By Marilyn Lewis
If you have private mortgage insurance, you’re probably looking forward to the day when it ends, sweetly reducing your mortgage payment. Here’s good news: While PMI eventually is canceled automatically, there are several things you can do to make that day arrive faster.
You pay for PMI, but it protects your lender, not you, against the risk that you’ll stop making your mortgage payments. You aren’t the only one paying for it; about 13% of all mortgages in the U.S. have PMI. On average, homeowners with PMI make payments for 5 1/2 years before the insurance ends, according to U.S. Mortgage Insurers, a Washington D.C.-based industry group.
PMI is the only type of lender protection that you can escape. Department of Veterans Affairs mortgage funding fees can’t be canceled. Neither can Federal Housing Administration mortgage insurance premiums, which are paid to the government. Lender-paid mortgage insurance is paid in full when the loan is issued, and the borrower repays it through a higher interest rate. With all of those, you must sell or refinance to get clear.
Homeowners with PMI have six options for getting rid of it.
1. Wait for automatic cancellation
You don’t have to do a thing. Eventually, your mortgage insurance will fall away. Your lender is required to cancel your PMI when either of these things happens:
- Your mortgage reaches 78% loan to value. The federal Homeowners Protection Act of 1998 requires lenders to terminate PMI, free of charge, at that loan to value ratio. To find your LTV, divide the loan balance by the original purchase price or calculate it here. For example, with a balance of $250,000 and a purchase price of $320,000, the LTV is 0.78, or 78%.)
- The mortgage hits the halfway point. Regardless of your LTV, your lender terminates your PMI automatically when the mortgage is halfway finished — in year 15 of a 30-year mortgage, for instance. That could happen before the lender’s equity reaches 78% if your mortgage has a balloon payment, an interest-only period or principal forbearance.
Lindsey Johnson, executive director of U.S. Mortgage Insurers, an industry group representing large insurers, tells borrowers to request a written copy of their PMI cancellation schedule and their lender’s requirements. Call the number on your monthly mortgage statement and do it now, she says, long before you need it. That way you’ll know when your payments are supposed to stop and can watch your progress.
2. Request early cancellation
You can save money by acting to remove PMI sooner. “When your mortgage balance reaches 80% of your home’s original value — the lesser of the sales price or the appraised price at origination — your mortgage servicer must cancel [PMI] at your written request,” says Marc Zinner, vice president of commercial operations at Genworth, one of the largest private mortgage insurance companies.
Use your PMI schedule, which is based on your home’s original value, to track your progress. Make a written request to your lender several months before the mortgage is scheduled to hit 80% loan to value and get the process moving.
To make the case for early cancellation you’ll also need:
- A good payment history. The rule is no payments 30 days late in the past 12 months and no 60-day late payments in the previous 24 months. Timely payments count when it comes to getting rid of PMI. Late payments can put you in a high-risk category, making it harder to cancel.
- No other liens. Your mortgage must be the home’s only debt, including second mortgages, home equity loans and lines of credit.
- Proof of value. An appraisal, at your expense, to prove the home’s value hasn’t fallen. Certain lenders accept a broker price opinion instead.
3. Get a new appraisal
If property values are rising where you live, you can request early cancellation based on the home’s current value. You’ll probably need a new appraisal for that.
Before spending $300 to $500 on an appraiser, check your lender’s rules. Some lenders require borrowers to use certain appraisers. Others accept a broker price opinion, a quicker process costing about half or less of an appraiser’s fee.
Here’s a caveat: To cancel based on current value, you must have owned the home for at least two years and have 75% LTV. If you’ve owned the home for at least five years, you can cancel at 80% LTV.
4. Boost value with home improvements
Depending on your market, you may be able to boost your home’s value with a well-chosen remodeling project. Remodeling Magazine says projects that enhance curb appeal, like upgraded siding, doors and windows, add the most value for the money spent.
5. Refinance your mortgage
Refinancing might also let you escape PMI, but make sure the premium payments you avoid are greater than your refinancing costs (use this calculator to decide).
6. Sell your home
The last resort when it comes to ditching PMI is to sell the home. It’s unlikely you’ll want to or need to, however, given the range of other choices.
Know your rights
Occasionally, borrowers and lenders knock heads over canceling PMI. If you run into insurmountable obstacles when trying to cancel, complain to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at 855-411-CFPB (2372).
Ray Rodriguez, a regional sales manager for Cherry Hill, N.J.-based TD Bank, says lenders vary in how they work with borrowers over canceling PMI. Think about mortgage insurance when getting a mortgage, he says. Tell the lender you need a copy of the loan’s PMI cancellation policies before you’ll sign the mortgage agreement.
“It’s the lender or whoever is going to service this loan who will make the rules on this,” Rodriguez says. “Your lender should know their servicing policy right upfront. If they say ‘No’ or ‘If’ or ‘Maybe’ and you call two other lenders and they say, ‘Absolutely, we would do that for you,’ you can vote with your feet.”
Marilyn is a personal finance writer at NerdWallet, specializing in mortgages and homeownership.