Blog: Private Mortgage Insurance Plays a Critical Role Housing Finance Reform

By Lindsey D. Johnson


The year 2019 is already shaping up to be significant for the debate on the future of the housing finance system. With the Administration’s pick for Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Director Mark Calabria likely to be confirmed in the coming weeks, there has been a renewed focus on the futures of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the GSEs) and the need for reforms. Just last month, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) released an outline on housing finance reform. House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) has also detailed her legislative priorities, which includes housing reform and a particular focus on affordable housing issues. U.S. Mortgage Insurers (USMI) agrees with Chairman Crapo, Chairwoman Waters, and other policymakers who continue to see the need for meaningful reforms to address structural concerns at the GSEs. While the Administration can take steps to provide the necessary oversight of and enhancements to the GSEs, structural reform must be done by Congress.

This week, I will join other witnesses to testify on behalf of USMI on Chairman Crapo’s outline for housing finance reform and will specifically highlight the important role that private mortgage insurance (MI) plays each day to help middle-income and first-time buyers to become homeowners despite modest down payments. Not only does private MI help to provide access to mortgage credit for American homebuyers, but it also provides important protections for the overall mortgage finance system, which translates to protections for the federal government and taxpayers. Here is why private MI serves a valuable role.


MI Helps Low Down Payment Homebuyers


Private MI is a time-tested way to help borrowers qualify for low down-payment home financing.  Research by the National Association of REALTORS® shows that Americans continuously cite saving for a down payment as one of the biggest hurdles for attaining homeownership and first-time homebuyers on average have a down payment of seven percent. Private MI helps bridge the gap for many borrowers to attain homeownership sooner than they otherwise would. In fact, for the past three years, private MI has been the leader in the total insured market to provide borrowers with to access to low down payment mortgage financing. All told, for over 60 years private MI has helped nearly 30 million families nationally purchase or refinance a home, with more than one million borrowers alone in 2018. Of those borrowers, nearly 60 percent of purchase loans went to first-time homebuyers and more than 40 percent of borrowers with MI had annual incomes below $75,000.


MI Protects Taxpayers and Government from Risk


Private MI not only provides affordable access to credit for homebuyers, but it also plays a critical role in protecting U.S. taxpayers from mortgage credit risk in the event of borrower defaults. Private MI serves as the first layer of protection in the conventional mortgage market against defaults that may occur on GSE-purchased mortgages. Private MI attaches to a loan the day that the loan is originated, which means that even before the lender might sell the mortgage into the GSE-backed secondary market, it is protected by private capital and therefore doesn’t directly expose the government. In this regard, when it comes to insuring low down payment mortgages, MI serves as a “second pair of eyes” on that risk. This helps ensure borrowers are placed into sustainable homeownership and adds an additional layer of protection in the mortgage finance system. This loan-level credit enhancement that attaches to the loan at origination is a feature that should be maintained in a future housing finance system.

Mortgage insurers have strong incentives to actively manage this mortgage credit risk because when a conventional-insured mortgage defaults, private MI bears the first layer of financial loss (on average 25 percent of the mortgage value). This structure of MI protection has been effective and, according to the Urban Institute, for GSE “30-year fixed rate, fully documented, fully amortizing mortgages, the loss severity of loans with private MI is 40 percent lower than that without, despite the higher Loan-to-Value of mortgages with private MI.”

It’s been over 10 years since the 2008 financial crisis, which prompted the federal government to place the GSEs into conservatorship. Comprehensive housing finance reform is long overdue and as Congress and the Administration move forward with this important work, private MI looks forward to continuing to play its invaluable role in providing access to credit and unparalleled taxpayer protection.

Blog: Want to Buy a Home? Do the Math

It is a common misconception that a 20 percent down payment is required to buy a home. Advice to wait and save a large down payment is often based on the theory that the cost of mortgage insurance (MI), which is required when you buy with a smaller down payment, should be avoided. This may not be the best advice and is, in fact, not in line with market trends, considering the median down payment for first-time homebuyers is 7 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Yes, you can qualify for a conventional mortgage with a down payment as small as 3 percent of the purchase price. It is also true that you can reduce your monthly mortgage payment by paying for discount points at closing, but that can be 5 or 10 percent of the purchase price — not 20. And because every buyer’s situation is unique, it’s important to do the math. In today’s market, it could take a family earning the national median income up to 20 years to save 20 percent, according to calculations by U.S. Mortgage Insurers using a methodology developed by the Center for Responsible Lending; a lot can change during that time, in the family’s personal finances and in overall mortgage market trends.

How can buying now save you money later?

Consider you want to purchase a $255,000 home. A 5 percent down payment is $12,750 versus $51,000 in cash for 20 percent down. With a 740 credit score at today’s MI rates, your monthly MI payment would be about $110, which is added to your monthly mortgage payment until MI cancels. MI typically cancels after five years; therefore, you will only have this added cost for a short period of time versus waiting an average of 20 years to save for 20 percent.

With home price appreciation, today’s $255,000 home will likely cost more in the years ahead and this will also have an impact on the necessary down payment and length of time required to save for it. There are other variables in the equation too, such as interest rates. As federal rates rise from their historic lows, so too will the costs associated with financing a mortgage. The savings a borrower might calculate today could be altogether negated by waiting even a few more years. Another factor is that rents are on the rise across the nation, leading to a reduced capacity for many would-be homebuyers to save for larger down payments.

If you decide to buy today with a low down payment mortgage that has private MI, keep in mind that the monthly MI payments are temporary and go away, lowering the monthly payment over time. Again, private MI typically lasts about five years as it can be cancelled once a homeowner builds approximately 20 percent equity in the home through payments or appreciation and automatically terminates for most borrowers once he or she reaches 22 percent equity. Importantly, the insurance premiums on an FHA mortgage — a 100 percent taxpayer-backed government version of mortgage insurance — cannot be cancelled for the vast majority of borrowers.

So, do the math and let the numbers guide you. There are many online mortgage calculators that can help. Check out to learn more.