How to Avoid Paying Private Mortgage Insurance

You’ve spent weeks preparing paperwork for your mortgage application. Now that you’re pre-approved for a loan, it’s time to talk numbers.

At first glance of the document detailing the breakdown of your monthly mortgage payments, the term PMI catches your eye. It’s a little over $100 per month, and you’re not sure what it’s for.

couple getting a mortgage

From what you’ve read, it’s standard on loans if the borrower puts little or no money down. But before you panic, take a deep breath and read on to learn more about PMI and how it works.

What is private mortgage insurance (PMI)?

What happens when your down payment is less than 20% of the cost of your new home? You may get approved for a mortgage loan. However, you pose more risk to the mortgage lender since you’re starting with no equity in your home. And if you fall behind on monthly payments and the lender forecloses on the home, they could stand to lose on the sale.

But the down payment of 20% is a way to create instant home equity. It also provides a layer of protection for the lender if they have to sell at a discounted price to recoup losses.

So, how does the lender protect themselves if you make little to no down payment? That’s where private mortgage insurance (PMI) comes in.

PMI is a type of mortgage insurance that protects the lender from taking a loss if you default on the loan. If the lender is unable to recover the outstanding balance of the loan from the sale, PMI will kick in and pay the difference. PMI is not to be confused with homeowners insurance, which protects you against damage to your property.

Who pays for private mortgage insurance?

This protection comes at a cost to borrowers. But it allows those with a down payment of less than 20% to buy the home of their dreams. It also minimizes risk, so lenders can extend these types of mortgage loans to consumers.

Does it cover private and public lenders?

PMI is only available to private lenders. Government agencies and other public lenders have their own form of mortgage insurance.

When is private mortgage insurance required?

Mortgage lenders use the loan-to-value (LTV) ratio to determine whether a borrower has to pay PMI. Typically, you’ll only have to pay PMI premiums if your loan-to-value ratio exceeds 80%. To calculate the mortgage LTV, the lender divides the mortgage amount by the home value.

Other circumstances may cause the lender to require PMI coverage. This includes past foreclosures, a less-than-perfect credit score, or other factors the lender thinks will increase your chances of defaulting on the loan.

A few scenarios:

Home Value [1]$100,000$200,000$250,000
Down Payment$10,000$50,000$25,000
Mortgage Amount$90,000$50,000$25,000
Loan to Value Ratio90%75%90%
PMI RequiredYesNo [2]Yes
[1]: Equivalent to sales price at the time of purchase
[2]: This may change if the lender determines the borrower is riskier than normal

Private Mortgage Insurance vs. Mortgage Insurance Premiums

As mentioned earlier, mortgage insurance comes in a few variations:

  • Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI): protects private lenders who offer conventional loans. There are two types of PMI for conventional loans: borrower-paid mortgage insurance and lender-paid mortgage insurance. In most instances, PMI only applies until your LTV reaches 80%. But there are situations where the lender will require a higher percentage for the coverage to be lifted from the loan.
  • Mortgage Insurance Premium (MIP): protects government-backed VA loans and FHA loans. You pay a portion of the premium at the close of a VA loan or FHA loan. Then, you continue to pay mortgage insurance premiums on a monthly basis for the life of the loan, even once LTV is below 80%.

The LTV ratio is computed in the same manner for both private and government-backed mortgage products.

How much does PMI cost?

Premiums vary by loan. On average, you can expect to pay between 0.5 and 1% of the loan amount annually. So, if your mortgage is $350,000 and the PMI rate is 0.8%, your annual premiums will be around $2,800, or $233.33 per month.

The insurer will analyze your profile, including your credit score and down payment, to determine your interest rate.

The type of mortgage could also impact your premium. For example, if you take out an Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) with floating interest, your premium may be higher. Why so? If the interest rate increases, your monthly mortgage payment will rise. And there’s a possibility you’ll default on the loan.

The condition of the real estate market in your area could also impact your PMI premiums. If projections state home values will plummet in the future, your premiums may be higher. This is due to the likelihood of you walking away once you’re upside-down on the loan.

How are PMI premiums paid?

There are three ways to make PMI premium payments:

  • Borrower-Paid PMI: Most mortgage lenders make it easy to manage premiums by rolling the monthly obligation into the amount you already pay for your home. This is the method used by most borrowers.
  • Single Premium PMI: You can also make a single lump-sum payment at the start of the loan by paying cash or rolling sum of the premiums into the loan.
  • Lender Paid PMI: If you wish to lower the monthly mortgage payment, Lender Paid PMI is also an option. The lender will pay premiums on your behalf. But keep in mind that the costs will be recouped in interest. And premiums don’t automatically go away when the mortgage LTV reaches 80%.

How to Avoid Paying Private Mortgage Insurance

The easiest way to avoid paying PMI is by making a larger down payment. If you can’t afford to put 20% down, it reduces your LTV ratio. Plus, you’ll be able to drop coverage quicker.

1. Take out a second mortgage or piggyback loan

To use this strategy effectively, you’ll need to take out a mortgage for the home’s purchase price, minus 20%. The remaining loan balance, minus the down payment, is then rolled into a second mortgage or piggyback loan.

So, if you buy a home for $200,000 and make a down payment of $15,000, the first mortgage will amount to $160,000. The second mortgage will amount to $25,000 since you are making a down payment of $15,000.

With this method, you avoid PMI since the LTV ratio on the first mortgage is 80%. But keep in mind that a second mortgage comes with a higher interest rate. So, you’ll want to pay it off sooner than later to avoid spending a fortune in interest.

2. Monitor the loan-to-value ratio

When you took out the mortgage loan, your lender used the home’s purchase price to determine the LTV ratio. However, an increase in the market value of your home could mean you are no longer obligated to pay for PMI.

By law, under the Homeowner’s Protection Act, PMI has to come off once the outstanding principal reaches 78% of the original loan amount.

Prepare to provide a professional appraisal to the lender to substantiate your claim. You may spend a few hundred dollars to get it done, but the cost savings will be worth it.

3. Request PMI Cancellation

If you’re nearing the 80% mark, the lender may be willing to remove the PMI from your loan. However, there’s also a possibility that you’ve already met some other criteria that warrant a request to cancel PMI coverage.

4. Refinance your mortgage

Perhaps your credit score was in shambles, and you were forced to take out a government-backed loan that requires you to carry PMI for the duration of the loan. Or maybe you got stuck with a conventional loan from a private lender that requires PMI until the LTV ratio reaches 70%.

Either way, refinancing your loan with laxer PMI restrictions may be a better option. But be sure to run the numbers to confirm that the new loan will not cost you more over time. (Remember, extending or resetting the loan term allows the lender more time to collect interest from you).

5. Shop for a loan that doesn’t require PMI

Compare loan programs to find one that doesn’t require PMI. For example, VA loans don’t require PMI, which can save you a bundle. Additionally, explore loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Both of them offer programs designed to make homeownership more accessible to low- and moderate-income buyers.

Some lenders also offer mortgage products that allow you to make a small down payment and not have to pay for PMI. Bank of America’s “Affordable Loan Solution” mortgage product is a great example.

6. Ask about exemptions

If you’re a physician or veteran, you could also be exempt from PMI, even if you don’t put down 20%. Ask your lender for more details to determine if you qualify.

7. Consult the lender

Still no luck? Reach out to the lender to inquire about other ways to stop paying PMI. They may know of tips and tricks on how to get rid of PMI that may not be obvious to the average borrower.

Finally, if you still have questions or don’t understand how mortgage insurance works, seek clarification before signing on the dotted line. That way, you won’t be in for any surprises later on down the line.

Frequently Asked Questions

When is private mortgage insurance required?

PMI is typically required when a borrower makes a down payment of less than 20% of the purchase price of the home.

How much does private mortgage insurance cost?

The cost of PMI can vary depending on the size of the loan and the down payment amount. Generally, the cost of PMI is between 0.5% and 1.5% of the loan amount.

How long do I have to pay PMI?

Generally, PMI is required until the loan-to-value ratio (LTV) reaches 78%. Once the LTV reaches 78%, the lender must automatically cancel the PMI.

How can I avoid PMI?

Borrowers can avoid PMI by making a down payment of at least 20% of the purchase price of the home. Additionally, some lenders offer programs that allow borrowers to put down less than 20% and still avoid PMI.

What if I want to cancel my PMI?

Borrowers can request to cancel their PMI once their loan-to-value ratio (LTV) reaches 80%. The lender may require proof that the LTV has reached 80% before canceling the PMI.

Can I deduct PMI on my taxes?

PMI is not tax-deductible as of 2019. However, borrowers may be able to deduct the interest portion of their mortgage payments, which may include PMI.

Allison Martin
Meet the author

Allison Martin is a syndicated financial writer, author, and Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI). She has written about personal finance for almost ten years and holds a master's degree in Accounting from the University of South Florida.