Buying a house is quite possibly the largest investment that most people will ever make. And when you consider that the median price of a new home in the U.S. is $342,000 , the thought of actually hitting that milestone may seem out of reach for some. It is also one of the most confusing, especially for first-timers. Homebuyers attempt to master a whole slew of new vocabulary terms, from “contingencies” to “escrow” to “fixed versus adjustable rate mortgages.”
One of the most mystifying terms is PMI, which stands for “private mortgage insurance.” When you hear “insurance,” you may think it’s there to protect you in case something goes wrong with your home loan.
Actually, PMI is there to protect the lender that’s likely offering you a conventional mortgage whether it be a refinance or a purchase loan.
If you are making a down payment of less than 20% of the home’s value, the lender will typically require PMI on the mortgage from a private insurance company. Why would you pay for insurance that benefits your lender and not you? And should you take on this expense? Read on to find out how PMI works.
The purpose of PMI is to make low down payment mortgages less risky for the lender so they in turn can offer you a loan if you don’t have sufficient funds for a 20% down. If you have PMI and default on your home loan, the insurer will be responsible for paying a portion of the loan balance, so that the lender isn’t on the hook for the entire amount.
When a lender is considering whether to extend a mortgage loan, and on what terms, they look at something called the loan-to-value ratio, or LTV. This is equal to the mortgage balance divided by the value of the property.
The more money you have for a down payment, the less you need to take out a loan for, and therefore the lower your LTV ratio. Whether you’re buying a home or refinancing, the higher your LTV ratio, the more of a gamble you’re likely to appear to lenders. And they’ll usually want you to have PMI when your LTV is less than 80%, which is what happens when you put less than 20% down.
Who Takes Out PMI?
Private mortgage insurance has been around for more than 60 years . Over that time period, more than 30 million families , including 1 million in 2017, relied on PMI in order to buy or refinance a mortgage. A significant amount of those who did were low-income or buying their first homes.
Specifically, more than 40% of borrowers who have taken out PMI earned less than $75,000 a year, and 56% were first-time homebuyers. In 2017, the top five states for homeowners with PMI were Texas, California, Florida, Illinois, and Michigan.
PMI generally costs between 0.55%-2.25% of the mortgage amount annually, but premium costs can vary depending upon the loan scenario.
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How to Pay PMI
There are a few different options for paying PMI, which depend on your preferences. Most borrowers pay PMI as a monthly premium that is added on to the mortgage payment. You can see what the premium is in both the loan estimate you get when you apply for the mortgage and again in your closing disclosure.
The PMI factor can change between these two estimates because the appraisal valuation which drives the final LTV (loan to value) may be received by the lender after the Loan Estimate is generated. Another option is to pay your PMI all at once in a single sum when you close on the house. Or you can ask the lender if they can cover some or all of the PMI cost through lender rebate money.
Generally, in this scenario a borrower accepts a higher rate and the rebate money in that higher rate comes back to the borrower as a credit and the borrower can use that lender credit to cover some or all of the PMI cost. Ask a lender to generate a quote with different PMI payment options so you can compare and choose the best plan for your budget.
Keep in mind that some PMI policies are refundable and some are non-refundable. A third scenario is to pay some of the PMI up front and get the rest added on to your mortgage payment each month.
If you’re confused about the different policies and payment options, ask the lender’s representative to explain the options to you and ask for a quote on how much you will owe in different scenarios. If you are purchasing a home you may be receiving a seller credit towards your closing costs, this can be another way to cover the PMI in one lump sum and not have ongoing monthly payments.
How to Get Rid of PMI
For a principal residence or second home, the borrower can initiate cancellation of PMI under the following scenario: The LTV ratio must be:
• 75% or less, if the seasoning of the mortgage loan is between two and five years.
• 80% or less, if the seasoning of the mortgage loan is greater than five years.
If Fannie Mae’s minimum two-year seasoning requirement is waived because the property improvements made by the borrower increased the property value, the LTV ratio must be 80% or less.
For automatic termination of PMI the guidelines are:
• Loan is closed on or after July 29, 1999 and is secured by a one-unit principal residence or second home.
• on the applicable termination date, provided the borrower’s payments are current on the termination date.
The applicable termination date is:
• the date the principal balance of the mortgage loan is first scheduled to reach 78% of the original value of the property, or
• the first day of the month following the date the mid-point of the mortgage loan amortization period is reached, if the scheduled LTV ratio for the mortgage loan does not reach 78% before the mid-point.
How to Avoid PMI
PMI can come in handy for people who want to become homeowners and otherwise wouldn’t qualify for a mortgage. However, the costs can add up, and unlike other types of insurance, you’re not gaining any protections yourself. Luckily, there are ways to avoid PMI altogether.
As stated above, lenders can cover the cost of PMI through lender credit. Lender credit can be generated by the borrower taking a higher rate in exchange for rebate money which is used to pay for some or all of the PMI cost. Whether or not this higher rate ends up saving you money vs paying a lower rate and monthly PMI depends on your unique situation.
An alternative is to take out a mortgage that is not a conventional loan, such as a Federal Housing Administration Loan . FHA loans require a government insurance (MIP) which usually runs with the life of the loan. FHA loans have an upfront premium as well as a monthly premium. Whether a conventional or government loan is the best fit for you depends on many factors , such as your credit history and the mortgage market.
The most surefire way to help avoid paying PMI is to save 20% down before you buy a house. Even if it might take you a bit longer to become a homeowner, consider whether it makes sense to rent until you can save up that magic number.
There are also some loan programs that do not require PMI. VA loans would be one loan program that does not require PMI and some lenders do not apply PMI requirements to their Jumbo loan products. It is good to note that SoFi offers as little as 10% down on their Jumbo purchase loans with no PMI.
If you’d like to put away more than you currently are, start by making a budget. Note down all the money coming in and going out every month, and see if there’s room to cut expenses so that you can save a bit more. Once you’ve freed up some cash, set up an automatic transfer from your savings to your checking account to make sure that money is set aside.
If you don’t have a lot of wiggle room as far as cutting spending, you may want to consider ways to increase your income. This can include asking for a raise, applying for a higher-paying job, or taking on a side hustle.
If you can save 20% down before applying for a mortgage and avoid PMI, you may save yourself a significant chunk of money for years to come. That said, only you can decide whether paying PMI is worth it in your particular situation and housing market.
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