Private Mortgage Insurance: What It Is and Types

Steering through the complicated world of home purchases can often feel like deciphering an ancient map where X marks the spot of your dream home. Among the various pathways of this journey, private mortgage insurance, also known as PMI, emerges as a significant landmark for many prospective homeowners.

Private Mortgage Insurance: What It Is and Types

This financial instrument, both misunderstood and underestimated, plays a pivotal role in the grand adventure of home ownership, especially for those who cannot afford a hefty down payment. Private mortgage insurance is not just another line item on your mortgage statement; it is a solution that can open the door to homeownership faster than buyers could think.

In this exploration, we dive into the importance of private mortgage insurance, explain its purpose, uncover its benefits, and navigate the circumstances under which it can be removed. Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or a seasoned investor, understanding private mortgage insurance could change the way you view your journey to home ownership.

What is Private Mortgage Insurance?

Private mortgage insurance (PMI), also known as lenders mortgage insurance (LMI), is a type of insurance that protects the lender in case the borrower defaults on their mortgage payments. It is typically required by lenders when homebuyers make a down payment of less than 20% of the home’s purchase price.

In essence, private mortgage insurance minimizes the risk for lenders, allowing borrowers who cannot afford a large down payment the opportunity to become homeowners. While private mortgage insurance offers clear benefits to lenders, it also has advantages for borrowers, facilitating entry into the housing market sooner than might otherwise be possible.

Types of Private Mortgage Insurance

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) is essential for many borrowers who cannot afford a 20% down payment on a home. PMI helps protect lenders from the risk of default and foreclosure. There are several types of PMI, each with its own payment structure and benefits. Understanding these can help borrowers choose the most suitable option for their financial situation. Here are the primary types of private mortgage insurance:

  • Borrower-Paid Mortgage Insurance
  • Single-Premium Mortgage Insurance
  • Lender-paid mortgage insurance.
  • Split-Premium Mortgage Insurance

Borrower-Paid Mortgage Insurance

Borrower-paid mortgage insurance is the most common form of private mortgage insurance, where the borrower pays the PMI premium as part of their monthly mortgage payment.

This type of PMI is convenient because it doesn’t require upfront cash, but it can make the monthly payment higher. Borrowers can request to cancel BPMI when their mortgage balance reaches 80% of the home’s original value, and it is automatically terminated at 78%.

Single-premium mortgage insurance

Single-premium mortgage insurance is also known as upfront private mortgage insurance. It allows the borrower to pay the entire PMI premium in a single lump sum at closing. It can be financed and paid in cash or as part of the loan amount.

One of its benefits is that it gets rid of the need for monthly private mortgage insurance payments, potentially saving money over the life of the loan. However, it requires more cash upfront, and if you move or refinance early, you may not recoup the cost.

Lender-paid mortgage insurance

With LPMI, the lender pays the borrower’s PMI premium. In exchange, the borrower pays a slightly higher interest rate on their mortgage. This higher rate usually applies for the life of the loan, which could end up costing more over the long term compared to BPMI or SPMI. However, it can lower the monthly payment compared to loans with BPMI.

Split-premium mortgage insurance

Split-premium PMI is a hybrid between BPMI and SPMI, allowing borrowers to pay a portion of the PMI premium upfront at closing and the remainder as a monthly fee added to their mortgage payment.

This can lower the monthly PMI cost while also reducing the upfront financial burden. It offers a balance for those who can afford some upfront payments but wish to minimize their monthly expenses.

How Does It Work?

As a borrower who applies for a mortgage with less than a 20% down payment, the lender will need you to purchase private mortgage insurance. However, the cost can differ based on various factors, like the loan amount, the size of the down payment, the type of mortgage, and the borrower’s credit score.

On the other hand, private mortgage insurance fees range from 0.3% to 1.5% of the original loan amount annually and are usually added to the monthly mortgage payment.

What Does Private Mortgage Insurance Cover?

Here is what PMI typically covers:

  • Foreclosure costs.
  • Lender protection.

These are the primary factors that private mortgage insurance offers coverage for. However, the insurance provider also affects the coverage options as well.

What Does It Not Cover?

Here are the exclusions on a private mortgage insurance policy:

  • Borrower’s personal property.
  • Mortgage payments.
  • Liability coverage.
  • Home value protection.
  • Property damage.

Having an understanding of what PMI covers and does not cover is crucial for homebuyers. While it enables the purchase of a home with a lower down payment, it is important to remember that it is designed to protect the lender, not the homeowner, against losses.

How Much Does Private Mortgage Insurance Cost?

The cost of PMI can vary significantly based on several factors, including the down payment amount, loan size, borrower’s credit score, and the specific insurer’s policies. Generally, PMI costs range from 0.3% to 1.5% of the original loan amount per year.

This means that on a $200,000 loan, the PMI could cost between $600 and $3,000 annually, or $50 to $250 per month, added to the mortgage payment.

Other factors affecting the price of PMI include:

  • The amount of the loan
  • The type of mortgage
  • Insurance provider
  • Occupancy type
  • Credit score
  • Size of the down payment
  • Payment structure

Understanding these factors will not only help you estimate the cost of PMI more accurately but also potentially find ways to reduce it, either by increasing your down payment, improving your credit score, or choosing a different mortgage product.

How to Get Private Mortgage Insurance

Obtaining PMI is a straightforward process that is typically facilitated by the lender during the mortgage application process. The steps involve:

  • Loan Application: Apply for a mortgage and provide the necessary documentation to the lender.
  • Lender Evaluation: The lender assesses the application, including the down payment amount, and determines the need for PMI.
  • Insurance Quote: The lender obtains a PMI quote from an insurer based on the loan details.
  • Payment Setup: The PMI premium is added to the mortgage payment. And the homeowner begins paying it along with their monthly mortgage payments.

Understanding private mortgage insurance is crucial for prospective homeowners, particularly those who cannot afford a large down payment. While it represents an additional cost, PMI makes homeownership accessible sooner, allowing borrowers to begin building equity in their homes without waiting years to save up a larger down payment.

How to Avoid Paying PMI

If you are considering making payments for private mortgage insurance, that will save you money on your monthly mortgage payments. If you are interested, here are some helpful strategies to put in use:

  • Lender-paid mortgage insurance.
  • Make a 20% down payment.
  • Search for loan options with no PMI requirement.
  • Pay for an appraisal.
  • VA loans.
  • Consider piggyback loans.
  • USDA loans.
  • Increase your home equity.

Avoiding PMI requires careful planning and consideration of your financial situation. Each option has its pros and cons, and what works best will depend on your unique circumstances, including your financial health, the real estate market, and your long-term homeownership plans.


How long do you have to pay PMI?

The duration for which you have to pay PMI can vary based on your mortgage agreement, the amount of your down payment, and how quickly you accumulate equity in your home.

Can I avoid paying PMI?

Yes, by making a down payment of 20% or more or by obtaining a loan type that does not require PMI, such as some VA loans.

How can I stop paying PMI?

You can request to cancel PMI when your LTV ratio reaches 80% through principal reduction or home appreciation. Lenders are also required to automatically cancel PMI when the LTV ratio reaches 78%.

Does my PMI payment decrease over time?

No, PMI payments remain constant until canceled. However, the overall portion of your mortgage payment going towards PMI decreases as you pay down the principal of your loan.

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