With the current state of the economy, it's become more difficult to get that first home loan, or qualify for a home loan in general. One company that's helping veterans with loan needs is First Choice Bank, which has partnered up with VA Loan Captain on a new program which offers a specialized mortgage team dedicated to veterans, coupled with a charitable giving program that focuses exclusively on veterans (for more details, see the bottom of this article).
We talked with VA Loan Captain CEO and Army Reserve Captain Grant Moon (OIF Veteran) and Jason Auerbach, Division Manager for First Choice Loan Services/Bank, to get more details on this program, as well as tips for veterans looking to get a home loan.
Military.com: Captain Moon, can you give us a brief overview of your military background?
Grant Moon: I have 13 years of experience as an enlisted soldier and officer in the Army National Guard and Army Reserves. Throughout my career I've served as a Military Policemen, Platoon Leader, Executive Officer, Battalion Operations Officer, and Assistant Team Chief. In 2007 I deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and currently serve as a Captain and Company Commander of a unit in the Army Reserves.
Military.com: How did your civilian career path take you to VA Loan Captain?
GM: Throughout my career I've worked for Fortune 50 and other large corporations in strategic partnerships, sales, marketing, and ecommerce but always aspired to be an entrepreneur. While many of my previous jobs were well-paid with great benefits they lacked purpose for me. My passion to help fellow veterans and servicemembers intersected with opportunity in 2011 when I learning about the lawsuits for wrongful mortgages practices within the veterans and servicemember community. When I further examined the illegal activities that transpired with some of the banks in the space I believed that our community deserved better. So I created VA Loan Captain.
Military.com: Tell us what VA Loan Captain does.
GM: VA Loan Captain educates veterans and servicemembers on their VA home loan benefits. We also operate a pre-screened multiple lender platform that connects those interested in a home purchase or refinance to one of our affiliate lenders. Our affiliates assist veterans and service members obtain their certificate of eligibility which is a requirement for a VA loan. For each affiliate lender that operates on our platform the respective bank President signs our Veterans Guarantee Pledge, which pledges legal/ethical treatment, competitive interest rates, and high service standards. Through our Veterans Pay It Forward Program our affiliate banks agree to make a $200 donation for every loan closed to one of our veteran non-profit partners.
Military.com: Jason, what can you tell us about First Choice Bank?
Jason Auerbach: First Choice Bank opened our first branch in Lawrenceville (Princeton area), NJ in 2007 and we've grown considerably since then. In 2009, we opened a mortgage services division and began to offer a diverse range of residential mortgage products (Conventional, FHA, VA and true Jumbo loans ) at highly competitive rates on a national level. We now have 12 offices in diverse locations around the United States. In 2011, the mortgage division funded over $1.0B in residential mortgages and is experiencing considerable growth in 2012.
Military.com: How did you get involved with this charitable giving program with VA Loan Captain? Can you talk about some of the charities that are participating?
JA: We were introduced to Captain Grant Moon by a colleague. As Captain Moon discussed his program with us we instantly recognized a great opportunity to provide great service and competitive rates to our mutual customers as well as give back to charitable organizations that support America's Servicemen and Veterans. Organizations currently include: Homes For Our Troops, Disabled Veterans Committee on Housing (DVCH), VFW Foundation and The Freedom Veterans of America.
Military.com: How has the partnership been going with VA Loan Captain, and how has the response to the program been so far?
GM: We have gotten some tremendous feedback from our applicants and have a wide array of veterans that we assisted from the lower enlisted ranks all the way up to a general officer. The two areas that we consistently hear is our rates and our service. Since launching at the end of January we've had over 40 applicants and are now getting phone calls and applicants daily for purchases and refinances.
JA: Grant and his organization are incredible partners. We have worked hand in glove to assemble a team that is now handling inquiries and applications from active duty and veteran servicemen and women who are seeking mortgages. The response from the public has been terrific -- the $200 post closing donation to a veteran's charity seals the deal for each caller. Our rates and service are great -- giving back to the community we serve reinforces the true partnership we've created.
Military.com: Which veteran charities are involved (or will be involved) with the program?
GM: Homes for our Troops, Disabled Veterans Committee on Housing, VFW Foundation and the Freedom Veterans of America. We are also in talks with other national non-profits and will likely be adding more soon.
Millitary.com: In the current economic (and home loan climate), what do you see as the biggest challenges for veterans applying for home loans?
JA: There is always an upside to challenging times -- a positive byproduct of the current economic climate is incredibly low interest rates and very reasonable home prices in most locations. The biggest challenge for those returning from overseas missions has been the job market. A recent report shows that programs aimed at helping returning servicemen and women find jobs is finding some success. For those who are employed, putting their VA loan benefits to work makes finding housing simple -- with a $0 down payment requirement, very low rates and the mortgage interest tax deduction, the benefit of homeownership clearly outweighs renting!
GM: A fragile economy with the veterans unemployment rate much higher than our non-veteran counterparts has taken its toll on our community. With tough times came some financial hardships that consequently impacted credit scores. Credit is one hurdle that is required homeownership and a low score makes it harder to get qualified for a loan given much tougher lending standards.
Military.com: What advice would you give to someone who is applying for their first home loan?
JA: Carefully compare the cost of home ownership to renting. If it makes sense to buy and you are prepared to make the commitment, shop around for a great home and take advantage of low mortgage rates that won't be around forever.
GM: A VA loan and home ownership offer great benefits, but it is a big responsibility and shouldn't be taken lightly. You should evaluate your personal and financial situation to ensure that home ownership is right for you. Also, keep in mind that a credit score has a big impact in qualifying for a loan -- get a free credit report and clear up any delinquencies.
First Choice Bank's Morganville, NJ offices are available from 9 AM EST to 9 PM EST every weekday to assist veterans with their home financing needs. Each time First Choice funds a VA Loan in partnership with VA Loan Captain (VALC), the bank will donate $200 to an approved and qualified veteran charity. Eligibility for the program is determined by application. Prospective customers are encouraged to visit www.valoancaptain.com or call (855) 825-2278 for more information.