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PMI - private mortgage insurance removal... 

Congress backs automatic PMI removal

Mercury News Real Estate Writer

Posted at 11:03 a.m. PDT Friday, July 24, 1998

A LAW approved by Congress last week would force lenders to automatically cancel private mortgage insurance when a homeowner's mortgage balance shrinks to 78 percent of the home's original purchase price.

Called the Homeowners Protection Act of 1997, the new law could save some homeowners more than $1,000 a year in PMI premiums.

The legislation, designed to amend the federal Truth in Lending Act, awaits President Clinton's expected signature. It will be effective one year from the day he signs. It will then apply only to loans closed on or after the effective date.

Until then, PMI removal laws available in only eight states, including California, remain in effect.

PMI protects lenders against borrowers who default on their mortgages. It's not tax-deductible and it provides no protection for borrowers.

Lenders generally require PMI premiums from buyers who pay less than 20 percent down; otherwise, they are reluctant to write such loans. Lenders say borrowers making smaller down payments are more likely to default than those with 20 percent or higher down payments.

Studies show that lenders do disclose under what conditions borrowers can cancel PMI, but years down the road, when borrowers have reached those milestones, lenders don't come forth and advise borrowers that PMI coverage is no longer necessary. Even when they do, buyers often must pay up to $300 for an appraisal to prove their home's value as part of a PMI removal application process.

As a result, some homeowners have unwittingly continued to pay the premiums years longer than necessary.

The new federal law forces lenders to automatically cancel PMI when a homeowner's equity stake in their home reaches 22 percent of the purchase price. Homeowners may also apply to have the insurance removed when equity reaches 20 percent. In both cases, homeowners must be current and in good standing on their mortgage payments.

The federal law is slightly tougher than California law, so it will take precedence. California's PMI law was the nation's first to grant automatic PMI removal. Effective Jan. 1, it required PMI removal when the equity reached 25 percent of the original purchase price.

California also has an older provision that applies to mortgages signed on or after Jan. 1, 1991. It carries provisions similar to those found in the state's newer law but leaves it up to the borrower to notify the lender in writing when he or she has reached certain milestones.

The new law does not address what would happen if depreciation reduces a home's value. Neither does it allow PMI removal based on appreciation that increases a home's value -- something that would benefit Californians who have enjoyed double-digit appreciation in home values over the past year.

Each year, about 80,000 Californians purchase PMI -- at about $40 to $100 a month -- to obtain a mortgage, according to Assemblyman Kevin Shelley, D-San Francisco, who wrote California's PMI removal law.

Depending upon the law -- state or federal -- cancellation rights don't apply to all loans. Certain mortgages, including some low-down-payment loans through Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing and Veterans Administration, are often exempt. Individual lenders and mortgages, however, have their own PMI removal provisions.

Borrowers should be sure to check with their lender to determine how their PMI will be affected by the law or special mortgage or lender provision.

 For full texts of California's PMI laws, search California Law for Civil Code sections 2954.12 and 2954.7 at

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