Private Mortgage Insurance: What It Is & How To Dump It

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Private mortgage insurance, or PMI, is a topic that confuses many people.

Is it something you get through an agent or an online insurance shopping tool?

Do you need to get it like windstorm or flood insurance?

Do renters need it?

Like real estate taxes, private mortgage insurance is a variable.

An unknown amount that you never see on mortgage calculators.

And that makes it hard to account for when managing finances.

It’s a surprise that you generally only find out when you get through the entire mortgage application process and finally see what your actual mortgage payment will be.

What many do not understand, however, is just what those extra amounts called PMI are for, why they are being charged, or how to get rid of them.

Hispanic couple hugging celebrating their new home unaware of the Private Mortgage Insurance they have to pay
Buying a home is usually a time for celebration–unless you don’t pay attention and get the shock of an increased mortgage payment due to private mortgage insurance!

What Is Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)?

Man looking for private mortgage insurance section on an insurance application
You won’t find private mortgage insurance on any consumer/homeowner insurance application or company offering because it’s strictly for the banks’ protection.

PMI is the money that mortgage lenders charge as a hedge against homeowners falling behind on their payments and eventually defaulting on the loans.

It isn’t insurance for the benefit of the borrower.

You can’t go shopping around for better PMI rates to reduce your mortgage payment.

Instead, it’s a protection for the lender; a fee that is charged on loans that, when originated, represented more than 80% of the sales price of the home.

It used to be that financial institutions would not loan money for the purchase of a home if the prospective buyer could not afford to pay at least 20% of the property’s sales price upfront.

PMI was established to help potential homeowners reach their goals of homeownership faster by enabling them to put less money down and pay this insurance cost to cover the lender’s increased risk.

How To Cancel PMI

Since PMI is insurance coverage for paying less than the standard down payment, it is going to be part of your mortgage for some time.

There are, however, 3 ways to have the insurance eliminated from your payment:

  1. Cancellation:  This is a manual process by which you put in a request with the mortgagor to have the insurance payments removed.  To qualify, the account must reach a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio of 80%, but there is a catch.  The catch is that the basis for this calculation is the original purchase price of the home, or the current appraised value of the home, whichever value is less.  What this means is that if you want to take the initiative to remove the PMI from your loan account, you need to obtain an appraisal, and if the current value is less than the original purchase price of the home, then the loan balance must be at most 80% of this new value.  Should the appraisal come in higher than the original purchase price, then the balance has to be at most 80% of that original price.  In a bad economy, this option is less likely to occur since most homes have been devalued in many areas of the country.
  2. Automatic Removal:  On July 29, 1999, the new Homeowner’s Protection Act of 1998 was enacted which by law, made this an automatic process that should require no action on your part.  If you stay current on your mortgage, the lender is legally required to automatically remove the PMI from your account when the balance reaches 78% of the original purchase price.  The lender has 30 days from the date your account reaches this 78% ratio point.  Additionally, if there are any unearned premiums charged by the lender they have 45 days from that date to return those premiums to you.
  3. Final Termination:  If for some reason, neither of the first two situations occurred, the lender is required to terminate the insurance the month after the midway point of the loan.  Basically, if you are on a 30-year loan that has 360 payments and have not had the insurance canceled, then by the month following the 180th payment (the midpoint of the loan’s lifetime), the coverage should be removed.

A Point Of Caution Regarding Automatic PMI Removal

There have been many people who say that making extra payments on loans, or having an appraisal improving the value portion of the LTV equation will accelerate the process of automatically removing PMI.

Unfortunately, the wording in the Homeowners Protection Act is quite clear and contradicts those claims [for automatic cancellation].

The document (on page 2) states in plain English that the thresholds for determining LTV are “based solely on the initial amortization schedule, in the case of a fixed-rate loan, or on the amortization schedules, in the case of an adjustable-rate loan, regardless of the outstanding balance”.

What this means is that on no date other than the date determined by the original amortization schedule when the loan reaches the desired LTV can the PMI be [automatically] canceled.

I learned about that when I got my Hardest Hit Fund assistance payment–$50,000 went to the lender as a principal reduction payment but it didn’t change or recalculate of the date for automatic PMI cancellation.

I had to go through the regular process of paying $350 for an appraisal and hoping that it would come back with enough of a valuation that I could get the PMI canceled.

Then I had to file a request for the cancelation of PMI from my mortgage account.

Thankfully, that ended up happening!

How To Avoid Private Mortgage Insurance

Black man giving young son a piggyback ride in the park chasing bubbles.
Piggybacking loans is one way to avoid having to pay private mortgage insurance on your mortgage.

There are 2 ways to avoid having to pay for PMI on a mortgage:

  1. Pay 20% of the purchase price of the home upfront in the form of a down payment; and
  2. Obtain a second loan, commonly referred to as “piggybacking”, in order to come up with the required down payments

The method that will work best for you will depend on your situation.

In some cases, it will be impossible to come up with the 20% down payment, and sometimes obtaining a piggybacked loan may require significantly higher interest rates, which will make carrying PMI a more affordable option.

The best way to approach the situation is to have all of the pertinent information available and take the time to analyze all of the options to see what best fits your financial plans.

Wrapping Up

Well, there you have it, folks.

That’s pretty much what you need to know about private mortgage insurance.

Fun stuff, huh?

Hopefully, you will be more prepared going forward when you buy a home.

Or you can feel free to share this with anyone you may know who is thinking about or in the process of buying a home so they have all the info they need!

Your Turn

Have you ever had to deal with private mortgage insurance? Did you delay buying a home until you had the 20% down payment just to avoid PMI? Have you ever said “screw it” and just taken the additional PMI payment to buy a home?

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