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VA Loans come with some amazing perks like zero down payment, lower interest rates, lenient approval terms, no need for personal mortgage insurance (PMI) because the mortgage is backed by the federal government, but not just anybody can qualify.
VA Home Loans are only available to eligible personnel, and that eligibility is solely determined by the Department of the Veterans Affairs and confirmed by something called a Certificate of Eligibility.
A Certificate of Eligibility or COE only indicates that a person is eligible for a VA Loan and does not guarantee that they will be approved for one.
What Is a VA Loan Certificate of Eligibility?
The VA Loan Certificate of Eligibility is a single piece of paper that carries a lot of weight. The COE is a document prepared by the VA that indicates that service members have met the service eligibility requirements.
These COEs are issued only to personnel that has served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Space Force, or Coast Guard for a certain amount of time. National Guard and Reservists can also be qualified sometimes, and surviving spouses qualify too.
Why Is Having a Certificate of Eligibility Important?
Without a COE, VA mortgage lenders cannot qualify you for a VA Loan regardless of what other documents you bring to the table.
The COE is the golden ticket that opens the door to all the benefits of a VA Loan.
Furthermore, VA Loans are subject to a VA Funding Fee, and your COE will indicate whether you are required to pay the Funding Fee or not, which can potentially save borrowers up to 3.6% of the loan amount.
>> More: Review the Best VA Loan Lenders
Who Qualifies for a VA Loan Certificate of Eligibility?
Not every single person who wore a uniform qualifies for a VA Loan Certificate of Eligibility.
Service-members must have 181 days of service during peacetime, or 90 days of service during wartime, 6 years of service in the National Guard or Reserves or are the surviving spouse of a service member who has died in the line of duty or from a service-connected disability.
The service member must have received an honorable discharge, as well.
How to Get a VA Loan Certificate of Eligibility
#1. Ask Your Lender
Asking your mortgage lender to secure your Certificate of Eligibility from the VA is one of the quickest ways to ensure that you have your COE in a timely fashion.
VA Mortgage Loan Lenders have access to a program that can automatically determine your eligibility and generate the COE.
There are some occasions where the COE cannot be obtained because the program cannot verify the service member, but that instance is not an experienced lender’s first rodeo, and there are other ways to secure the document.
#2. Apply Online
The VA has a system called eBenefits, a centralized database that allows service personnel to verify their identity and apply for benefits directly from the website.
The Certificate of Eligibility can be obtained from this website and is one of the quicker ways to secure the COE.
#3. Print Out and Mail in the COE Form
Service members that prefer a paper trail can still print out and mail in the Certificate of Eligibility Form to the Department of Veterans Affairs for processing.
The COE Form is VA Form 26-1880, and it can be printed directly from the VA site and mailed to the address listed on the form.
This method will take longer as service members are at the mercy of the postal service, but the VA still offers the paper option for those more comfortable doing business that way.
What Documents Do I Need to Get a VA Loan COE?
The documentation required to receive a VA Loan COE varies based on the service-members status.
Service members still on active duty need to provide a statement of service signed by their commander or personnel officer.
Veterans and current or former activated National Guard/Reserve members must submit a copy of their DD Form 214.
National Guard/Reserve personnel that have never been activated need to provide a statement of service signed by their commander or personnel officer, as well.
Discharged National Guard members that were never activated should submit NGB Form 22 for each service period and NGB Form 23.
Discharged Reserve members that were activated must submit their most recent retirement points and statement and proof of honorable discharge.
What Information is On the VA Certificate of Eligibility?
The Certificate of Eligibility is a simple form, but the information on it tells your lender everything they need to know to get you into a VA Loan and whether or not to waive your VA Funding Fee.
The COE will have a VA reference number for the certificate, service member’s name, last four digits of their social security number, branch of service, and entitlement code.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Certificate of Eligibility?
The COE is not something you want to leave until the last minute, as it might put a major hitch in your giddy-up if you’re trying to buy a house in a timely fashion.
The amount of time it takes to receive a COE varies, but it can take up to 6 weeks to receive the document, especially if you are requesting the document by mail.
Mortgage Lender requests do tend to be the quickest way to receive the COE back from the VA, but even that can be delayed given your length of time in service and mitigating factors like understaffing on the VA end.
When Does a VA COE Expire?
VA COEs do not expire, but an updated COE can be needed in certain situations like leaving active duty or receiving an updated service-connected disability rating from the VA.
Can Spouses of a Veteran Get a Certificate of Eligibility?
Surviving spouses of service-members that died in the line of duty or due to a service-connect disability can receive a COE by providing proper documentation to the VA.
To apply, surviving spouses will need to submit the service member’s discharge documents and VA Form 26-1817 to the VA.
Bottom Line: VA Loan Certificate of Eligibility
Willy Wonka was not talking about a VA Loan Certificate of Eligibility when he said “golden ticket,” but any service personnel looking to secure a VA Loan for their mortgage needs likely thinks of it as one.
The COE is the sole document required for lenders to determine eligibility for a VA Loan and all the amazing perks that come with it.