6 Things Surviving Spouses Should Know About a VA Mortgage

Past and present military personnel have access to services that include Veterans Administration (VA)-guaranteed mortgage loans. If the veteran passes away, does his or her spouse has access to the same VA mortgage benefits? That depends, and it makes a difference. VA mortgages often come with better terms than conventional mortgages. (For more, see The Unique Advantages of VA Mortgages.)

Here's what veterans and their families need to know.

VA Mortgage Loans Are Still Private 

Don’t be fooled; the VA isn’t in the business of offering mortgage loans. Private mortgage lenders still make the loan, but the VA guarantees a portion of it and occasionally takes part in the process of obtaining it. Such actions allow the mortgage lender to be more confident that the loan won’t default, and if it does, at least the VA’s portion will be paid.

This means that even if the applicant falls below the standards the lender uses to approve the loan, the VA guarantee might be enough to gain approval. If you’re looking for a VA loan, don’t call the VA; work with your bank, credit union or mortgage broker.

They Come with Lots of Perks

VA loans come with benefits that often make them a better deal than conventional loans.

  • There is no down payment, providing that the sales price doesn’t exceed the home’s appraised value.
  • You don’t need private mortgage insurance, and with the annual cost of that at 0.5% to 1% of the entire loan, that’s a large savings.
  • You can only be charged a certain amount of closing costs.
  • There is no penalty for paying the loan off early.
  • The VA might help you if you have trouble making payments. 
  • The loan is assumable by anybody who meets the qualifications for the loan.

Many Surviving Spouses Are Eligible

Not all surviving spouses are eligible. If any of these conditions apply to you, though, you probably are:

  • Spouses of military personal who died in active duty or from a service-connected disability who have not remarried
  • A surviving spouse who remarries after age 57 and on or after Dec. 16, 2003
  • A surviving spouse of some permanently disabled veterans whose injuries were or were not a result of their military service
  • The spouse of a person who is missing in action or a prisoner of war 

Applying for a VA Loan Is Easy

First, find a lender that offers VA mortgages. Many do. As with any mortgage, you will have to meet eligibility requirements, including income, credit and other standards set by the creditor.

Second, the home must be the principal residence of the eligible surviving spouse. It cannot be an investment property, second home or a home being purchased for somebody else. 

You’ll also need a certificate of eligibility (COE). This proves to the lender that the deceased veteran was eligible and allows the surviving spouse to receive those same benefits. To learn how to apply for a COE, click here. Often, you can also apply for one through your lender. The company will guide you through the process. For more information on eligibility, go to the VA’s website.

You Can Refinance, Too

Along with a loan to purchase a home, surviving spouses may be eligible for refinance an existing VA loan. The interest rate reduction refinance loan allows the surviving spouse to refinance an existing loan and roll into it all loan origination costs, so he or she doesn’t have to use existing cash to lower payments.

Dependents Aren’t Eligible

Unfortunately, VA mortgage benefits don’t extend to children of a deceased veteran. Only surviving spouses are eligible to apply. 

The Bottom Line

Surviving spouses are often eligible for the same VA mortgage benefits as the deceased veteran. To learn if you are, contact the VA for further guidance. (For more, see How to Buy a House with a VA Loan.)