don’t need to be a farmer or rancher of any kind to qualify for a home loan. Similarly, you don’t have to buy a home miles from civilization–many popular, thickly-settled suburbs across the country also qualify for USDA programs.

In this article, we’re going to explain the different programs offered by the USDA, how to check your eligibility, how to find out which locations qualify, and how to get started with a loan.

USDA Assistance Programs

The USDA offers two types of home loans for prospective buyers. The direct program, or Section 502 Direct Loan Program, is designed to help low-income persons to acquire safe, affordable housing. The assistance for this loan comes in the form of a subsidy that can be applied directly to the applicant’s mortgage, reducing monthly mortgage payments for a certain period of time.

Another type of home loan offered by the USDA is the Single Family Home Guarantee. Much like an FHA or first-time homeowner’s loan, this type of mortgage is insured by the government. As a result, buyers can often qualify for lower interest rates and smaller down payments from their lenders.

Guarantees may be applied towards the purchase, rebuilding, or building of a rural home as an incentive to developing rural areas. Later, we’ll talk about what is considered “rural.”

Outside of help with buying homes, the USDA also provides grants and loans for repairing and modernizing rural homes.

Who is eligible for USDA mortgage assistance?

In general, those applying for USDA assistance must meet certain criteria. Applicants must meet income eligibility, be a U.S. citizen or qualified noncitizen, and must purchase a qualifying property.

For the Direct loan program, applicants must be without safe or sanitary housing and be unable to secure housing through other means. Whereas for USDA guaranteed loans, applicants need only fall under the maximum income limit.

To find out if you’re eligible immediately, fill out an eligibility form from the USDA.

How do I know which houses qualify?

Generally speaking, homes located within large, metropolitan cities won’t qualify for USDA loans. However, suburbs just outside of some larger cities often do. For example, towns located just a half hour’s drive outside of Boston have a good chance of being eligible.

To view the map of property eligibility, simply fill out the online eligibility form.

How Do I Get Started?

If you’re seeking a direct loan, you’ll have to contact your local Rural Development office. Applications for a direct loan are accepted year-round and are awarded based on funding availability.

For people looking for a private loan guaranteed by the USDA, applicants should contact an approved lender in the area. The lender will then work with the USDA loan specialist in your state.

These Mortgage Blind Spots Could Be Dangerous

Mortgage blind spots could be dangerous, especially if you are living on a tight budget. Blind spots are generally tied to unexpected fees and emotions that cause you to overlook what would otherwise be obvious. A common mortgage blind spot has to do with the loan origination process.

Loan processing fees are just the start

Included in loan origination costs are underwriting and processing fees. These fees pay for work that lenders perform to evaluate the financial help of loan requesters. During the evaluation, lenders might also evaluate the condition and financial value of a house.

Loan origination costs aren’t the only hidden mortgage fees that could increase the amount of money that you pay to own your home. Total costs of loan origination fees could top one percent of the total price on a house. That’s more than $1,500 on a house priced at $150,000.

Then, there is mortgage insurance, homeowners insurance and homeowner’s association fees. Other than mortgage insurance costs, these expenses may be more commonly known about. What you may not expect to pay when applying for a mortgage are:

  • Mortgage application fees (Depending on the lender, you might be able to negotiate your way out of paying mortgage application fees. This is a time when it might be worth it to let your real estate agent lobby for you, working to gain you a win.)
  • Title fees (Similar to how you receive a title on a car, truck, motorcycle or boat that you purchase, you should receive a title to your house after you pay the mortgage off. Title fees are not free. But, this doesn’t mean that you have to pay high title fees. You or your real estate agent can shop around for good title fee prices.)
  • Courier fees (These fees are associated with closing costs. Although relatively small, courier fees could be easily overlooked when buying a house.)
  • Mortgage prepayment fees (To protect their financial investment, some lenders ask homeowners to pay several months of their mortgage in advance. Sign a mortgage that has mortgage prepayment fees stipulated in the writing and you could be hit with late prepayment penalties.)
  • Discount points (These fees can be negotiated. Handle these negotiations the right way and you could end up paying lower closing costs.)
  • Late fees (As they do with bank account fees, mortgage late fees can add up, reaching into thousands of dollars.)
  • Unexpected home inspections (Depending on the lender, you could be hit with fees associated with unexpected home inspections that your mortgage lender makes.)

Financial institutions are in business to earn money, to turn a profit. Unscrupulous financial institutions aren’t the only organizations that charge homeowners hidden mortgage fees. Well known and highly respected lenders also tack hidden mortgage fees onto loans.

The only time when you might become aware of hidden mortgage fees is when you are late making a payment. You also might become aware of hidden mortgage fees if you fall behind in your mortgage payments and your loan goes into default.

How To Save More For Your Mortgage

If you’re finding that your finances are a bit tighter these days, you might need to adjust your budget a bit. Have you ever thought about alternatives in helping you to pay your mortgage? There’s a few things that you might be able to do in your home to save a few bucks and be more comfortable with your budget and finances. 

Share The Space

This might sound crazy, but it works for many people. If you’re willing to share your living space with others, it could help you to make a dent in your mortgage. This works especially well if you have a home with a separate entrance like an in-law apartment or something similar. 

Make Adjustments To Your Expenses


There are many different costs that come along with owning a home. If you reduce some of these expenses, you’ll be able to cut your overall spending. You don’t need to completely adjust your entire way of living to do this. Some ideas:

  • Cut the cord on cable and install streaming devices
  • Go on a family cell phone plan
  • Skip the gym membership
  • Use public transportation
  • Cook at home instead of eating out
  • Use coupons

Put Tax Refunds To Good Use

If you normally get a tax refund, you can apply that money to your mortgage instead of using it to buy something else. You could also adjust your withholdings. This would allow you to get a bit more money in your paycheck each week. You’ll get less of a refund during tax time, but the extra money may help you to pay down bills throughout the year. 

Pay More Towards The Principal 

To make the most of your hard-earned savings, use your money wisely and pay down the mortgage faster. Just be sure that there’s no penalty for a prepayment of the loan. You can either make an extra loan payment each month or you can pay a bit over what you owe on the mortgage each month. If you pay the mortgage faster, you’ll save potentially thousands of dollars in interest over the life of the loan. You’ll need to check with your mortgage company to see what their process is for paying more towards the principal of the loan. Keep in mind that the first few years‘ worth of your mortgage payments will be going towards interest unless you specify extra payments to go elsewhere.

Whether you’d like a little more of a financial cushion or are just looking to get rid of all those pesky monthly bills, it’s never a bad idea to focus on paying your mortgage down as quickly as possible.

Breakdown All Mortgage Pricing Before You Sign

Buy a house and you probably just made the largest purchase of your life, a decision that will impact you daily. Buy the right house and you can finally start to feel rooted, as if you found the place where you feel balanced and centered. You can make this house your own, hanging original art pieces and pictures on the walls and filling the space with furniture and knick knacks that showcase your remarkable personality, your amazing style.

Stop guessing how much house you can afford

If you let yourself develop your creative muscle, there’s a strong likelihood that you created those original art pieces yourself. Clearly, buying a house is about more than the base price of the house. It’s about stepping into new experiences. Allow those experiences to be rewarding, certainly financially stress free. But, that won’t happen like magic. It takes thought, action and understanding. You can do it.

You must know everything that you’ll be responsible to pay for before you buy a house. It could keep you out of foreclosure should you or your spouse get laid off. It could keep you from taking on debt that will put your finances in a gripping headlock. Specific fees that you may incur when you buy a house vary, depending on the lender. However, general fees and costs you can expect to be responsible for include:

  • Base price of the house (It’s easy to think that the base mortgage is all you’ll have to repay when you buy a house. But, although it’s the largest chunk of what goes into a mortgage, the base price or principal of a house is only one piece of the costs.)
  • Interest or adjustable rate mortgage (Adjustable interest rates may start lower, but they can shift upwards and put your mortgage out of reach. Research lenders. Make sure you’re not working with a predatory lender.)
  • Property taxes
  • Down payment (The bigger the down payment you can put on your new house, the better. It can lower your monthly mortgage payments significantly.)
  • Closing costs (Try to negotiate a deal that splits closing costs with sellers. You might even get a deal where house sellers pay all of the closing costs.)
  • Homeowner’s association fees
  • Mortgage insurance
  • Homeowners insurance (This is separate from the mortgage insurance. Homeowners insurance covers the costs of damages the house may incur during natural and human-made disasters. This insurance is similar to car insurance.)
  • House inspection fees

Eliminating mortgage fee surprises helps you enjoy your home

There is more than one way to become a homeowner. Options include rent-to-own, a newly built house and buying an old house that you restore. Housing communities also vary, giving you the chance to move into communal housing neighborhoods, single family homes, tiny houses, mobile homes and elegant Victorian houses. You could also make the land more a priority than your living space, especially if you aim to start a farm or another outdoor business.

Go with the housing option that best matches your personal needs. You’re probably going to be spending a lot of time in your new home. But, don’t just fall in love with your house. Set yourself up for financial success. Be aware of all costs that go into your mortgage before you buy a house. Also, understand additional costs that you are responsible for paying a lender that aren’t built into your monthly mortgage payments. Shop for and buy a house with your eyes wide open.

You Need Confidence When Dealing With Realtors

As happens in any industry, there are professionals who work in the real estate industry who don’t mind cutting corners. Protections against working with inexperienced realtors and mortgage brokers comes through local and state realtor licensing requirements.

You may not be real estate savvy, but you deserve to be heard

The realtor licensing requirements vary from state to state, but generally mandate that realtors complete educational training and pass a state approved licensing examination. Ethical and legal issues may be covered during the training. What training seminars, study guides and tests may not give realtors are strong communication skills.

A study guide may not show realtors how to respect mortgage borrowers and house hunters. This training may fall into your lap. To be effective when dealing with realtors and mortgage brokers, you need to be confident. When you are confident while house hunting, you can increase the likelihood that you will:

  • Search for houses that fit within your financial range (confidence can help you to communicate to realtors the importance of not wasting your time and only showing you houses that are below your maximum budget)
  • Avoid giving into realtor or mortgage broker requests to buy houses that have amenities that you don’t really want or need
  • Stick to looking for houses that are located in areas that match your personal tastes
  • Get the chance to buy houses that your entire family will appreciate (this means that you won’t be talked into buying a house that may be great for adults but injury provoking for children)
  • Steer clear of attending open houses where former pet owners lived if you don’t want to live in a house that was once home to several dogs or cats
  • Receive a thorough explanation of each expense associated with owning a house. For example, if you’re confident, you could clearly and respectfully communicate to a realtor that you want all costs associated with a house to be level with or below your budget. In this case, expenses like your mortgage principal and interests, homeowners association fees,closing costs, broker fees, title fees and loan fees and insurances will not exceed your maximum budget.
  • Work with a realtor who takes the initiatives to update you on the status of the house shopping process.

House hunter confidence yields its own rewards

Reliable and respectable realtors and mortgage brokers are honest. They value house hunters and borrowers, whether these adults are their clients or not. They research directories, conduct smart marketing for their clients and look for quality houses that match their clients’ requests. Sharp realtors and mortgage brokers aren’t pushy or demanding. They listen to their clients.

If they exhibit enough respect and self-confidence, smart house hunters could help to sharpen realtors and increase their chances of working with realtors who find them houses that they will afford and appreciate. They could also help realtors gain the very skills that strengthen and lengthen realtor careers, skills like active listening, focused question asking, thorough research and welcomed communication skills.

Financially Ready for Home Ownership ?

Owning a house gives you a sense of fulfillment, and helps boost your self-esteem. It is a long term investment and should not be taken lightly. The present state of your finances is possibly the single most important factor when contemplating home ownership.  Before you start shopping for a house, take into consideration the following factors.

Have you set aside enough money for the down payment?  The amount you need varies based on the price of the home and percentage required by your lender.  Zero down mortgages are possible, however the interest rate is typically very high increasing the amount paid out over the life of the loan. Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) is typically required for this type of loan, again increasing your monthly payment.

How high of a mortgage payment can you afford to make ?  If you opt for a fixed rate, your payment would remain consistent throughout the period of the loan. This type of loan is favorable for future financial planning.   Adjustable rate mortgages make it a bit trickier to predict your monthly payments based on the fluctuating interest rate throughout the duration of the loan.  This type of loan could be risky if interest rates rise and your payments increase significantly higher than anticipated.

The security of your financial future is paramount when acquiring a mortgage loan.  You would not want to enter into this long term investment without stable employment and a definite career path.  Most banks and lending companies require a borrower to have been with the same employer for at least 2 years before considering a loan of this nature. Secure financial footing is key when applying for a mortgage loan.

When determining your readiness to purchase a home, your credit score is as important as your finances. If you have a low credit score, you’ll attract a higher lending rate. This implies an increase in the amount paid back to the lender over the duration of the loan. An excellent credit score of 720 or above attracts the best interest rates and repayment terms. If your credit score is too low, improve it by:

  • Becoming Debt Free
  • Removing all inaccuracies from your credit report
  • Making all monthly payments in a timely manner — eliminating late payments
  • Avoid applying for new loans and opening credit accounts

The commitment of home ownership comes with financial responsibilities beyond the monthly mortgage payment. Be certain to consider additional expenses such as property tax, utility bills, and home maintenance costs when calculating your budget.  Carefully weigh out all the factors to ensure you will be comfortable with your monthly payments allowing you to enjoy your new home for years to come.

Should You Pay Off Your Mortgage Early?

Paying off your mortgage early and having no bills sounds like a no brainer. The answer however is not so simple. The answer really is; it depends.

First you need to ask yourself a few questions.

1. Have you capitalized your employer’s match to your retirement savings?

If the answer is no and you are not contributing the maximum than you are throwing away free money. You may want to consider putting your money here before paying down your mortgage.

2. Do you have other debt other than your mortgage?

Pay off high interest credit card debit first. It makes no sense to pay off a lower interest loan and carry high interest debt.

3. Do you have an emergency fund?

Experts suggest at least a three month supply of living expenses. Some even go as much as twenty four months of living expenses after the turn in the economy and job market. It makes more sense to have money set aside for a sudden loss of income before you
pay off your mortgage.

4. Do you owe more than your house is worth?

If you are upside down you are more susceptible to foreclosure. Ask yourself how much how much you enjoy living there. Would you be willing to buy it again for more than it is worth now?

5. Do you have life, health and disability insurance?

If you are the main source of income in your household what would happen if you were no longer able to make the payments? Putting safety nets in place first is a wise idea.

6. Do you believe you can get better return investing elsewhere?

Paying off your mortgage is an investment decision. Ask how does paying off my mortgage stack up with other investment options?

7. Are you thinking of retiring and want to live with the worry of a payment?

The thought of living on a fixed income can be scary. Paying off your mortgage may give you peace of mind. There is no right or wrong answer to this question. It really comes down to what is most important to you. Sometimes, the answer is not based just on dollars and sense and more on what works for you, your life, your family situation and just plain old personal preference.