Whether you’re in the process of buying your first home or you’ve been a homeowner for years, there are few phrases that hit right to the bone like “mortgage insurance.” Why, you’re not sure entirely, but lots of people indicated that it was terrible and you were going to regret it.
As usual, the truth lies somewhere closer to the middle. Mortgage insurance is not your enemy, but it can be a costly surprise if you’re not prepared. Let’s dive into this hot button topic.
What Exactly is Mortgage Insurance?Mortgage insurance is a type of coverage that your lender will take out on your loan to help shield them against loss should you default. They generally only require it if you have less than 20 percent down and often, this monthly payment will drop off once you’ve paid your home loan down to the point that your house has about 22 percent in equity versus its mortgage.
To be clear, this insurance does not cover you — at least not directly. In the case of default, the bank gets the check, but you get something, too. In many states, even recourse states, the mortgage insurance can be enough to prevent the bank from coming back on you for the difference between what you owe and what it was able to recover at a public sale.
Having mortgage insurance does not guarantee you will be free and clear should you lose your home, but it sure helps, especially if that house is in good condition when you turn it over to the bank. Its original purpose was to make it easier for people to get mortgages, even if they couldn’t come up with a big down payment, but during the housing bubble a decade ago many homeowners discovered that it can help on the back end, too.
MIP, PMI and Funding FeesMortgage insurance is a blanket term for several different insurance programs that essentially do the same thing. Rather than just calling it “mortgage insurance” across the industry, due to the way each program came into being in sort of a vacuum, different loan types have different names for it. For example:
- FHA calls it MIP, the Mortgage Insurance Premium. It was one of the first programs and the name is an original, for sure. It requires both an upfront and monthly payment.
- Private Mortgage Insurance is available on conventional loans and will be provided by one of a few different companies, MGIC being one of the biggest.
- Many people think that VA loans don’t have mortgage insurance, but they do — it’s a one time charge at closing known as the “Funding Fee.”
Since the pricing of your mortgage insurance is based largely on your outstanding mortgage balance, the payment will get smaller and smaller each year. You can expect to pay from a half percent to one percent of your total mortgage balance annually. So, for example, if you borrow $300,000 to buy your home, your mortgage insurance payment will be anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000, or $125 to $250 a month, the first year.
Getting Rid of Mortgage InsuranceAlthough mortgage insurance has its place, you don’t want to pay it forever. That’s where this section of the blog comes in! If you borrowed using an FHA program after the summer of 2013 and had less than 10 percent down, you probably have lifetime mortgage insurance. There’s no joking, this is not a great situation.
Usually, once you reach 78 percent loan to value, based either on the original appraisal or an updated one, the bank will drop your mortgage insurance. You may have to write a formal request, but it’s not that big of a deal. With these FHA products, the mortgage insurance is meant to stay for the entire life of the loan. So, your options to shed it are a little trickier. You can:
- Avoid it entirely by using a piggyback loan. This is a combination mortgage made up of an 80 percent LTV conventional loan and a 15 percent LTV secondary loan. That secondary loan, however, can have a pretty high base interest rate and may have terms like an adjustable rate, a shorter amortization period or a prepayment penalty.
- Bring more to closing. Hey, it’s not fun to crack your piggy bank or 401(k) to get extra money, but there are times when it makes sense. This is one of them. You always need somewhere to live, you might as well be building equity, too.
- Refinance the monster. If you’ve noticed prices in your neighborhood rising dramatically or you’ve just been paying on your mortgage a while, it could pay to refinance your loan. Your Realtor can help you determine if it will be worthwhile to spend the money for a new appraisal and new loan paperwork. That’s also the downside, though. It can cost as much to refinance at the wrong time as you’re paying in mortgage insurance.
- Sell your home. You know, it was a good home, but you’re sick to death of paying the mortgage insurance. You plan to take the sale proceeds to buy another place that you can put at least 10 percent down on to avoid further incidents of lifetime mortgage insurance.
Keep in mind that although interest rates have been in the three to four percent zone for a while now, pre-bubble, they were between six and eight percent for a prime mortgage and no one blinked an eye. Effectively having a four to five — or even six — percent interest payment doesn’t have that much of a relative impact on your monthly housing costs.