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Three things every veteran should do before buying a home

As a veteran, there are benefits and programs available to help with the journey of homeownership. Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi suggests three tips for every prospective and current veteran homeowner.

1.  Take a HUD-approved homebuyer course

Veterans should take a first-time homebuyer course offered by a HUD-approved agency. These classes are often free or at a minimal cost. During the course, prospective homebuyers can learn about down-payment assistance programs, various types of loans, and how to prepare financially.

2.  Learn about down-payment-assistance programs

For most homeowners, the most challenging part of the buying process is saving for a down payment. Veterans can take advantage of Veterans Affairs (VA) loans, which can help avoid high down payments, mortgage insurance, and high-interest rates.

The two types of VA loans are a VA direct home loan and VA-backed loan. With a VA direct home loan, the VA serves as the direct mortgage lender. With a VA backed loan, the VA guarantees a portion of the loan from a private lender. Since this type of loan is seen as lower risk, the lender is more likely to offer better terms.

3.  Research property tax savings for veterans

Many counties offer significant property tax savings to veteran homeowners, which can help with budgeting and, in some cases, offer a homeowner more buying power. This information is usually available at the website of the local county assessor.

In Cook County, the Assessor’s Office administers both the Veterans with Disabilities and the Returning Veterans Exemptions, which can reduce the property tax bills of veterans.

The Veterans with Disabilities Exemption is for veterans with a service-connected disability as certified by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The exemption reduces the Equalized Assessed Value (EAV) on the primary residence of a veteran with a disability, very likely lowering the tax bill. The amounts of those EAV deductions depend on the percentage of disability. Veterans are required to apply annually.

The Returning Veterans Exemption is for veterans returning from active duty in armed conflict who are eligible to receive a $5,000 reduction in the equalized assessed value of their property only for each taxable year in which they return. Veterans are required to apply annually.

Homeowners are often unaware of these savings and, in some cases, can apply for past property tax savings from previous years. In Cook County, this process is called a Certificate of Error, allowing homeowners to correct up to three years in property tax savings. For more information visit the

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