From credit scores to appraisal reports, much of the loan process hinges on the applicant or the property meeting certain benchmarks.

But before you start pricing houses, be sure you’ve met one eligibility requirement that your real-estate agent or banker can’t fix: The time in service needed to access the benefits of the VA loan program.

Here are the basics, and some exemptions, from VA’s official Lenders Handbook and its eligibility website.

Wartime service, Part I: Service members whose time in uniform falls in these date ranges, must have 90 days of active-duty service to qualify:

  • Sept. 16, 1940-July 25, 1947.
  • June 27, 1950-Jan. 31, 1955.
  • Aug. 5, 1964-May 7, 1975 (Note: For those who served in the Republic of Vietnam, this era begins Feb. 28, 1961, per the lenders handbook).

Wartime service, Part II: For loan purposes, VA considers “Gulf War” service beginning Aug. 2, 1990, and continuing through present day. Service members must have completed 24 months of continuous active-duty service to be eligible, or at least 90 days and have a) completed the full term of service, or b) been discharged for hardship cases, reduction-in-force, “convenience of the Government” or other similar reasons.

Peacetime service: If your time in uniform doesn’t apply to the date ranges above, you’ve got another date to worry about. If you were enlisted and separated on or before Sept. 7, 1980, or if you were an officer and separated on or before Oct. 16, 1981, you need 181 continuous active-duty days to qualify.

If your service came after that, you need 24 months of time in, or at least 181 days and a) a complete term of service or b) a discharge for reasons similar to the section above.

Current service: Troops on active duty become eligible after 90 days of continuous service. That eligibility goes away after separation and must be re-established.

Reserve-component service: Reserve and National Guard members become eligible after six creditable years in service.

Service-connected disability: If you’re discharged for this reason, you become eligible regardless of service length.

Spouses: Eligibility may be granted under these conditions:

  • Spouse of a deceased veteran, if the veteran died while in service or from a service-connected disability and if the spouse did not remarry.
  • Spouse of a prisoner of war, or a service member listed as missing in action.
  • Surviving spouse receiving Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits.

Fine print: Congress has extended eligibility for the program to various groups over the decades, so VA advises lenders that if there is any question on eligibility, process the loan application and let VA make a final ruling.

Are you eligible? Take the next steps via our VA Loan Center.