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military_veteran(MCT)—As banks tighten lending standards, demand has increased tremendously in recent years for Veterans Affairs mortgages, known as VA loans.

The VA loan remains one of the few mortgage options for borrowers who don’t have down payments. Available to more than 22 million veterans and active military members, VA loans are somewhat easier to qualify for than conventional mortgages.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is not a direct lender. The loan is made through a private lender and partially guaranteed by the VA, as long as guidelines are met.

The VA has guaranteed nearly 500,000 loans this year, says John Bell, assistant director of loan policy at the VA. That’s 30 percent more than the number of VA loans issued last year and nearly three times the number of VA loans issued in 2008.

If you think you may be eligible for a VA loan, here are some must-knows about the program.

ELIGIBILITY: Most members of the military, veterans, reservists and National Guard members are eligible to apply for a VA loan. Spouses of military members who died while on active duty or as a result of a service-connected disability may also apply.

Active-duty members generally qualify after about six months of service. Reservists and members of the National Guard must wait six years to apply, but if they are called to active duty before that, they gain eligibility after 181 days of service.

“Most reservists are qualifying under active duty,” says Michael Frueh, loan guaranty director for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Reservists, members of the National Guard and active-duty members generally are eligible after 90 days of service during war periods.

“If you were on any type of foreign soil, more than likely you are eligible,” says Grant Moon, a veteran and president of VA Loan Captain Inc., a loan referral company.

Potential borrowers must obtain a certificate of eligibility before applying for a loan. The form can be submitted online.

ADVANTAGES OF A VA LOAN: The days of no-down-payment mortgages are long gone, but not for veterans. Loans guaranteed by the VA can be obtained without any down payment.

“That’s a huge plus,” Frueh says.

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