Report: Urban Institute Report Highlights Role Private Mortgage Insurers Have Played to Protect Taxpayers, Expand Access to Homeownership for 60 Years

For 60 years, private mortgage insurance (MI) has helped more than 25 million families become successful homeowners. To commemorate this milestone, the Urban Institute examined the industry’s history and the positive role MI has served for homebuyers and the mortgage finance system overall. Urban notes in its study, “[p]rivate mortgage insurers have played a crucial role over the past six decades enabling first-time homebuyers to gain access to high-[loan-to-value] conventional financing while reducing losses for the GSEs.” The report confirms that the presence of private mortgage insurance makes it easier for creditworthy borrowers with limited down payments to access conventional mortgage credit. This is the primary function of MI – to help borrowers qualify for home financing.

The report also focuses on the role MI plays to reduce taxpayers’ exposure to mortgage credit risk. MI insures the first-loss credit risk to the government sponsored enterprises (GSEs), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, helping to reduce GSE losses, and therefore taxpayers’ losses, on defaulted mortgages. And historical experience and data show MI works. Urban found that GSE loans with MI consistently have lower loss severities than those without MI. In fact, for nearly 20 years, loans with MI have exhibited lower loss severity each origination year. The Urban analysis shows that “for 30-year fixed rate, full documentation, fully amortizing mortgages, the loss severity of loans with PMI is 40 percent lower than [loans] without.”

Loss Severity for GSE Loans with and without PMI, by Origination Year Groupings

Sources: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Urban Institute.

Note: GSE = government-sponsored enterprise; PMI = private mortgage insurance. The GSE credit data are limited to 30-year fixed-rate, full documentation, fully amortizing mortgage loans. Adjustable-rate mortgages and Relief Refinance Mortgages are not included. Fannie Mae data include loans originated from the first quarter of 1999 (Q1 1999) to Q4 2015, with performance information on these loans through Q3 2016. Freddie Mac data include loans originated from Q1 1999 to Q3 2015, with performance information on these loans through Q1 2016.


This data, coupled with the more than $50 billion in claims our industry paid since the GSEs entered conservatorship—which represents over 97% of valid claims paid, underscores how MI provides significant first-loss protection for the government and taxpayers. By design, MI provides protection before the risk even reaches the GSEs’ balance sheets. As the government explores ways to further reduce mortgage credit risk while also ensuring Americans continue to have access to affordable home financing, the data shows private MI is an important solution.

The MI industry, like nearly all other industries in financial services, was tested like never before through the financial crisis. Urban’s report acknowledges the challenges the industry has overcome from the financial crisis and the opportunities ahead for the industry. Coming out of the crisis, the MI industry is even stronger with more robust underwriting standards, stronger capital positions, and improved risk management. Additionally, in the last two years, private mortgage insurers have materially increased their claims paying ability in both good and bad economic times due to new higher capital standards under the Private Mortgage Insurance Eligibility Requirements (PMIERs).

Urban notes that the industry “should be more resilient going forward” because of the important changes applied to the industry today – including the enhanced capital, operational, and risk standards ‒ and highlights the broad agreement among parties studying GSE reform for the need to reduce the government’s footprint and increase the role of private capital. These developments have helped strengthen the industry and new reforms can allow MI to take on an even greater role to continue protecting taxpayers and expanding access to homeownership for the next 60 years and beyond.

Newsletter: October 2016

On October 13, the comment period closed for the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA)’s Single-Family Credit Risk Transfer (CRT) Request for Input (RFI). Below is a roundup of the comment letters submitted by USMI and numerous other housing finance organizations that expressed support behind efforts to reduce government, and therefore taxpayers’, risk exposure by positioning more private capital in a “first loss” position ahead of the government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) through expanded mortgage insurance.

  • USMI notes in its comment letter the distinct advantages of front-end CRT done through expanded use of MI: “Increasing the proportion of front-end CRT in the Enterprises’ CRT strategy will advance four key objectives of a well-functioning housing finance system by ensuring that: (1) a substantial measure of private capital loss protection is available in bad times as well as good; (2) such private capital absorbs and deepens protection against first losses before the government and taxpayers; (3) all sizes and types of financial institutions have equitable access to CRT; and (4) CRT costs are transparent, thereby enhancing borrower access to affordable mortgage credit.” These comments were further highlighted in an article by the Mortgage Professional America magazine. The full comment letter is available here. USMI’s RFI fact sheet can be found here.

Following the submission of USMI’s comment letter, an op-ed by USMI President Lindsey Johnson was published in The Hill that echoes the benefits provided to the GSEs and US taxpayers by front-end CRT through expanded use of MI.

  • A number of other stakeholders and organizations also weighed in, supporting efforts to expand the use of MI:
    • Urban Institute wrote: “The GSEs could share additional credit risk through this channel by having some MIs cover a deeper level of first loss, down to, say, an effective LTV of 50%. So-called deep cover MI has several attractive features. First, it extends a structure already in wide use, making it easy for lenders of all sizes to adopt. Second, in contract to the front-end structures used to date, it is equally available to and can be equally priced for lenders of all sizes. Third, it is completely transparent… Since mortgage insurance is the only product MIs offer, they will provide capital in good times and bad.”
    • National Association of Home Builders wrote: “Deep coverage MI would allow mortgage insurance companies to reduce the Enterprises’ exposure to credit losses to as low as 50 percent of the mortgage loan amount. The Enterprises would reduce their guarantee fees on the mortgage loans commensurate with the cost of the risk they transfer to the mortgage insurers. The reduced guarantee fee charged by the Enterprises in exchange for incurring less credit risk can be passed on to consumers, reducing the cost of the mortgage loans and increasing the availability of credit.”
    • Mortgage Bankers Association wrote: “Up-front risk-sharing structures with committed mortgage market participants such as lenders, mortgage Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and mortgage insurers can distribute mortgage credit risk prior to the loan(s) being acquired by the GSEs, while offering potential borrower benefits… Well-conceived up-front risk sharing pilot programs, such as expanded lender recourse offerings, deeper mortgage insurance or other capital markets structures that are executed prior to GSE acquisition, can help the GSEs better determine which transaction structures are best able to expand the sources of private capital and withstand both the peaks and valleys in the credit cycle.” These comments were further highlighted in an article by Scotsman Guide.
    • Community Mortgage Lenders of America wrote: “There is no substitute for the depth of experience, the broad web of customer relationships and level of service that the MI industry provides to lenders, nor to the key role played by mortgage insurers in facilitating low down payment lending for borrowers whose home finance needs are served with a low down payment mortgage.”
    • Credit Union National Association wrote: “… private mortgage insurance needs to be maintained as an option as it can be utilized as an effective risk transfer strategy.”
    • Housing Policy Council wrote: “We specifically recommend that FHFA and the Enterprise test deeper mortgage insurance through a pilot program. Of the various structures discussed in the RFI, only deeper mortgage insurance has yet to be tested in the marketplace.”

In addition, last week the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report entitled “The Effects of Increasing Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s Capital.” The October 20th report came at the request of Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and analyzes a policy that would allow the GSEs to increase their capital by reducing payments to Treasury, as well as discusses the effects it would have on the federal budget and the U.S. mortgage market.