By Barbara Marquand

If you’ve served in the military, a mortgage backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs may be your ticket to home ownership. VA loans don’t require a minimum down payment or mortgage insurance, and they often have lower interest rates than other mortgages.

“Using that VA loan is an opportunity to buy a chunk of America and build wealth,” says Levi Rodgers, a former Green Beret and owner/broker at Re/Max Military City in San Antonio.

But applying for and using a VA loan involves steps other mortgages don’t, and not all sellers or real estate agents are familiar with them. It’s important to be prepared and choose the right professionals to help you, especially in a competitive housing market.

Here are some tips that can smooth the process.

1. Get Your Certificate of Eligibility

Your VA certificate of eligibility is a document that shows you meet the military service or surviving spouse requirements to apply for a VA loan. You’ll need it for the loan to close, so it’s a good idea to get this done at the beginning, says Kevin Parker, a vice president at Navy Federal Credit Union.

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