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How Much Can I Borrow With a VA Loan?

Determining how much you can borrow may be more complex than you realize. Factors including DTI, residual income, and the property’s appraised value all play into this.

Once service members start thinking about a home purchase, a common question arises: How much can I borrow with a VA Loan?

It’s a simple question. The answer? A bit more complex. Here’s a look at five factors that will determine how much VA loan you can get:

Factor #1: The VA Guaranty

The VA stands behind every loan it makes.

The VA guaranty is the amount of each VA loan that is backed by the federal government. If the borrower defaults on the loan, that guaranteed amount is paid back to the VA lender by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Lenders are usually promised 25 percent backing on each VA loan.

Veterans with their full VA loan entitlement can borrow as much as a lender is willing to lend without the need for a down payment. In those cases, the VA pledges to repay a quarter of whatever the veteran can get.

Factor #2: Do You Have Your Full Entitlement?

Veterans without their full VA loan entitlement may need to come up with a down payment for what's otherwise a zero-down mortgage program. The VA's loan limits come into play for veterans with diminished entitlement, either because of a previous default or one or more active VA loans.

Those limits don't cap how much you can borrow. But a down payment could come into the picture depending on your specific purchasing situation.

The loan limits can change every year, and they're higher in more expensive parts of the country.

Factor #3: What is Your Debt-to-Income Ratio?

Current income and debts can drastically impact the amount service members can borrow. A yardstick known as the debt-to-income (DTI) ratio helps lenders decide how much additional debt a veteran can handle.

Lenders start calculating the DTI ratio by tabulating monthly debts. Only “significant” items (such as the prospective mortgage payment, car loan payment, student loan payment and child support) will figure into that equation. The monthly debt total is then divided by total monthly income to result in a final DTI ratio.

DTI guidelines can vary by lender. Generally, the lower the better, but you could have a high DTI and still be able to obtain a VA loan.

Example: Debt-to-Income Ratio Calculation

Mortgage Payment $1,000
Auto loan $200
Student loan $100
Child support $100
Total monthly debt $1,400
Total monthly income $3,500
Debt-to-income ratio ($1,400 divided by $3,500 40%

Factor #4: Do You Have Adequate Residual Income?

Residual income also affects the amount a service member can borrow with a VA loan. Monthly residual income is the net income available (after deduction of a mortgage payment and other significant monthly debts) to cover typical living expenses such as food, health care, clothing and gasoline.

The VA employs specific residual income requirements based on region and family size. A Massachusetts family of five, for example, needs to have at least $1,062 left over each month after mortgage and other debt payments in order to meet VA guidelines.

VA Table of Recommended Residual Monthly Income by Region (for loan amounts of $80,000 and above)

Family Size Northeast Midwest South West
1 $450 $441 $441 $491
2 $755 $738 $738 $823
3 $909 $889 $889 $990
4 $1,025 $1,003 $1,003 $1,117
5 $1,062 $1,009 $1,009 $1,158

Family size over 5: Add $80 for each additional member up to a family of seven.

Service members who fall short of residual income standards can often shift to a smaller loan amount for a good shot at VA loan approval.

Factor #5: What is the Property’s Appraised Value?

VA loans can’t be issued for more than a home’s appraisal value. Should the appraisal value fall short of the purchase price, buyers have a few options to consider:

  • Complete the Tidewater appraisal process
  • Ask the seller to lower the purchase price
  • Attempt to increase the size of the loan
  • Make up the difference in cash
  • Walk away from the purchase

Conclusion: Get Preapproved!

With so many factors pouring into the equation, there’s only one effective method for estimating a service member’s buying potential: preapproval.

Through preapproval, a VA lender will assess each of the factors mentioned above (with the exception of the appraisal value). This detailed evaluation helps service members determine a workable price range, and can be extremely helpful on the house hunt.

Veterans and active-duty service members can start the preapproval process by calling a Veterans United VA loan specialist at 855-870-8845.

If you'd like additional information on the VA mortgage process check out this helpful guide.

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