While using a VA-backed loan may save current and former service members from fronting tens of thousands of dollars as a down payment for their new home, real-estate agents say some buyers enter the market with a misunderstanding of what their upfront financial commitment will be.

“I ... often have to dispel the rumor that with the VA loan, you don’t need ANY money to buy a home,” said Travis Winfield, a retired Navy command senior chief-turned-Realtor who operates the San Diego-based Winfield Group. “Of course, there are options to have the lender give credits or the seller to help credit closing costs, but that is a case-by-case situation that the client needs to be educated on.”

Some costs you should be prepared to cover as part of the loan process:

Earnest money. You’ll need to have at least 1 percent of the home’s cost in an earnest money account, but prepare to double or triple that amount in high-demand areas. This money will go toward closing costs and other fees associated with the purchase and never reaches the homeowner until the transaction is settled (or scuttled). Rules on how this money is handled can vary, but in general, you can lose the cash if you back out of the deal or fail to meet certain benchmarks during the process, but won’t lose it if you pull out of the deal because of problems discovered with the property. You can learn more about earnest money here.

Fees. As Winfield stated, some deals may allow for the lender or seller to cover some of the initial costs associated with the home-buying process. This could mean appraisal and/or inspection fees could be taken care of, but buyers should be ready to pony up ... especially in high-traffic markets where other buyers will be willing to pay.

Closing costs. These vary too much by deal, by loan type and by location to get into too much detail (get a deeper breakdown here), but the final costs could be anywhere from 2 percent to 7 percent of the home’s value. The buyer and the seller usually divide these costs, but the buyer generally pays the larger share.

If you can’t cover that amount, you can submit a deal where the seller covers a greater share. Doing so can present its own problems.

“Buyers who ask for seller to contribute any credits at closing are not as strong as buyers who have their own money to close,” said Cassandra Rowley, a Navy veteran and Realtor in the Seattle area.

Learn more about the loan process by visiting our VA Loan Center.

Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.

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