If you buy a home and take out a mortgage, you may be required to purchase private mortgage insurance, or PMI. So, what’s the purpose of PMI, exactly? It’s meant to protect your lender if you stop making your mortgage payments. If you go into foreclosure, your home will be sold at auction, and it may not sell for enough to cover the balance of your mortgage. PMI makes up the difference to your lender.

Are you required to get PMI? That all depends on a few factors. The good news is, even if you’re required to have PMI, you can (eventually) get rid of it. Here’s what you need to know:

When Is PMI Required?

PMI is usually required when you obtain a conventional mortgage and make a down payment that’s less than 20 percent of the home’s purchase price. A conventional mortgage is any mortgage that’s not part of a government program, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). So, FHA and VA loans are not conventional mortgages, as they are insured by government programs.

If you’re shopping for a mortgage, you can find out whether you’re required to have PMI from your prospective lender. They are required to disclose PMI costs on your Loan Estimate and on your Closing Disclosure. Your lender may require you to make ongoing, monthly PMI payments, an up-front PMI payment at closing, or a combination of the two. Some lenders let you choose which option you prefer.   

How Much Does PMI Cost?

PMI costs vary, but they typically range from 0.5 percent to 1 percent of the loan amount annually. So, for a $200,000 mortgage, your PMI could be $1,000 to $2,000 per year. That’s in addition to your mortgage payment, your homeowner’s insurance, and your property taxes. If you have a low credit score or a high loan-to-value ratio, your costs could be even higher. Your loan-to-value ratio is the amount of your loan when compared to the value of your home. If you make a 5 percent down payment, your loan-to-value ratio is 95 percent, and you will likely have a higher PMI payment than someone who makes a 10 percent down payment.

How Can I Avoid PMI?

The simplest way to avoid PMI is to make a 20 percent or higher down payment. That isn’t always realistic, though. Some other options include:

  • Shopping around: Some lenders may offer a conventional loan without PMI, even if your down payment is less than 20 percent. Review these offers carefully, though, as the interest rate may be higher than a mortgage with PMI. You could end up paying even more in total costs just to avoid PMI.
  • Consider other types of loans: For example, FHA loans and VA loans don’t have PMI. They do have other fees, though. FHA loans require borrowers to pay upfront and ongoing mortgage insurance. Even with the insurance costs, an FHA loan may be a better deal for borrowers with lower credit scores than a conventional loan with PMI. VA loans do not have PMI or mortgage insurance, but there is a funding fee, which varies depending on the amount of your down payment. And of course, these loans are only available to U.S. veterans.

How Can I Get Rid of My PMI?

If you already have a mortgage with PMI, don’t lose hope. You have the right to cancel your PMI once your mortgage balance is 80 percent of the original value of your home. The date when you reach the magical 80 percent number should have been included on your PMI disclosure form, but if you can’t find it, contact your lender. You can also reach that number sooner if you make additional payments to pay down your loan balance.

To cancel PMI, you must make the request in writing and be current on your mortgage payments. In some cases, your lender may request an appraisal to make sure the value of your home hasn’t dropped. If you don’t ask for your PMI to be removed, your lender should drop it automatically when your loan balance reaches 78 percent of the original home value.

If you have any questions about PMI, contact your lender. The payments might be annoying, but at least they’re only temporary.

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