Something To Salute: A Mortgage Program For Military Members

How VyStar Credit Union turned member input into tangible features for its Military Heroes Mortgage.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Surveys helped VyStar Credit Union determine important features it should offer in a new mortgage program designed specifically for servicemembers.
  • The program provides down payment help and requires no mortgage insurance, plus, certified military lending specialists serve as originators and processors.

VyStar Credit Union ($11.4B, Jacksonville, FL) has already made the new year a happy one for its borrowers who have taken advantage of the cooperative’s new Military Heroes Mortgage.

VyStar announced the launch of its new lending product a week before Veteran’s Day in November, and it has already closed the first few loans. The loans might be a minor portion of Vystar’s real estate mortgage portfolio — which has grown 6.95% in the past year to $3.99 billion as of Sept. 30 — but they will make a major difference in the lives of borrowers.

“We understand the unique challenges our troops face when purchasing a home, and the Military Heroes Mortgage is designed to make the process more efficient and more affordable,” says Jennifer Kouchis, VyStar’s senior vice president of real estate lending. “Since our founding at Naval Air Station JAX in 1952, supporting our military members and their families has been at the core of what we do.”

Jennifer Kouchis, SVP of Real Estate Lending, VyStar Credit Union

VyStar’s Military Heroes Mortgage includes the following features:

  • No down payment or mortgage insurance required.
  • Up to $5,000 toward closing costs or a 0.25% rate discount.
  • Up to a $10,000 grant to be used toward a down payment or closing costs.
  • Discounts up to $7,500 available from top national and local retailers.
  • Charitable activities.
  • Loan originators who are certified military housing specialists.

“Our legacy is rooted with our military and civil service families, so we built this product with them in mind,” Houchis says. “This sets us apart because we are able to deliver the tools and knowledge necessary to provide prompt and competitive service to our military members, especially in a fast-paced market.”

It took VyStar approximately one year to develop the program. Notably, the credit union relied heavily on member input, surveying military families and those with military affiliations to find out what they wanted and craft the best benefits. For example, those surveyed indicated they wanted more low and no down payment options. So, VyStar offers 100% financing, a grant component, and a choice between lower closing costs or a lower rate.

4 Tips To Launch A Successful Mortgage Product

Jennifer Kouchis, senior vice president of real estate lending, offers advice based on her experience with VyStar Credit Union’s new Military Heroes Mortgage.

  • Focus on a gap that is not being served, and take time for due diligence.

  • Create for purpose, not profit.

  • Proprietary programs come with risk. Mitigate risk with performance testing, specific underwriting guidelines, thorough procedures, and experienced team members.

  • Carefully consider every factor about the execution and launch.

Survey responses also indicated borrowers want easier communication and more transparency about the mortgage process. The result? VyStar’s Military Heroes Mortgage provides a package of infographics, welcome letters, and support through every contact method, including direct dial. It even has specialized greetings by ranks.

The surveys also prompted the credit union to offer specific training to certify teams —originators and processors — as military housing specialists who understand military and family challenges.

VyStar will keep the new mortgages in-house as portfolio loans and markets the program through multiple channels, including direct mail, social, email, print, and digital.

CU QUICK FACTS

VYSTAR CREDIT UNION
DATA AS OF 9.30.21

HQ: Jacksonville, FL
ASSETS: $11.4B
MEMBERS: 793,169
BRANCHES: 81
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 21.0%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 5.1%
ROA: 1.09%

“The response has been incredibly positive,” Kouchis says.

The real estate executive has one parting piece of advice for other cooperatives that want to create a similar program for a specific segment within their membership.

“Get support from every level,” she says. “Your organization needs to understand the vision to get behind it and see it through.”

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