The American military does so much for our country. As such, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs offers them a host of benefits.
Among these, the main ones are favorable conditions for home ownership thanks to the VA loan program. Whether someone is active duty or a veteran, learning how to get the most out of a VA loan can help US service members get the most out of a home buying experience.
John L. Scott Realtors AJ and Cherisa Hoekema know a lot about AV loans, because they have used them several times. The couple met in the Navy in 2008 and will celebrate their 13th birthdayand wedding anniversary in August 2022.
AJ, born and raised in Whatcom County, graduated from Lynden Christian High School in 2003. After nine years of active duty in the Navy, AJ joined the National Guard and continues to serve. He has had postings in Greece, Cuba, South Korea and several US locations. Cherisa, originally from Utah, spent four years in the Navy.
The couple first took out a VA loan when securing a property in Utah in 2012, buying their home with no down payment. Fresh off active duty, it was a good thing for the couple, who had little money to put aside.
In 2015, the couple moved to North Carolina for AJ’s next military posting. The value of the Utah home had appreciated when they sold it, allowing them to walk away with a profit.
Returning to Whatcom County in 2017, the couple used a VA loan again, this time as disabled veterans who had been honorably discharged. As a result, they were able to waive the cost of financing the loan — the equivalent of private mortgage insurance ± — and save several thousand dollars.
“When you apply for disability, any amount over 10% qualifies you as a disabled veteran for the VA loan, which means there are no finance charges,” says Cherisa.
The couple used the VA loan again more recently, leaving their Lynden home to buy a million-dollar Ferndale quadruplex – again with no money down. Using the fourplex as both an investment property and a primary residence (the latter is required for a year to qualify for the loan), the Hoekemas conventionally refinanced their old home as a rental property.
After a year in the fourplex, AJ, Cherisa and their children moved back to their old home and continue to use the fourplex as an income-generating property that fully covers their mortgage.
Give a hand
The Hoekemas know firsthand the difficulties associated with leaving active duty, returning to civilian life, and determining the benefits they have earned. That’s why they’re happy to offer advice to other service members.
When it comes to getting a disability rating, VFW sites and several other nonprofits associated with veterans can help start the process. Starting a disability assessment request online, AJ says, is pretty straightforward if you have hard copies of all the necessary medical documents.
However, just mentally accepting that you should have a disability is something that many veterans struggle with.
“If you were in a regular job and got injured, you would have L&I,” says Cherisa. “Some veterans don’t necessarily think that way. A lot of veterans have this sense of justice that says, “Somebody else needs it more than me.” Why would I be entitled to this? Well, you qualified because the military and the government deemed you eligible. So you should apply for it.
When it comes to VA loans, the Hoekemas recommend keeping up to date with the latest rules.
“It’s kind of one of those ever-changing government loans,” says Cherisa. “If you don’t keep going, you’re going to miss things.”
A recent change was the removal of a loan cap on single-family and multi-family dwellings, which previously limited VA members to homes costing certain amounts. It’s also important to remember that VA loans must be used for primary residences that must be occupied within six months of purchase.
In general, doing your research is key, especially if your lender isn’t as familiar with VA loans — and the associated benefits — as they might be.
“Know what you qualify for,” says Cherisa. “Know your benefits. The VA loan is one of the best things the military offers you. You have to defend yourself, because not everyone knows all the things you are entitled to.
Being fully able to take advantage of the benefits you’ve earned while serving your country can put you on a solid financial footing, paving the way for success after your military career ends.
“There are many options with the VA to exploit when thinking about longevity and investment,” says AJ.
From helping with a disability claim to finding savvy VA lenders, the Hoekemas are happy to point you in the right direction.
“It’s not that strenuous and it’s not that scary,” Cherisa says of the process. “Call us, we’d love to help you.”