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VA Loans in Hillsborough County, Florida: Take Advantage of the Zero Down Payment

Raising a down payment for the house of your dreams may feel like a tough hurdle when you have little savings and a low income. And if you are a veteran, service member, or surviving spouse of a military member, finding a mortgage lender that can understand your situation can be tricky. That’s why the US Department of Veterans Affairs rolled out a home loan with no down payment.

The VA home loan can be your ticket to owning a home if you are eligible. They come with government backing, enabling mortgage lenders to offer low-interest loans. You won’t be required to pay mortgage insurance despite not having to make a down payment.

VA loans target veterans, military members, and their surviving spouses across the country, the state of Florida included. Let’s take an in-depth look at how these mortgages work and what it takes to start the VA loan process in Hillsborough County, Florida.

What is a VA Loan

Since its debut in the mortgage market in 1944, the VA home loan has been helping active-duty service members, veterans, and their families buy or refinance homes. It comes with a zero-down payment requirement that can help you save money. You can also get a loan from a bank or mortgage company accredited by the VA.

The VA home loan program has disbursed more than 25 million mortgages nationwide. The loan can offer you a lifeline if you face down payment and credit score requirements from conventional mortgage lenders.

While they may be specialized, VA loans are less cumbersome or complex than home loans. You can quickly start your homeownership journey and get the most out of what they offer.

Different Types of VA Homes Loans

You may consider taking a VA home loan for its multiple power options for home financing. Depending on your situation, different types of VA mortgages are available to you. Here are the four main types that you should know:

VA Purchase Loan

A VA purchase loan can be handy when you want to buy a new or existing residential property but can’t raise a down payment. As a veteran, active-duty service member, or surviving spouse, the mortgage can help you finance the purchase of different kinds of properties.

The properties include manufactured homes, condos, multi-unit properties (duplexes included), and single-family homes. However, the properties must meet specific guidelines and policies that vary with the lender.

VA Energy Efficient Mortgage

Turn to a VA energy-efficient mortgage if you want to finance energy efficiency improvements on a home purchased or refinanced with a VA loan. You can use it to purchase permanent additions such as heat pumps, solar heating/cooling systems, and thermal/storm windows. The amount limit for this mortgage is $6,000.


The VA home loan program offers two refinance solutions to eligible homebuyers. You may consider the VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (abbreviated as IRRL) for its simplicity and low cost. The IRRRL doesn’t require an appraisal, credit underwriting, or income verification and gives you a lower rate on the new loan.

VA Cash-Out Refinance

A VA cash-out will be ideal if you want to refinance a home loan and use part of your home’s equity, provided you have an existing VA loan. The refinance offers you up to 90 percent of the property’s value as financing.

Are You Eligible for a VA Mortgage?

You must satisfy the VA’s eligibility requirements before being considered for a VA home loan. The basic requirements include meeting the lender’s income and credit requirements and having an up-to-date Certificate of Eligibility. As for your military service or relationship with the military member, the VA requires you to meet the following conditions:

  • Actively served for at least 90 days in wartime

  • Served for a maximum of 181 days actively during peacetime

  • Have at least 6 years of military service in the Reserves or the National Guard

  • Be the spouse of a military service member who perished while serving or due to a service-related injury/disability

The service branches considered under the VA home loan program include the Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Airforce, and Coast Guard. Your VA loan eligibility will be based on your discharge type if you are a veteran. Lenders may consider you for the loan if your discharge meets the following conditions:

  • Discharge for hardship, a reduction in the forces, or government convenience

  • Service-related disability or medical condition discharge

  • Discharge of an early-out (provided you served more than 21 months of your 2-year enlistment)

Getting Your COE

Your VA lender will require you to produce a COE to confirm that you meet VA’s eligibility requirements. The lender can use your date of birth and social security number to pull your Certificate of Eligibility. You may also get the document via VA’s eBenefits portal or by mail by filling out VA Form 26-1880.

Eligibility Verification for Surviving Spouses

As a surviving spouse of a former military member, you need a valid COE for eligibility verification. You can get a COE depending on your Dependency and Indemnity Compensation status.

Filling out VA Form 21P-534EZ and submitting it to Florida’s VA Pension Management Center will be convenient if you aren’t a beneficiary of this compensation. Filling out VA Form 26-1817 would help you get the document if you receive Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits. You must also obtain a valid copy of separation paperwork like DD Form 214.

How to Apply for a VA Loan in Hillsborough County, Florida

The VA loan process is less rigid, unlike others in convention home loan programs. You are not even mandated to know your loan eligibility status before starting the application. Once you get to the loan pre-approval step, it’ll be clear whether you are eligible for the loan.

Your situation may also determine how long it takes to close the home. It takes between 30 and 45 days on average to complete the loan process. You aren’t obligated to stick with a particular lender throughout the home buying process.

Start by contacting a lender to guide you through the loan application. You will then have to verify eligibility by getting a COE on your own or through the mortgage lender. The last step is to finalize the application and submit relevant paperwork such as tax returns, W-2s, and other supporting financial documents.

Do VA Loans Have Loan Limits?

With your VA loan entitlement, you have the freedom of borrowing any amount that the lender is willing to give you without putting money down. The lender will only subject you to a loan limit if you have depleted your full entitlement. In this case, having several VA loans or losing a previous VA loan to foreclosure may reduce your entitlement.

VA loan entitlement is the measure of the amount of loan the VA can guarantee at a given time. In other words, it’s the total amount of money that the VA will pay your mortgage lender in loan default. With a full entitlement, expect the VA to guarantee up to 25 percent of the mortgage amount and 25 percent of the conforming loan limit in Hillsborough County for a reduced entitlement.

Can You Use a VA Home Loan More than Once?

As a qualifying active-duty service member, veteran, or surviving spouse, there’s no limit to the number of times for using your VA loan benefit. However, you have to meet the lender’s qualifying requirements and VA’s conditions for the same.

It’s possible to have multiple VA loans depending on your situation. When using them to finance a primary residency, meet the occupancy requirements for using the loan.

The VA Funding Fee Explained

The US Department of Veteran Affairs charges a VA Funding Fee on all VA loans to ensure that the program continues to help future generations of military and veteran home buyers. Thanks to this fee, veterans, and taxpayers are offloaded additional financial burdens as VA looks for ways to back the loans.

Expect to pay a VA Funding Fee based on your circumstances. A fee of 2.3 percent of your home’s purchase price is charged if it’s your first time enrolling in the program. Taking a subsequent loan will entitle you to a 3.6 percent funding fee, while an IRRRL will attract a 0.5 percent funding fee.

You can choose to transfer the fee into your overall mortgage amount. The VA may also exempt you from paying the funding fee if you are a veteran getting compensation for a service-related injury/disability. You may also be exempt from this VA requirement if you are an eligible surviving spouse.

Soldier with his family sitting on sofa at new home

The Overall Benefits of a VA Loan

Compared to other home loan types, VA loans stand out due to various reasons. Homebuying is convenient and stress-free for veterans, active-duty service members, and surviving spouses. Here’s a deeper look into the perks of a VA loan:

Competitive Interest Rates

If you want to save money in your homeownership journey with a low-interest rate mortgage, consider taking a VA loan. You get to enjoy the lowest fixed rate on a 30-year loan. The interest rates are also relatively 0.5 to 1 percent lower than the rates on conventional loans.

No Down Payment Needed

Are you a veteran, active-duty military member, or surviving spouse looking to purchase a home without a down payment? With a VA mortgage, you won’t have to save for a down payment for several years. The loan allows you to use the spare cash to cater to emergencies and necessary expenses.

Relaxed Credit Requirements

The VA allows mortgage lenders to set or enforce credit score minimums depending on their VA loan products. Lenders rely on credit score benchmarks when assessing your risk of default.

VA loans don’t require perfect credit to secure low-interest-rate home financing. They also have room for debt forgiveness if you bounce back from a short sale, foreclosure, or bankruptcy.

No Mortgage Insurance

FHA and conventional home loan programs require mortgage insurance to protect the lender from defaults. They usually demand at least a 20 percent down payment.

The good thing with a VA loan is that you won’t have to pay mortgage insurance. In the long run, you get to save thousands of insurance costs over your loan duration.

No Prepayment Penalties

Prepayment penalties are usually frustrating to borrowers looking for mortgages with flexible terms. While lenders may use them to recoup missed interest payments, they scare away low-income borrowers. The VA loan doesn’t attract any prepayment penalties, allowing you to make future home purchases and refinances with the loan.

Lifetime Benefit

VA loans stand out from other loan types since they allow you to take them repeatedly. The catch is that lenders don’t require you to repay the loan to start using your benefit again.

Things to do in Hillsborough County, Florida as a Veteran

Situated at the heart of Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County ranks as the fourth largest county in the Sunshine State, with over 1.3 million residents and thousands more flocking each year. It boasts an unmatched quality of life, diverse culture, thriving economy, and rich history. Since the county offers unique experiences for visitors and residents to enjoy, here are five of the best outdoor activities to enjoy during your stay:


Hillsborough County, Florida, is home to three Florida state parks that are ideal hiking spots. These parks offer plenty of opportunities to unwind and enjoy nature’s tranquility. They spread across 1 to 3 miles and feature plenty of wildlife, birds, and unique terrain challenges.

Your hiking trail options in this county include Old Agrico Hiking Trail situated at Alafia River State Park and Wetland Trail located in Hillsborough River State Park. These sites allow you to explore trails through Flatwoods, forests, and several water bodies.

Camp Beneath the Stars

With plenty of full-amenity campgrounds, Hillsborough County is a great camping hub. Spring and fall are also the most convenient times to enjoy these campsites.

The Edward Medard Conservation Park and E.G Simmons Conservation Park are among the parks offering a wide range of camping amenities. You may also explore Lake Rogers Park and Upper Tampa Bay conservation parks for primitive camping (no amenities included).

Enjoy a Bird’s-Eye View of Tampa Bay

The 37-foot-tall observation tower at Apollo Beach will afford you picturesque views of Tampa Bay. Atop the tower, you can glimpse the downtowns of ST. Petersburg, Tampa, channel markers, passing pleasure boats, and ships and islands. As an ADA-compliant structure, the wooden observation tower makes it possible for everyone, people with disabilities included, to enjoy the aerial views.

The observation tower lies near the Apollo Beach Nature Preserve, home to various aquatic species. Seven of the 63 acres of the nature preserve are meant for nature-based recreational activities such as fishing, hiking, and birdwatching. There’s also a 2-acre sandy beach for sunbathing and picnicking that you can explore.

Ride Through Hillsborough County Bicycle Trail

The Hillsborough County Bike Trail offers several routes for biking enthusiasts of all skills, interests, and ages. It is a convenient place to exercise, unleash your adventurous side, observe nature or spend quality time with your family.

With family-friendly parks nearby featuring plentiful restrooms, picnic shelters, and playgrounds, the trails are perfect for families. They can also match your exercise enthusiasm thanks to the paved routes that offer smooth, uninterrupted rides. Be sure to check the trails out to experience the surrounding wildlife and get thrills on off-road paths.

Immerse Yourself in Art

If whimsical, enlightening, or inspiring street art and murals are your thing, Hillsborough County has colorful, spectacular creations just about everywhere. These artworks honor influential people and tell different stories.

To be specific, fire Trucks from Around the World is a mural known for its colorful splashes. Faces of West Tampa pays homage to well-known places and people, while I Feel Safe is an ode to self-reflection.

Final Thoughts

VA loans simplify the homebuying process for active-duty service members, veterans, and their surviving spouses. They also offer unique benefits such as a zero down payment requirement, lifetime benefit, and no mortgage insurance that other mortgage types don’t. Good luck navigating the VA home loan process as you inch towards your homeownership dream.

With over 50 years of mortgage industry experience, we are here to help you achieve the American dream of owning a home. We strive to provide the best education before, during, and after you buy a home. Our advice is based on experience with Phil Ganz and Team closing over One billion dollars and helping countless families.

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