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Preapproval on a VA home loan sends a message to real estate agents and sellers that you’re ready to become a military homeowner. Although there is no guarantee of loan approval, VA loan preapproval is a useful tool. The preapproval process gives lenders—and borrowers alike—a more accurate financial picture than the prequalification process.
By the end of the preapproval process, would-be buyers have a solid idea of their buying power. It helps to know what to expect during the preapproval process, so here are things for potential VA loan borrowers to consider.
For preapproval to happen lenders need an array of documents to verify a borrower’s financial information. Such documents can include, but are not limited to:
VA lenders often make use of an Automated Underwriting System (AUS), which is a computer program that evaluates a borrower’s preapproval status by computing a host of variables. In some cases, buyers won’t be able to obtain an AUS approval, which means lenders may have to manually underwrite the loan. Regardless of the type, preapproval can depend on several factors.
Lenders do not set a standard industry-wide, but for the most part, VA loan lenders expect a FICO credit score of at least 640. A lower score does not mean you cannot earn preapproval or a VA loan. Nevertheless, work toward eliminating debt and bolstering your score.
Again, there is no standard for employment or income. The ideal borrower has two years of stable, full-time employment. That history gives borrowers legitimacy that they can pay back a loan.
But lenders exercise flexibility because they know not everybody can accrue two straight years of steady income. Lenders want to know if employment is reliable, likely to continue and producing sufficient income to take on a new mortgage payment.
Self-employment and part-time employment require more vetting than full-time employment. Overall, VA lenders are looking for employment histories with minimal job gaps and consistent earnings. Talk with a lender about your specific employment situation.
For preapproval for a VA loan, borrowers need to provide evidence of income. As mentioned, employment history is required, but so is proving future income. Part-time, full-time, self-employed or military income are commonly accepted types of income.
Other forms of income may be deemed reliable and useable for mortgage preapproval, including disability pay, Basic Allowance for Housing, annuities, Social Security and more. Borrowers can attach a co-borrower to the VA loan, which can increase the available income and thus loan amount. Co-borrowing comes with risk of taking on another person’s financial and credit history.
No lender anticipates getting applications from debt-free borrowers. Having some kinds of debt in small doses is OK, especially the way lenders measure it. Housing expenses, car loans, student loans, child care, alimony and other recurring expenses are debt.
Holding accounts in collections, judgments, liens or any derogatory credit can hurt a borrower’s preapproval chances. However, derogatory credit isn’t necessarily immediate cause for preapproval or VA loan rejection.
Once lenders know your income and debt, they calculate your debt-to-income ratio (DTI ratio). VA lenders look at back-end DTI ratios, meaning they measure a borrower’s major monthly expenses against his or her gross monthly income. The VA prefers to have borrowers in the program who have DTI ratios of 41 percent or lower. But lenders will often allow for higher ratios if other factors are OK.
60 to 90 days is the general timeline for how long your VA preapproval letter accurately represents your purchase power. Any large purchases, changes in your income, and shifts in your credit score can trigger a need for a newly issued preapproval letter.
Preapproval is not binding and does not ensure VA loan approval. But preapproval is a solid step toward achieving your dream of homeownership. Talk with a VA lender today about starting the loan preapproval process.
Take the guesswork out of finding a VA Loan provider. Veterans United Home Loans created this site to educate and empower military homebuyers. Regardless of what lender you pick, it's always a good idea to compare and know your options.