What is mortgage insurance?

HotbotBy HotBotUpdated: June 20, 2024

Understanding Mortgage Insurance

Mortgage insurance is a specialized type of insurance designed to protect lenders against the risk of default by borrowers. It is a crucial component of the mortgage ecosystem, particularly for those unable to make a substantial down payment. Mortgage insurance can take various forms, each with its own set of rules, costs, and benefits. This article delves deep into the intricacies of mortgage insurance, shedding light on its types, functions, costs, and nuances.

Types of Mortgage Insurance

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

Private Mortgage Insurance, commonly abbreviated as PMI, is typically required for conventional loans when the borrower makes a down payment of less than 20% of the home's purchase price. PMI protects the lender if the borrower defaults on the loan. The cost of PMI can vary based on the loan-to-value ratio (LTV), the borrower's credit score, and other risk factors.

FHA Mortgage Insurance

Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans come with their own mortgage insurance requirements. There are two types of FHA mortgage insurance premiums: the upfront mortgage insurance premium (UFMIP) and the annual mortgage insurance premium (MIP). The UFMIP is usually 1.75% of the loan amount and can be rolled into the loan. The MIP is an annual premium divided into monthly payments.

VA Loan Mortgage Insurance

Veterans Affairs (VA) loans do not require traditional mortgage insurance. Instead, they come with a funding fee, which acts similarly to mortgage insurance by offsetting the risk the VA takes in guaranteeing the loan. The funding fee varies based on the down payment amount and whether the borrower is a first-time or subsequent VA loan user.

USDA Loan Mortgage Insurance

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) loans also have their own version of mortgage insurance. USDA loans require an upfront guarantee fee and an annual fee, which is paid monthly. These fees help fund the USDA loan program and protect against borrower default.

How Mortgage Insurance Works

Mortgage insurance is essentially a risk management tool for lenders. When a borrower defaults on a loan, the mortgage insurance policy compensates the lender for a portion of the lost revenue. This reduces the lender's financial risk, enabling them to offer loans to a broader range of borrowers, including those who may not have substantial down payments or stellar credit histories.

The borrower, while paying for the mortgage insurance, benefits indirectly. The presence of mortgage insurance can make it easier to qualify for a loan and secure better interest rates, even with a smaller down payment.

Cost of Mortgage Insurance

The cost of mortgage insurance varies depending on several factors, including the type of mortgage insurance, the amount of the loan, the loan-to-value ratio, and the borrower’s credit score.

Calculating PMI

For PMI, the cost typically ranges from 0.3% to 1.5% of the original loan amount per year. For example, on a $200,000 loan with a PMI rate of 1%, the annual cost would be $2,000, or about $167 per month.

FHA Mortgage Insurance Costs

FHA mortgage insurance includes the UFMIP and annual MIP. The UFMIP is 1.75% of the loan amount, which can be financed into the loan. The annual MIP varies based on the loan amount, term, and LTV ratio, typically ranging from 0.45% to 1.05% of the loan amount.

VA Loan Funding Fee

The VA funding fee varies. For first-time VA borrowers, it ranges from 1.4% to 2.3% of the loan amount, depending on the down payment. For subsequent use, the fee can be as high as 3.6%. Disabled veterans may be exempt from this fee.

USDA Loan Fees

For USDA loans, the upfront guarantee fee is 1% of the loan amount, and the annual fee is 0.35% of the loan's remaining principal balance, paid monthly.

Cancelling Mortgage Insurance

One of the significant concerns for borrowers is how to cancel mortgage insurance once it is no longer needed. The rules and processes for cancellation vary by type.

PMI Cancellation

For PMI, borrowers can request cancellation once they have 20% equity in their home, either through payments or home appreciation. Lenders are required to automatically cancel PMI when the loan balance reaches 78% of the original home value.

FHA MIP Cancellation

FHA MIP is more complicated. For loans with an LTV greater than 90%, MIP is required for the life of the loan. For loans with an LTV of 90% or less, MIP can be cancelled after 11 years.

VA and USDA Fees

VA funding fees and USDA guarantee fees are generally not cancellable, as they are upfront or annual fees that are part of the loan structure itself.

Impact on Borrowers

Mortgage insurance can significantly impact borrowers' monthly payments and overall loan costs. While it provides a pathway to homeownership for those who might not otherwise qualify for a mortgage, it also adds an additional financial burden.


- Lower Down Payments: Mortgage insurance allows for lower down payments, making homeownership more accessible.

- Easier Qualification: Lenders are more likely to approve loans with mortgage insurance, even for borrowers with lower credit scores or higher debt-to-income ratios.

- Better Interest Rates: Because the lender's risk is mitigated, borrowers might secure better interest rates than they would without mortgage insurance.


- Additional Cost: Mortgage insurance adds to the overall cost of the loan, increasing monthly payments.

- Complex Cancellation Terms: Especially for FHA loans, cancelling mortgage insurance can be complicated and may require refinancing.

Little-Known Facts About Mortgage Insurance

Mortgage insurance has a few lesser-known aspects that can be useful for borrowers to understand.

Tax Deductibility

PMI was once tax-deductible, but the tax laws have changed over time. As of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the deduction for mortgage insurance premiums was eliminated, although it has been temporarily reinstated in subsequent years. Borrowers should consult a tax advisor for the latest information.

Refinancing to Remove PMI

Borrowers with significant home equity can often refinance their mortgage to remove PMI. This can be a cost-effective option if interest rates are favorable.

Lender-Paid Mortgage Insurance

In some cases, lenders offer to pay the mortgage insurance premium in exchange for a higher interest rate on the loan. This option can be beneficial for borrowers who prefer a higher rate over monthly insurance payments.

The Nuances of Mortgage Insurance

Mortgage insurance is not a one-size-fits-all product. Its impact on a borrower's financial situation can be profound, both positively and negatively. Understanding the different types, costs, and cancellation policies is crucial for making an informed decision.

Mortgage insurance is a multifaceted tool in the realm of home financing. It opens doors, adds costs, and brings its own set of rules and benefits. As with any financial product, its true value lies in how well it aligns with the borrower's unique situation and long-term goals.

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