VA Certificate of Eligibility requirements: What to know

Getting a Certificate of Eligibility is your first step toward qualifying for a VA home loan. (iStock)

One of the benefits of a career in the U.S. military is the ability to get a mortgage guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. These loans allow you to buy a home at a competitive interest rate with no down payment and low closing costs. The program rewards the men and women in uniform for their service to the country.

To qualify for a VA home loan, you’ll need to prove that you’re eligible for one by showing your lender a Certificate of Eligibility, or COE. This document comes from the VA, and you’ll need to apply for it as you get started in the homebuying process.

When you’re ready to find a lender, use Credible to compare mortgage rates quickly and easily.

Why is having a Certificate of Eligibility important?

A Certificate of Eligibility is the only way a lender will be able to verify that you qualify for a VA home loan benefit and process your mortgage. Without it, you won’t be able to use the benefit.

Your Certificate of Eligibility will include your name, branch of service and an "entitlement code." This code lets your lender know how you’re eligible for the loan. For example, an entitlement code of "01" refers to service in World War II, while "09" refers to post-Vietnam War service.

The Certificate of Eligibility will also tell your lender if you must pay a funding fee when taking out a VA loan. The funding fee is a one-time payment you’ll make to get your loan, and it can either be financed into the mortgage or paid at closing. The fee amount differs based on guidelines set by the VA. You won’t have to pay the funding fee if you receive compensation for a service-related disability, earned a Purple Heart or are the surviving spouse of a service member who died in service, among other reasons.

General requirements to obtain a COE

The eligibility requirements for a Certificate of Eligibility vary based on your type of military service and when that service was completed. In general, you’ll need to meet one of the following criteria:

  • 90 consecutive days of active-duty service during wartime
  • Two years on active-duty during peacetime, or at least 181 consecutive days of active-duty service if your service was complete before two years
  • Six years of service in the Selected Reserve or National Guard
  • The surviving spouse of a veteran who died while in service or from a service-related disability

What you’ll need to prove eligibility 

To get your Certificate of Eligibility, you’ll likely need some documentation to show the government. The specific type of documentation will vary based on your service history. It’s best to gather all the documents you’ll need beforehand to make sure the process goes smoothly. Here’s what you’ll need.

Service members

If you’re an active-duty service member, you’ll need a "statement of service" signed by your commander, adjutant or personnel officer. This statement needs to list the following:

  • Your name
  • Your date of birth
  • Your Social Security number
  • The date you entered service
  • Details of any lost time
  • The name of the command providing the information

If you’re an active member of the National Guard or Reserves, your statement of service also needs to list your number of years of creditable service.

Veterans

If you’re a veteran or a current or former National Guard or Reserve member who was activated for active-duty service, you’ll need a copy of your separation or discharge papers.

Former National Guard or Reserve members

Because the different branches of service have different forms and documents, the specific ones you’ll need may vary. But in general, if you were a member of the National Guard but were never activated, you’ll need:

  • Your Report of Separation and Record of Service form for each period of service
  • Your Retirement Points Statement and proof of the character of service

If you were in the Reserves and never activated, you’ll need:

  • A copy of your latest retirement points
  • Proof of honorable service

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COE Application requirements for veterans

In addition to providing the proper documentation, you’ll need to ensure your service meets the COE requirements.

Active-duty requirements

Your required active-duty service to be eligible for a Certificate of Eligibility is based on when you served. 

If you served during World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War, you must have served 90 total days or have been discharged for a service-related disability.

If you served in between those wars before 1980, the requirement is at least 181 days of continuous service. After 1980, you generally must have served 24 consecutive months or the full period you were called to active duty.

Discharge requirements

Your separation from service must also meet certain requirements. You must have been discharged for a reason other than dishonorable discharge to be eligible. You can also be eligible for a Certificate of Eligibility if you don’t meet the active-duty service requirements but were discharged for one of the following reasons:

  • Hardship
  • Convenience of the government
  • Early out
  • Reduction in force
  • Certain medical conditions
  • Service-related disability

VA COE application requirements for certain National Guard or Reserve members 

The requirements for current or former National Guard or Reserve members are slightly different. 

Guard/Reserve requirements (not called for federal service)

To qualify for a VA Certificate of Eligibility, you must have at least six years of service. You must also meet one of the following requirements:

  • Honorable discharge
  • Placed on the retired list
  • Transferred to Standby Reserve
  • Continue to serve in the Selected Reserve

Guard/Reserve requirements (called for federal service) 

If you were called to active duty, you must have 90 days of service.

Surviving spouse application requirements

Surviving spouses can be eligible for a Certificate of Eligibility. The documents you’ll need to provide differ depending on whether or not you receive Dependency & Indemnity Compensation, or DIC.

Surviving spouses who receive DIC

If you’re the surviving spouse of a veteran who went missing in action, is a prisoner of war, died in service or became totally disabled in service before their death, you may qualify for a Certificate of Eligibility. 

If you’re currently receiving Dependency & Indemnity Compensation, you’ll need:

  • A copy of the veteran’s separation papers
  • A completed Request for Determination of Loan Guaranty Eligibility – Unmarried Surviving Spouses VA form

This paperwork will go to the VA lender you’re using or to a VA Regional Loan Center.

Surviving spouses who don’t currently receive DIC

If you don’t currently receive Dependency & Indemnity Compensation, you’ll need to fill out an application for those benefits. You’ll also need:

  • The veteran’s separation paperwork
  • A copy of your marriage license
  • The veteran’s death certificate

How to submit an application for a COE

You can apply for a Certificate of Eligibility in a number of ways. 

Through your approved VA lender

If you’ve already found a VA lender you want to work with, that lender can manage your COE application. Most lenders will have access to the Department of Veterans Affairs online system and can check your eligibility within a few seconds. 

Through the VA eBenefits portal

If you want to get your COE before shopping for a lender, you can apply for the certificate online. You’ll need to log in to the VA’s eBenefits portal and fill out the form available there.

By mail

If you’d rather not apply online, you can fill out a paper version of the Request for a Certificate of Eligibility and mail it in to your Regional Loan Center. You can find the address on the form.

Certificate of Eligibility FAQs

What if I don’t meet the minimum requirements for a COE?

Without a COE, you won’t be able to take out a VA loan. If you believe your Certificate of Eligibility was denied in error, you’re able to appeal the decision. You can choose to file additional information that bolsters your case or appeal to a higher office or to a board that may make a different decision.

What if my discharge status doesn’t meet the eligibility requirements?

A bad conduct or dishonorable discharge may make you ineligible for a Certificate of Eligibility. But you may be able to apply for a discharge upgrade or go through the Character of Discharge review process. Each branch of the military has a discharge review board that can upgrade your status to make you eligible for VA benefits.

How long does it take to receive a COE?

If you apply online or through your lender, you can get a Certificate of Eligibility within a few seconds. However, not every application can be processed online. If you apply by mail or need assistance from a Regional Loan Center, the process may take four to six weeks.

When does a COE expire?

Your Certificate of Eligibility won’t expire. But if you applied for a COE while on active duty and left active service before using it, you’ll need to apply for a new one.

What do I do once I have my COE?

Once you have your Certificate of Eligibility, your home buying process will look much like anybody else’s. If you haven’t done so already, you’ll need to find a lender who issues VA loans. Your lender can guide you through the process of applying for a loan, finding a real estate agent and closing on your new home.

When you’re ready to find a lender, check out Credible to compare mortgage rates from different lenders.

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