Insurance – we need it for our life, our car, our house, our health and yes, in some cases, even for our mortgage. Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) is the mortgage industry term used to describe insurance that protects the lender of your mortgage against any type of default. It’s primarily used when you put down less than 20% of the purchase price of your home.

Each month you will be required to submit a premium payment that is calculated based on how much your down payment is and the total size of your loan. Typically the payment amounts to around one-half of one percent of the total loan value. These payments are usually added to your mortgage payment to make it easier to keep track of and keep paid.

The good news about PMI is that for those who are required to obtain it, they won’t need to keep it through the life of the loan. Typically when you reach the point where you have paid down 20% of the loan amount most mortgage lenders will automatically discontinue the PMI insurance premiums. They are required by law to discontinue it when you your total remaining balance on the loan reach 78% of your original loan amount. For most homeowners, this will amount to roughly a $37 – $50 reduction in monthly payments.

You should be aware that if your loan is classified as a “high risk” then by law lenders can require you to maintain PMI insurance until you have 50% equity built up. Typically such loans are made to those who took out loans in which they didn’t produce adequate documentation of income, and those with spotty credit histories. It is always best to talk directly with your mortgage provider about the length of time you will be required to carry PMI. When you sign the paperwork for your mortgage they should include information about when you will no longer be required to carry PMI.

Of course, the best financial move you can make is to not have to pay PMI at all. Some ways to avoid having to pay this include taking on a higher interest rate (typically from .75 to 1 full point) or taking out two mortgages to purchase a home, with one covering 90% of the purchase price and the other covering 10%. Both of these options require you to carefully go over the numbers to see if they provide financial benefit over the life of the loan. A full percentage point increase in interest can amount to a massive amount of additional interest charges over the life of the loan that may far exceed what you would pay in PMI insurance.

Of course, if you really want to come out ahead in the whole mortgage game your best bet is to have 20% down for your down payment and make sure your credit report is as clean as you can get it. It takes time to achieve both of these, but a few years of savings and working on your credit can reap great rewards in your dream of buying a house.

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