What is Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)?
Conventional wisdom says paying less for something like a car or computer upfront is better. But when it comes to real estate and homeownership, this doesn’t always apply. In some cases, paying more upfront can lead to substantial long-term savings.
While it may seem counterintuitive to part with a larger sum upfront when you’re buying your first home, you can potentially avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI) and lower your monthly mortgage payments by putting down at least 20%. While you might find yourself more cash-strapped in the immediate future, you’ll have more money to stash in the bank or make upgrades and renovations over the long term.
If you’re wondering how PMI works, you’ve come to the right place. This primer provides a complete overview of PMI and addresses the following topics:
- What is private mortgage insurance?
- Who needs private mortgage insurance?
- What is the cost of PMI?
- PMI vs. homeowners insurance
- How to minimize or avoid PMI
- FAQs about PMI
What is private mortgage insurance?
PMI is a type of insurance that lenders require from borrowers who have a conventional mortgage with a down payment of less than 20% of the home’s purchase price. PMI is designed to protect lenders in the event borrowers default on their loans.
When a borrower puts less money into a property as a down payment, the lender’s potential financial loss from a default is higher. PMI offsets this risk by providing a financial safety net that protects lenders in the event homeowners can’t keep up with mortgage payments.
Who needs private mortgage insurance?
Lenders typically require PMI when a borrower puts down less than 20% of the home’s purchase price. This is due to the fact that lenders often perceive this as a higher-risk investment because homeowners have less equity in the property from the outset.
When a borrower puts down 20% or higher, this indicates a lower loan-to-value (LTV) ratio, which signifies that a borrower only needs financing to cover a smaller percentage of the home’s value. As a result, the lender is in a less risky position because the borrower has a significant equity stake in the property the day they move in.
What is the cost of PMI?
According to the Urban Institute, the average cost of PMI with a conventional home loan can be anywhere from 0.58% to 1.86% of the original loan amount. On a $300,000 mortgage, this could translate to anywhere between $145 and $465 extra per month. That said, the total cost of PMI can vary based on several factors, which we’ll examine in this section.
The loan amount
The PMI rises proportionally as the overall loan amount — or principal balance — increases. This makes sense since a larger loan amount presents a higher risk to lenders. As a result, larger loans typically command higher insurance premiums.
Lenders rely on credit scores to assess borrowers’ creditworthiness and ability to manage debt responsibility. They tend to view homebuyers with higher credit scores as less risky, which translates into offering them lower PMI rates.
That being the case, it’s critical to check your credit score before applying for a loan. If your score is lower than you’d like it to be, start paying down revolving debt and making on-time payments to credit card bills. By doing so, you can potentially boost your score, resulting in a lower PMI rating. However, paying down your debt leaves you with less money to put toward a down payment — which is just a tradeoff you’ll need to consider.
Size of the down payment
Generally speaking, you should aim for an LTV ratio no higher than 80%. For example, suppose you’re buying a house for $300,000 and planning to finance the bulk of it via a conventional mortgage. In this scenario, you need to put down at least $60,000 to avoid paying PMI.
Home value and appraisal
When calculating potential PMI costs, it’s also necessary to consider the appraised value of your home. As a brief reminder, a home appraisal is conducted by a third party, who assesses the property’s current market value.
Of course, property values can change over time. If your home’s value appreciates significantly, the LTV ratio could drop, decreasing PMI costs — or even eliminating them altogether.
The terms of the mortgage payment
PMI requirements tend to vary depending on the type of loan. For example, government-backed Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans, Veterans Affairs (VA) loans, and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) loans all have different rules regarding PMI and down payments:
- FHA loans require a minimum down payment of just 3.5% and include mortgage insurance premiums (MIP). Unlike PMI, MIP lasts throughout the loan’s entire life if the down payment is less than 10%. However, the homeowner can eliminate MIP after 11 years if the down payment is 10% or more.
- VA loans don’t require any down payment or PMI. Such loans are only available to eligible veterans, National Guard and Reserves members, and active-duty service members.
- A USDA loan doesn’t come with a PMI. Instead, USDA loans have a guaranteed fee which provides insurance to the lender in the event the borrower defaults. This upfront fee often rolls into the monthly mortgage payment amount.
PMI vs. homeowners insurance
Any time you use a mortgage to buy a house, you’ll also need homeowners insurance — also known as hazard insurance — which protects the buyer against property damage from covered events like fires, floods, hurricanes, theft, or vandalism.
Homeowners insurance covers the physical structure of the home, as well as personal belongings, injury liability, and additional living expenses if the house becomes uninhabitable. Some homeowners use homeowners insurance to cover valuable items, like engagement rings and expensive artwork.
That said, homeowners insurance doesn’t protect you against defaulting on a mortgage. There are insurance products, like MPI and mortgage payment protection insurance (MPPI), that do cover you. This insurance specifically provides financial assistance to homeowners who face difficulty making their mortgage payments due to disability, critical illness, or job loss.
How to minimize or avoid PMI
The only real upside to having PMI is that it helps you buy a house while putting less down. Beyond that, there isn’t any glory in making PMI payments; PMI doesn’t build equity or help you financially in any way. As such, it can become a financial burden over time. In light of this, there are some things you can do to minimize your PMI commitment.
Save for a larger down payment
The easiest way to avoid paying PMI is to save as much money as possible when buying your new home. Aim to make a down payment of at least 20% and eliminate the need for PMI.
That said, in addition to putting 20% down, you’ll also need to set aside cash for closing costs — like loan origination fees, property taxes, inspections and appraisals, and attorney expenses. Unfortunately, closing costs can tack on thousands of extra dollars during home buying, leaving you with less money to put down.
Ask your lender about different options
Don’t be afraid to ask your lender about loan programs that offer alternatives to PMI. For example, you may be eligible for lender-paid mortgage insurance (LPMI). While this might result in a higher interest rate, it could prevent you from having to make separate PMI premiums.
Review your lender’s PMI policies
If you don’t like a lender’s PMI rate, shop around and compare different options. You may be able to qualify for a lower rate from another lender.
Request PMI removal
Keep in mind that PMI payments aren’t forever. Once your equity reaches 20% of the home’s value based on the original LTV ratio, you can request PMI removal. For conventional mortgages, automatic cancellation occurs when the loan reaches a specific LTV ratio (e.g., 78%).
Make rapid payments
If you’re in a position to do so, consider making additional payments on your loan balance. Reducing your mortgage balance can help you reach the 20% equity mark faster and reduce the overall duration of your expenses.
Choose a shorter loan term
Another option is to opt for a shorter loan term. For example, you may select a 15-year mortgage instead of a 30-year loan. Requesting a shorter mortgage helps build equity faster and repay the loan sooner. The only downside is your monthly mortgage payments will go up.
While refinancing doesn’t automatically eliminate PMI, it can save you a lot of money if you have substantial equity in your property (e.g., if you bought your house in 2019). It’s worth talking to your lender or financial advisor to determine whether refinancing can impact what you pay each month.
Private mortgage insurance: FAQs
How do you pay PMI?
Most lenders allow borrowers to pay PMI in monthly installments tacked on to their regular monthly payments. However, some lenders also give the option to make annual lump sum payments or access lender-paid arrangements.
Is PMI for conventional loans?
PMI is often attached to conventional loans that lack the support of a government agency like the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which come with their own insurance and guarantee mechanisms. Unless you put down at least 20%, PMI applies to both fixed-rates and adjustable-rate mortgages.
What is split-premium PMI?
Split-premium PMI is a type of insurance where the borrower pays an upfront premium and ongoing monthly payments.
With split-premium PMI, the upfront premium is a one-time payment at the beginning of the loan. It’s similar to paying upfront fees with a mortgage. The upfront payment reduces the monthly payment amount, leading to lower overall PMI costs over the life of the loan.
Availability for split-premium PMI can vary among lenders. As with any other aspect of home financing, it’s important to review the terms, costs, and benefits of split-premium PMI compared to other options.
Is PMI tax-deductible?
Unfortunately, the PMI tax deduction isn’t available for the 2022 tax year. However, some homeowners may be eligible to deduct PMI payments for past tax years (certain restrictions apply). Of course, Congress may act to make PMI deductible once again in the future; time will tell.
What is piggybacking?
Piggybacking is a financial strategy where a borrower uses two loans to purchase a home. In certain circumstances, piggybacking can enable you to avoid paying PMI.
For example, a borrower might take out a conventional mortgage for 80% of the home’s purchase price and a second mortgage for 10% of the home’s value. Combining these two loans with a down payment of 10% or more covers the entire purchase of the house, enabling you to avoid PMI.
Do lenders require PMI if you use a HELOC?
Lenders may require PMI if you use a home equity line of credit (HELOC). In this scenario, the primary mortgage and HELOC contribute to the combined loan-to-value ratio (CLTV). If the CLTV ratio reaches a certain threshold, the lender might require PMI to mitigate risk.
When it comes to PMI, lender policies tend to vary. For example, some may offer alternative options like higher interest rates. To increase the chances you make the best decision, it’s important to communicate with your lender about your situation and explore different options.
Is it better to put down 20% or pay PMI?
If you can afford it, putting down 20% is smarter than paying PMI. Not only will you be responsible for covering lower monthly mortgage payments, you’ll also start your homeownership journey with more equity in your home, leading to greater financial security.
On the other hand, paying less upfront frees capital for other investments like home improvements and emergencies. A lower down payment also allows you to become a homeowner sooner — something that may be worth it due to skyrocketing home prices.
At the end of the day, you need to consider your financial goals, timeline, and risk tolerance to determine whether to put down 20% or pay PMI. To increase the chances you make the best decision, consult with a financial advisor or mortgage professional to learn which option is better for you.
Is it common for borrowers to default on their loans?
While most homeowners don’t default on their loans, it is not uncommon for homeowners to be incapable of paying their mortgages. Even so, the latest data indicates U.S. mortgage delinquency rates reached an all-time low in May due to a strong labor market that helps borrowers make their mortgage payments on time.
Currently, the share of all delinquent mortgages is hovering around 2.6%. Of this, just 1.3% include early stage delinquencies (30 to 59 days past due) — a 1.1% year-over-year increase. That said, 14 states and almost 170 metropolitan areas saw delinquencies increase annually in May.
Does Freddie Mac provide mortgage insurance?
The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) is a government-sponsored enterprise that purchases mortgages from lenders. While Freddie Mac doesn’t directly provide any mortgage insurance policies, it influences the market and the availability of loans with PMI through its guidelines and requirements.
Ready to start shopping for a loan estimate?
To encourage activity, more and more lenders are now issuing loans to folks who put down 5% or less when they buy a house. As a result, homebuyers are increasingly considering putting less money down and paying monthly PMI to cover a portion of their loans.
Signing up for PMI is a major personal finance decision that will have a big impact on your monthly mortgage payments. That being the case, it’s critical to assess your financial situation and determine whether it’s a good fit.
Before you start thinking about PMI, it helps to understand what kinds of loans are available to aspiring homeowners like yourself. In case you’re unaware, there are tons of different mortgage loans available for first-time homebuyers — each with varying requirements for down payments, insurance, mortgage terms, and eligibility.
To learn more about how to secure financing for a property, check out our mortgage loan primer.