Private mortgage insurance (PMI) is an insurance policy used in conventional loans that protects lenders from the risk of default and foreclosure, and allows buyers who cannot make a significant down payment (or those who choose not to) to obtain mortgage financing at affordable rates. If you purchase a home and put down less than 20%, your lender will minimize its risk by requiring you to buy insurance from a PMI company prior to signing off on the loan. The cost you pay for PMI varies depending on the size of the down payment and loan, but typically runs about 0.5 to 1% of the loan.

If you have monthly PMI (borrower paid), you make a premium payment every month until your PMI is either terminated (when your loan balance is scheduled to reach 78% of the original value of your home); when it is canceled at your request because your equity in the home reaches 20% of the purchase price or appraised value (your lender will approve a PMI cancelation only if you have adequate equity and have a good payment history); or when you reach the midpoint of the amortization period (a 30-year loan, for example, would reach the midpoint after 15 years).

Other types of PMI include single premium PMI where you pay the mortgage insurance premium upfront in a single lump sum, either in full at closing or financed into the mortgage; lender-paid PMI (LPMI), where the cost of the PMI is included in the mortgage interest rate for the life of the loan.

Mortgage insurance premium (MIP), on the other hand, is an insurance policy used in FHA loans if your down payment is less than 20%. The FHA assesses either an "upfront" MIP (UFMIP) at the time of closing, or an annual MIP that is calculated every year and paid in 12 installments. The rate you pay for annual MIP depends on the length of the loan and the loan-to-value (LTV) ratio. If the loan balance exceeds $625,500, you'll owe a higher percentage.

For loans with FHA case numbers assigned before June 3, 2013, FHA requires that you make your monthly MIP payments for a full five years before MIP can be dropped if your loan term is greater than 15 years, and MIP can be dropped only if the loan balance reaches 78% of the home's original price - the purchase price stated on your mortgage documents. If your FHA loan originated after June 2013, however, new rules will apply. If your original LTV is 90% or less, you'll pay MIP for 11 years. If your LTV is greater than 90%, you'll pay MIP throughout the life of the loan.

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