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Mortgage Life Insurance: How Does It Work and Do You Really Need It?

By Kenny Zhu · March 06, 2023 · 6 minute read

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Mortgage Life Insurance: How Does It Work and Do You Really Need It?

Mortgage life insurance, aka mortgage protection insurance, covers the balance owed on your home loan in the event of your death.

It’s meant to protect your loved ones from having to worry about monthly mortgage payments or being forced to move if they can’t continue making payments.

Whether you might need mortgage life insurance depends on your health history, whether you’re the sole earner for your family, and whether you already have a traditional life insurance policy.

How Does Mortgage Life Insurance Work?

Unlike standard life insurance, mortgage life insurance is designed to pay a death benefit (typically the mortgage balance) to the lender rather than to heirs. The lender pays off the mortgage.

The length of the policy will be the mortgage term.

Mortgage life insurance is usually structured to match the declining balance on your mortgage and expires after your home is paid off. Depending on your age and mortgage size, the cost can be hundreds of dollars a month.

By contrast, term life insurance lasts for a set number of years and will pay a death benefit during that time to designated beneficiaries, who can use the lump sum however they want to. Term life tends to be the most affordable kind of life insurance.

A term life insurance policy will charge fixed premiums for 10 to 30 years. Mortgage life insurance premiums may be fixed for only five years.

(By the way, mortgage life insurance is a totally different animal than private mortgage insurance. PMI is insurance you typically must purchase if you put less than 20% down on a conventional loan.)

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Different Options for Mortgage Life Insurance

There are a few variations on how mortgage protection insurance can be structured. Here’s how the most common ones function.

Decreasing Mortgage Principal

A decreasing mortgage principal policy ties the payout benefit directly to the outstanding mortgage principal balance.

The policy payout will automatically account for the declining balance as you pay off your home loan over time, along with any extra payments you make.

This is the most common type of mortgage insurance policy.

Level

A level payout policy keeps the death benefit at the same amount over the term of the mortgage loan, no matter how much has been paid off. This means that any payments or prepayments of principal have no effect on the death benefit.

Because these mortgage insurance policies are structured more like traditional life insurance policies, they sometimes allow for the direct payout of excess benefits to beneficiaries.

Recommended: Home Loan Help Center Is There to Inform

Mortgage Life Insurance Advantages

If you’re the sole breadwinner for your family, you might want to consider upsides of mortgage life insurance.

No Medical Exam

Unlike traditional life insurance, mortgage life insurance sellers don’t require a medical exam. This can help people qualify for mortgage life insurance when they might be rejected for traditional life insurance or find the quoted premiums too high.

You Can Add Riders

Home mortgage life insurance policies often allow you to tack on riders. A living benefits rider will allow you to directly access your policy’s benefits as a source of funds in the event you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness. This can be especially helpful when health insurance might fall short.

Another common add-on is a “return of premium” rider, which calls for returning a set amount of premiums paid if the policy ends without ever being used.

Many of these riders are also available for most term life insurance policies.

Mortgage Life Insurance Drawbacks

If you’re in good health or prefer benefit payouts with no strings attached, you may want to give thought to some drawbacks of mortgage life insurance.

Expensive for Healthy Homeowners

Individuals who are in good health won’t be able to benefit from a cheaper rate on their mortgage life insurance policy. That’s because insurers do not factor medical exams into their premium calculation.

The lack of a medical exam means insurers must cover all their bases: People with a poor health history and those in good health will pay the same rates.

Decreasing Payout

While your monthly mortgage life insurance premiums will remain constant, the potential payout benefit will continue to decrease as you pay down your mortgage over time.

If there’s no mortgage left, there’s no payoff. Ouch.

The only way around this is to apply for a mortgage insurance policy with a level payout benefit, which ensures that the payout remains the same regardless of how much time is left on your mortgage. This may be more expensive than a typical decreasing mortgage balance policy.

No Flexibility

Mortgage life insurance policies pay out to the mortgage lender. Your loved ones won’t see any cash during this transaction, which isn’t ideal if you’d like them to have the money for other purposes like day-to-day living costs, college costs, or investing.

If flexibility of use for any benefit payout is important, you may be better served by traditional life insurance.

Difficult to Get Quotes

It’s hard to gather quotes for mortgage life insurance online, unlike other kinds of insurance. That’s a concern because prices can vary widely.

Recommended: How to Shop for a Mortgage

Is Mortgage Life Insurance a Good Idea?

Unless you’re having difficulty qualifying for a reasonable rate on a traditional life insurance policy because of poor health, term life insurance is likely to have lower premiums than mortgage life insurance and will provide a direct payout to beneficiaries.

For some homeowners, the benefit payout to the lender, not heirs, will be a dealbreaker. Others may be willing to accept this restriction because they either have health conditions that make it difficult to qualify for traditional life insurance or because they want to ensure that the payout is dedicated toward housing payments or, in a sense, mortgage relief.

You also may want to learn about putting your house in a trust, to protect your home if you become incapacitated and to avoid the probate process.

The Takeaway

Mortgage life insurance ensures that your mortgage will be paid off if you die. If mortgage protection insurance isn’t your cup of tea, it could be worth looking into term life insurance to protect your loved ones.

While responsibility is on your mind and you’re hunting and gathering mortgage minutiae, look into a SoFi Home Loan or Refinance, or a SoFi-brokered home equity line of credit.

SoFi offers an array of mortgage home loan advantages. Click, scroll, and prepare to be impressed.

FAQ

Does mortgage life insurance pay off the mortgage?

Yes. Mortgage life insurance offers enough coverage to pay off your mortgage if you were to die.

Is mortgage life insurance the same thing as mortgage protection insurance?

Yes. Most policies only pay out when the policyholder dies, but a few also cover a post-accident disability or a temporary job loss.

When is mortgage life insurance a good idea?

Mortgage life insurance could be a good idea for homeowners whose health conditions keep them from qualifying for term life insurance.


Photo credit: iStock/Inside Creative House

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