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Understanding Lenders Mortgage Insurance

Buying a property without a chunky deposit could see you whacked with the oft-dreaded cost of lenders mortgage insurance. But in a different sense, the time it takes to save up the deposit could also cost you.

  • What is lenders mortgage insurance?
  • How does lenders mortgage insurance work?
  • How to avoid paying it?
  • How is LMI paid?
  • Costs of LMI
  • Can you get a refund of LMI?

While some say good things come to those who wait, others say the early bird catches the worm.

In the context of buying property in Australia, those who wait to buy property until they’ve saved up a sizeable deposit can save money by not having to pay for lenders mortgage insurance (LMI). But the early birds who buy property sooner after saving the bare minimum 5% deposit have the opportunity to catch their dream house before prices rise, and potentially build a capital gain as their property value increases in a rising market.

These early birds will probably have to pay for lenders mortgage insurance, but perhaps this cost is worth it? Statistics suggest many borrowers might think so, since around one-quarter of Australian housing loans are estimated to be covered by LMI (according to the RBA).

Or maybe many of these borrowers don’t understand what lenders mortgage insurance actually is? In 2016, Banking Analyst Martin North from Digital Finance Analytics told ABC News that around 70% of households think lenders mortgage insurance covers them, which is incorrect.

So this begs the question…

What is lenders mortgage insurance?

Lenders mortgage insurance (LMI for short) is an insurance policy which covers the mortgage lender against the losses they may incur in the event that the borrower can no longer pay loan repayments (an event known as a ‘default’ on the home loan).

LMI is not to be confused with mortgage protection insurance, which covers borrowers for their mortgage in case of death, sickness, disability, or unemployment.

How does lenders mortgage insurance work?

In a nutshell, if a borrower defaults on their mortgage, the lender can recover what is owed to them by repossessing the property which the home loan is tied to. But if the property’s value has fallen, the lender can suffer a loss. This is the risk which LMI covers. With this risk of loss passed on to the lenders mortgage insurer, lenders are more willing to approve loans at a higher loan-to-value ratio (LVR), often up to a maximum of 95% of the property’s value or sale price (whichever is lower).

The introduction of lenders mortgage insurance to Australia in 1965 thus created more opportunities for people to get a home loan and also encouraged lenders to charge lower interest rates. The two largest providers of LMI in Australia are:

  • Genworth Financial
  • QBE

The lender decides which LMI provider to go with – the borrower has no choice in the matter.

While LMI only covers the lender, it is usually the borrower, not the lender, who has to pay for it. For many, paying for an insurance policy that only covers a financial institution seems like the worst form of charity. So what does it take to avoid it?

How to avoid lenders mortgage insurance

Typically, lenders exempt borrowers from having to pay for lenders mortgage insurance if the deposit on the property is over 20% (80% LVR) of the property’s value or sale price (whichever is lower). This is because lenders perceive borrowers with deposits over 20% as less likely to default on a loan. Also, a 20% deposit is viewed as a large enough buffer to protect lenders from a fall in the value of the property – giving them a strong chance of recovering the amount that’s owed to them if the borrower defaults.

Some circumstances may require a larger deposit though. In specific suburbs that a lender perceives as having high default rates and/or at risk of a large fall in prices (eg. like what was seen in some of the regional mining towns when the capital infrastructure boom ended), the lender may require a bigger deposit (such as 30%) for the borrower to be exempt from LMI.

Other ways of avoiding lenders mortgage insurance

Borrowers can be exempt from having to pay LMI for other reasons, such as:

  • Having a guarantor: Many lenders will waive LMI on the loan (no matter how small the deposit) if the borrower is backed by a quality guarantor (such as a parent) that legally accepts responsibility for the mortgage repayments if the borrower cannot make them.
  • Working in a highly-regarded profession: Borrowers working in specific professions that are considered to be highly paid and relatively stable can sometimes borrow up to 90% LVR without having to pay LVR. Such professions can include:
    • Doctors (GPs, dentists, optometrists, GPs)
    • Accountants (e.g. actuaries, CFOs, auditors)
    • Lawyers (e.g. solicitors, judges, barristers)

Sometimes a combination of other factors can also see LMI waived on the home loan, such having a perfect credit history and requesting a modest loan amount for property in a low-risk suburb.

Is LMI added to the loan?

The lenders mortgage insurance premium can be paid as an upfront one-off payment at settlement or can be capitalised into the loan (added to the loan amount) and gradually paid off in the regular mortgage repayments.

This means the premium will accrue interest though, costing you more over the long term.

How much is lenders mortgage insurance?

The upfront cost of LMI premiums typically varies by the size of the loan and the LVR, as illustrated below. They can also depend on what type of borrower you are. For instance, first-time borrowers often pay a higher LMI premium than existing borrowers, even at the same LVR and loan size.

Source: Genworth LMI premium estimator. Prices including GST but excluding stamp duty. Based on a loan term up to 30 years
Estimated property value 95% LVR 90% LVR 85% LVR
$200,000 $5,073 $2,718 $1,479
$400,000 $12,768 $6,912 $3,842
$600,000 $25,707 $13,176 $6,630
$800,000 $34,276 $17,568 $8,840
$1,000,000 $42,845 $22,050 $11,135

Can you get a refund of lenders mortgage insurance premiums?

When you refinance to a different lender or buy a new house, it’s unlikely that you’ll get this premium back. You may even have to pay for LMI again if your LVR is still above 80%.

However, in cases where the loan is terminated early (i.e. in the first two years), you may be eligible for a partial refund of LMI premiums. Qualifying for an LMI refund also depends on the lender’s LMI policy provider and meeting certain criteria, so it’s worth checking with your lender to see if you’re eligible.