FORT RILEY, Kan. -- Preparing to buy a home, whether it's the first time or the fifth time, can be a long process that comes with concerns, misinformation and questions regarding loans. To help with these, staff from the USO Fort Riley Pathfinder program partnered with loan officers from Prime Lending to host a workshop for 21 transitioning Soldiers about the common misconceptions and information regarding a Veteran Affairs mortgage loan Dec. 13 at the USO Fort Riley center.

"We had a need based upon our clients' requests and needs," said Crystal Bryant-Kearns, USO Pathfinder site manager. "We have several different workshops we offer through USO Pathfinder. We partnered with our partner agencies who support our service members in those pillars that we provide support in, such as employment and education. This one just happened to be housing."

Attendees received a 90-minute crash course on the basics of a VA loan, as well as a few steps in the home buying process to prepare them for home ownership after leaving the military. The small group setting encouraged open discussion throughout the presentation, and attendees could have their concerns or areas of confusion addressed quickly.

"There were lots of questions and when Soldiers and their spouses are asking questions, I know that they're fully engaged," Bryant-Kearns said.

Master Sgt. Ron Townsend, Medical Activity, attended the workshop. He said he is preparing to retire and he and his wife plan to stay in the area surrounding Fort Riley. With his retirement approaching, they're now looking to buy a home.

"I've been to other workshops, but it's been awhile," Townsend said. "This one was pretty straightforward and they answered a lot of questions during the presentation, blew some of the myths out of the water like the VA doesn't require a credit score, which some lenders will tell you that they do and that's not true."

Townsend, who heard about the workshop while he was going through the Soldier for Life Transition Assistance Program, said he gained a lot of new information about VA loans and the home buying process despite having attended other workshops.

"The big takeaway I think is get started now," he said. "If you're thinking of buying a house in six months or a year, touch bases (with lenders) and get started … They can do some financial counseling with you too to improve your credit score."

Susanna Ruder, loan officer for Prime Lending, led the presentation and met with Soldiers afterward to provide them additional information. Whenever she meets with clients or speaks at workshops, she said she hears several reoccurring rumors about VA loans that aren't true.

"They think we are the VA, we are not -- we are just loan officers," she said. "They think that they cannot have more than one VA loan at a time, which is false. They think they can't use their VA loan more than once. They think VA actually comes out and looks at their house -- all of those things are just misconceptions along the way. Another misconception is they think that they don't have to pay any closing costs because they're a veteran -- that's not true. Closing costs are a part of the loan process."
She said it's rumors like these that make it important to her to have workshops, keep her clients well informed and take the fear out of the home buying process.

"It takes the scary out of everything," Ruder said. "It gives them the knowledge, which therefore in turn gives them the power. Buying a home should be a good experience, it should never be an awful experience. We want them to feel good about us and the about the process."

Before buying a home, Ruder said it's important to contact a lender and get pre-qualified; never rush into buying a home; ask as many questions as possible -- there are no bad or dumb questions; and don't be shy about using a VA loan.

"They have earned this entitlement from VA and it is such a good loan and that they should certainly take advantage of the benefits they are offered," she said.

Bryant-Kearns said USO Pathfinder is planning to hold additional VA loan workshops throughout 2018, though dates have not been set. She added they have monthly workshops on different topics, including employment. All workshops hosted by USO Pathfinder are catered toward transitioning service members.

"Every month we are offering a workshop within one of the eight pillars that our program supports with its resources," she said. "We provide services focused on transitioning service members and their families; however, there are wonderful partners that we have right on this installation who also provide workshops."

She said she is grateful USO Pathfinder has close working relationships with other Fort Riley organizations such as SFL-TAP and Army Community Service to assist transitioning and active-duty service members with all their needs.

"We are all here for service members and their families and we all want to work together to support them, whether they are active duty or transitioning and I think there are a lot of great workshops across the post that people should take advantage of," Bryant-Kearns said.