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3 ways to avoid mortgage insurance

When you're required by a lender to buy PMI, you're paying for insurance that protects the lender, not you.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 23, 2012 12:03PM

This post comes from Rob Berger at partner blog The Dough Roller.


The Dough Roller on MSN MoneyWhen my wife and I bought our first home, the most we could put down on the home was 5%. As a result, we had to pay private mortgage insurance to qualify for the loan. Each month our mortgage payment included the premium for PMI, and I absolutely hated paying it.


Image: Home for sale (© Corbis)If you're not familiar with PMI, it's insurance that some homeowners must purchase to qualify for the loan. PMI protects the lender in the event that the homeowner fails to pay the mortgage. In other words, you are paying for insurance that protects the lender, not you.


The good news is that there are ways to avoid paying PMI.



20% down payment

When you apply for a mortgage, the lender considers several factors to ascertain your creditworthiness. These include things like your credit score, your income and your other debt. Lenders also look at the amount of the loan you are requesting compared with the value of the home. Called a loan-to-value ratio or LTV, it can affect the interest you'll pay as well as whether you'll have to buy PMI.


If your home is valued at $200,000 and you want to borrow $150,000, your LTV is 75% ($150,000/$200,000). If your LTV is above 80%, lenders will typically require you to pay PMI. So the first way to avoid PMI is to make a down payment equal to or greater than 20% of the purchase price of the home.


If you are just starting out, however, a 20% down payment may be more than you can handle. Fortunately, there are other ways to avoid PMI. (Post continues below.)

Get a second loan

My wife and I took this approach with our second home. The most we could afford was a 15% down payment. But rather than getting a loan equal to 85% of the purchase price and paying PMI, we got two loans. The first mortgage was for 80% of the purchase price, so we didn't have to pay PMI. And we got a home equity line of credit for the remaining 5%.


With a home equity line of credit, you don't have to pay PMI. The downside is that the interest rate is higher than on a first mortgage. When we bought our second home in 2004, however, PMI was not tax-deductible. The interest we paid on the second mortgage was. And we could pay it off relatively quickly.


While this approach is still worth considering, it's important to note that PMI today is tax-deductible. Whether it will remain tax-deductible is an open question. But given the very low mortgage rates today, a second loan may still beat the cost of PMI.


Watch the value of your home

If you can't or didn't avoid PMI with the above two options, you have a third option. Once the balance of your loan dips below 80% of the home's value, the lender must remove the PMI requirement. With our first home, increased home values eventually took us below the 80% threshold, and we got out from under the PMI. Today, however, there is a twist to this approach.


Even if you don't request it, your mortgage lender is required by law to cancel your PMI once your loan is down to an LTV of 78%, provided that you are current on your loan. If your mortgage is considered "high risk," your PMI will not be automatically canceled until you pay down your mortgage to an LTV of 77%. This requirement (new as of 1999) seems like a huge benefit to homeowners. It's not.


Remember that there are two ways to get your loan below an LTV of 80%: paying down the principal, or increasing the value of your home. Because the payments you make in the early years of a mortgage go mostly to interest, it can take years on a 30-year mortgage before you reach the 78% threshold. But if home values go up, you can get rid of PMI much faster.

And here's the catch. A lender is not going to reassess the value of your home on its own to see if you can get rid of PMI. It will eliminate the PMI only when your payments bring your loan down to 78% of the purchase price, which can take forever. But when home values go up, and they will go up, you can take the initiative to have your home appraised. That's what my wife and I did on our first home, and we were able to stop paying PMI after just a few years.


More on The Dough Roller and MSN Money:

Aug 26, 2012 10:37AM
WOW Are we dumb. What did the banks do with the payoff money for defaulted Mortgages in the last ten years. I am a RE Broker and the amount of Premiums were staggering. No one said nothing about this ripoff by the banks which we instead bailed them out, Bastards again Barney?
Aug 28, 2012 11:19AM
The PMI racket is run by the same insurance companies that track, place, and profit off Force-Placed Insurance. Remember the term Force-Placed Insurance, as it is the leading cause of foreclosures since 1994. False placement of illegally and artificially inflated premiums have been proven to create a negative escrow account, which leads to increased mortgage payments, blocked tax payments, and denial of a loan modification.

Read chapter 2 of my firsthand account as a bank whistleblower uncovering the largest bank fraud in history here:

Aug 26, 2012 10:39AM
Outstanding Observation of the deceiving in Banking and FMAC.
Feb 25, 2013 3:18PM
Citimortgage is Horrible. Just try getting them to remove PMI, no way.
Apr 8, 2013 8:12PM
3 ways to avoid mortgage insurance- MSN Money : Try this site where you can comapre quotes from different companies:
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