Mortgage Insurance: What It Is and When You Need It

Purchasing a home is a significant financial commitment that often requires a mortgage. Alongside the excitement of becoming a homeowner, there are several considerations to keep in mind, one of which is mortgage insurance. This article will explore what mortgage insurance is, when you need it, and provide answers to some frequently asked questions.

What is Mortgage Insurance?

Mortgage insurance is a type of insurance policy designed to protect lenders in case borrowers default on their mortgage loans. It ensures that the lender is compensated for losses incurred due to non-payment, reducing the financial risk associated with lending large sums of money.

Types of Mortgage Insurance

There are two main types of mortgage insurance: Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) and Mortgage Insurance Premium (MIP).

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

PMI is typically required for conventional loans when the borrower makes a down payment of less than 20% of the home’s purchase price. PMI can be arranged through private insurance companies and is often added to the monthly mortgage payment.

Mortgage Insurance Premium (MIP)

MIP is associated with Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans, which are government-backed loans. Unlike PMI, MIP consists of both an upfront premium and an annual premium that is paid monthly. The upfront premium can be rolled into the loan amount, while the annual premium varies based on the loan term and loan-to-value ratio.

When Do You Need Mortgage Insurance?

Mortgage insurance is not always required but is necessary in specific circumstances. Here are the scenarios in which mortgage insurance is typically needed:

Down Payment Less Than 20%

One of the primary reasons mortgage insurance is required is when the borrower’s down payment is less than 20% of the home’s purchase price. Lenders view loans with lower down payments as riskier because there is less equity in the property. Mortgage insurance mitigates this risk.

FHA Loans

All FHA loans require mortgage insurance regardless of the down payment amount. This requirement ensures the FHA program can continue to assist buyers with less-than-perfect credit or lower down payments.

USDA and VA Loans

While USDA and VA loans do not require traditional mortgage insurance, they have their own forms of insurance. USDA loans require an upfront guarantee fee and an annual fee, while VA loans require a funding fee. These fees serve a similar purpose to mortgage insurance by protecting the lender.

How Does Mortgage Insurance Benefit Homebuyers?

While mortgage insurance primarily protects lenders, it also offers benefits to homebuyers.

Lower Down Payment Requirement

The most significant benefit is that it allows homebuyers to purchase a home with a lower down payment. Without mortgage insurance, many buyers would struggle to save up the 20% down payment typically required.

Faster Path to Homeownership

Mortgage insurance can make homeownership accessible sooner. Rather than waiting years to save for a large down payment, buyers can purchase a home with a smaller initial investment.

Potential for Refinancing

Homebuyers can refinance their loans once they have built sufficient equity in their homes. This can eliminate the need for mortgage insurance and potentially secure a lower interest rate.

How Much Does Mortgage Insurance Cost?

The cost of mortgage insurance varies based on several factors, including the loan type, down payment amount, loan term, and borrower’s credit score.

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) Costs

PMI costs typically range from 0.3% to 1.5% of the original loan amount per year. This cost is spread out over monthly payments. For example, on a $200,000 loan, PMI could cost between $600 and $3,000 annually.

Mortgage Insurance Premium (MIP) Costs

For FHA loans, the upfront MIP is 1.75% of the loan amount, which can be financed into the loan. The annual MIP ranges from 0.45% to 1.05% of the loan amount, depending on the loan term and down payment.

Factors Influencing Costs

Several factors influence the cost of mortgage insurance, including:

  • Loan-to-Value Ratio (LTV): Higher LTV ratios generally result in higher insurance premiums.
  • Credit Score: Borrowers with higher credit scores typically pay lower mortgage insurance premiums.
  • Loan Amount and Term: Larger loan amounts and longer loan terms can increase the cost of mortgage insurance.

Can You Cancel Mortgage Insurance?

One common question among homeowners is whether mortgage insurance can be canceled. The answer depends on the type of mortgage insurance and the loan terms.

Canceling PMI

PMI can be canceled once the borrower’s equity in the home reaches 20%. Lenders are required to automatically cancel PMI when the loan balance drops to 78% of the original home value, assuming payments are up-to-date.

Canceling MIP

Canceling MIP is more complicated. For loans with a term longer than 15 years, MIP cannot be canceled and lasts for the entire loan term if the down payment was less than 10%. For loans with a shorter term or higher down payment, MIP may be canceled after 11 years.

FAQs About Mortgage Insurance

What is the difference between PMI and MIP?

PMI is associated with conventional loans and is provided by private insurers. MIP is linked to FHA loans and is mandated by the federal government. PMI can be canceled once sufficient equity is built, while MIP has stricter cancellation rules.

How is mortgage insurance paid?

Mortgage insurance premiums are usually included in the monthly mortgage payment. For FHA loans, there is also an upfront MIP that can be financed into the loan amount.

Is mortgage insurance tax-deductible?

As of 2023, the tax deductibility of mortgage insurance premiums has been extended through the end of 2021. Homeowners should check current tax laws or consult a tax professional to determine if they can deduct mortgage insurance premiums.

Can you avoid paying mortgage insurance?

Yes, mortgage insurance can be avoided by making a down payment of 20% or more on a conventional loan. Additionally, some lenders offer “piggyback” loans where a second mortgage is used to cover part of the down payment, thus avoiding PMI.

What happens if you default on a mortgage with insurance?

If a borrower defaults on a mortgage with insurance, the lender files a claim with the insurance company to recover the losses. The insurance company pays the lender, but the borrower remains responsible for the default and may face foreclosure and credit score impacts.


Mortgage insurance plays a crucial role in the home buying process, enabling buyers to purchase homes with lower down payments and providing lenders with protection against default. Understanding when and why mortgage insurance is required, its costs, and how it can be canceled helps homeowners make informed decisions and manage their finances effectively. By considering the benefits and implications of mortgage insurance, prospective homeowners can navigate their path to homeownership with greater confidence.

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