Rick BissonSometimes viewed as the commencement of summer, it’s important we not lose sight of the true meaning of Memorial Day, a day for remembering the men and women who died serving in our country’s armed forces.

While we can never repay veterans and active-duty service members, a number of government resources exist to assist these individuals with their transition back into civilian life. Homeownership is no different.

There are a number of different programs available to our nation’s veterans and active-duty service members intended to assist them with the purchase and ownership of a home.

Veterans Affairs mortgages, more commonly known as VA loans, make it easier for veterans to get financing to purchase a home and are arguably the most powerful home loan on the market.

While VA home loans are backed by the federal government, they are issued by private lenders. Since the VA loan program’s inception in 1944, the Department of Veterans Affairs has backed more than 21 million loans for veterans, active-duty military members, and their spouses.

Typically, veterans and active-duty service members are eligible for a VA home loan if they served in the following capacity: 90 consecutive days on active duty during wartime, 181 consecutive days on active duty during peacetime, six or more years in the National Guard or Reserves.

Some spouses of military members who died in the line of duty or of a service-related disability may also be eligible for a VA loan.

VA loans offer many benefits, including no down payment requirement, no mortgage insurance, lower average interest rates, limits on closing costs, more lenient credit requirements, and more wiggle room when it comes to debt-to-income ratios. In addition, lenders are able to count Basic Allowance for Housing as effective income.

While VA loans are focused on getting buyers into homes they’ll live in full time, the program does make exceptions for some veterans and active-duty service members.

For example, a spouse or children may be able to fulfill the occupancy requirement on behalf of a VA buyer. Also, a VA buyer who is deployed or otherwise unable to manage the loan process can typically assign a power of attorney to a spouse or family member to manage the loan process and sign documents.

The programs available to veterans and active-duty service members don’t end with the purchase of a home. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act provides active-duty military personnel and their families financial protection involving interest rates, income tax payments, eviction, foreclosure, and more.

For example, military personnel can ask creditors — including their mortgage lender — to cap their interest rate at 6 percent during their term of service. The SCRA also forces lenders and servicers to seek a court order to foreclose on active-duty military members during their time of service and up to nine months afterward.

Veterans Affairs has a team of experts who work with lenders and servicers on behalf of struggling homeowners to find alternatives to foreclosure. Their efforts have helped nearly 500,000 veterans and service members avoid foreclosure in the past six years alone.

The State of Maine also offers a reduction of the taxable value of real property for those veterans and active-duty service members who own homes in Maine. Active duty military personnel who are permanently stationed in Maine and own a residence here are eligible for the Homestead Exemption. This exemption provides a reduction of up to $15,000 in the taxable value of real property.

Eligible military personnel must present a letter from their military commander stating that they are stationed in Maine, in addition to completing the application. Members of the National Guard and Army Reserves are not eligible, unless they are Maine residents anyway.

There is also a Veteran’s Exemption, which is a reduction of up to $6,000 in the taxable value of real property. An individual is only eligible if they served during a recognized war period and is 62 years or older; or, is receiving 100 percent disability as a veteran; or, became 100 percent disabled while serving.

To apply for the Veteran’s Exemption, the applicant must fill out a form and provide proof of service and discharge, such as a copy of their DD214 form. For veterans who served during World War II or later, the exemption is up to $6,000 of the assessed value.

For veterans serving prior, the exemption reduces the total assessed value by up to $7,000. Paraplegic veterans may receive an exemption off the assessed value of up to $50,000 for a specially adapted home or housing unit.

There’s no question that VA loans and the other resources available to veterans and active-duty service members are powerful tools. If you, or someone you know, is a veteran or active-duty service member and is hoping to purchase a home, be sure to contact your trusted, expert Realtor and local lender — they will advise you on the best course of action based on your individual circumstances.

This column is produced by Rick Bisson and his family, who own Bisson Real Estate with Keller Williams Realty of Midcoast and Sugarloaf.

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