What is PMI?

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)  is extra insurance that lenders require from most home buyers who obtain loans that are more than 80 percent of their new home’s value. In other words, buyers with less than a 20 percent down payment are normally required to pay PMI.


Benefits of PMI

PMI plays an important role in the mortgage industry by protecting a lender against loss if a borrower defaults on a loan and by enabling borrowers with less cash to have greater access to home ownership. With this type of insurance, it is possible for you to buy a home with as little as a 3 percent to 5 percent down payment. This means that you can buy a home sooner without waiting years to accumulate a large down payment.


New PMI Requirements

A new federal law, The Homeowner’s Protection Act (HPA) of 1998, requires lenders or servicers to provide certain disclosures concerning PMI for loans secured by the consumer’s primary residence obtained on or after July 29, 1999.  The HPA also contains disclosure provisions for mortgage loans that closed before July 29, 1999.  In addition, the HPA includes provisions for borrower-requested cancellation and automatic termination of PMI.


Why a Change in PMI Requirements?

In the past, most lenders honored consumers’ requests to drop PMI coverage if their loan balance was paid down to 80 percent of the property value and they had a good payment history.  However, consumers were responsible for requesting cancellation and many consumers were not aware of this possibility. Consumers had to keep track of their loan balance to know if they had enough equity and they had to request that the lender discontinue requiring PMI coverage. In many cases, people failed to make this request even after they became eligible, and they paid unnecessary premiums ranging from $250 to $1,200 per year for several years.  With the new law, both consumers and lenders share responsibility for how long PMI coverage is required.


The Homeowner’s Protection Act (HPA) of 1998


What Loans Are Covered?

Generally, the HPA applies to residential mortgage transactions obtained on or after July 29, 1999, but it also has requirements for loans obtained before that date.  This new law does not cover VA and FHA government-guaranteed loans. In addition, the new law has different requirements for loans classified as “high-risk.” Although the HPA does not provide the standards for what constitutes a “high risk” loan, it permits Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to issue guidance for mortgages that conform to secondary market loan limits. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are corporations chartered by Congress to create a continuous flow of funds to mortgage lenders in support of homeownership. As of January 1, 2000, mortgages in amounts of $252,700 or less are considered conforming loans. For non-conforming mortgages, the lender may designate mortgage loans as “high risk.”


What Is a Residential Mortgage Transaction?

There are four requirements for a transaction to be considered a residential mortgage transaction: (1) a mortgage or deed of trust must be created or retained; (2) the property securing the loan must be a single-family dwelling; (3) the single-family dwelling must be the primary residence of the borrower; and (4) the purpose of the transaction must be to finance the acquisition, initial construction, or refinancing of that dwelling.


How Do You Cancel or Terminate PMI?


Under HPA, you have the right to request cancellation of PMI when you pay down your mortgage to the point that it equals 80 percent of the original purchase price or appraised value of your home at the time the loan was obtained, whichever is less. You also need a good payment history, meaning that you have not been 30 days late with your mortgage payment within a year of your request, or 60 days late within two years. Your lender may require evidence that the value of the property has not declined below its original value and that the property does not have a second mortgage, such as a home equity loan.


Automatic Termination

Under HPA, mortgage lenders or servicers must automatically cancel PMI coverage on most loans, once you pay down your mortgage to 78 percent of the value if you are current on your loan. If the loan is delinquent on the date of automatic termination, the lender must terminate the coverage as soon thereafter as the loan becomes current. Lenders must terminate the coverage within 30 days of cancellation or the automatic termination date, and are not permitted to require PMI premiums after this date. Any unearned premiums must be returned to you within 45 days of the cancellation or termination date.

For high risk loans, mortgage lenders or servicers are required to automatically cancel PMI coverage once the mortgage is paid down to 77 percent of the original value of the property, provided you are current on your loan.


Final Termination

Under HPA, if PMI has not been canceled or otherwise terminated, coverage must be removed when the loan reaches the midpoint of the amortization period. On a 30-year loan with 360 monthly payments, for example, the chronological midpoint would occur after 180 payments. This provision also requires that the borrower must be current on the payments required by the terms of the mortgage. Final termination must occur within 30 days of this date.