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Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

PMI is extra insurance that lenders require from most homebuyers 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. This means that if you bought your house for $100,000 and had a down payment of less than $20,000, you will be required by the lender to carry 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 homeownership. 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.

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.

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 HPA law, both consumers and lenders share responsibility for how long PMI coverage is required.

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.

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.

To learn about your specific PMI cancellation policies, call your lender or mortgage servicing firm.

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