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When you take out a mortgage, you can expect to be pitched mortgage protection insurance. It comes in several forms, but it typically covers your loan payments if you lose your job or become disabled, or it pays off your mortgage when you die.

Would you benefit from mortgage protection insurance? Or is it just another way for your mortgage company to siphon extra money out of your wallet each month while protecting itself upon your death?

The answer depends on your health, financial situation and what you want to happen when you die. Here are the pros and cons of mortgage protection insurance, along with tips for getting the best policy at the right price.

What is mortgage protection insurance?

Mortgage protection insurance, or MPI (sometimes called mortgage payment protection insurance), is simply a form of life insurance. The cost depends on factors such as the amount of your mortgage, your age and your health. For MPI policies that cover a mortgage in the event of disability, costs also vary depending on your occupation.

If you purchase mortgage protection insurance that pays off your mortgage when you die, the insurance company will send a check directly to your mortgage company, leaving your heirs with a home unencumbered by a mortgage.

Payments also go directly to your mortgage company if your policy pays upon disability or job loss — but only for a certain period, typically a year or two, and there may be a waiting period before payments kick in. Also note that disability or job-loss policies pay only the principal and interest on your mortgage. But you may be able to get a rider to cover other mortgage-related expenses, like homeowners association fees.

Many people confuse MPI with private mortgage insurance, or PMI.

“You’re required by law to get PMI if you put less than 20 percent down to purchase your home,” explains Christopher Ketcham, a visiting assistant professor at the University of Houston Downtown, who teaches courses about insurance. “It has nothing to do with disability, job loss or death. It pays the bank if you’re foreclosed on.”

Pluses of MPI

A major benefit of mortgage protection insurance is that it’s typically issued on a “guaranteed acceptance” basis.

“If you fill out the application, few questions will be asked to keep you from getting coverage,” says Kevin Lynch, an assistant professor of insurance at The American College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. “That’s valuable for people who are uninsurable or insurable at a high rate because of health issues.”

It’s also valuable for people who work in high-risk occupations, such as roofers, who usually can’t get disability insurance.

Consider whether you want to spend the money on a mortgage protection insurance policy after you’ve factored all of the other big costs of owning a home.

Minuses of MPI

Mortgage protection insurance is a waste of money if you own your home outright. In addition, MPI is a declining-benefit policy, which means that even though you pay a set premium for the life of your mortgage, the payoff amount decreases as you pay down your home loan.

Having a policy that wipes out your mortgage if you die may not be best for your family. “When my father passed away very young, my mother’s home was paid off by a lump-sum payment to the mortgage company,” Lynch says. “Her mortgage payment was something like $112 a month. It would have been more beneficial for her to receive the lump sum and earn the 18 percent interest banks were paying in the 1980s while continuing to make the mortgage payment.”

Some financial planners say purchasing MPI is like buying tires, when what you really need is a car.

“Focusing on insuring for the mortgage is relatively myopic,” says Vernon Holleman III, principal at BCG Holleman, a financial planning company in Chevy Chase, Maryland. “Whether to pay off the mortgage upon a breadwinner’s death is a question you can’t answer unless you’re taking a comprehensive look at the family’s finances.”

Choosing and saving on MPI

If you have health or job risks that make life or disability insurance unavailable or too expensive, mortgage protection insurance is probably a smart option. But don’t sign up through your mortgage company without shopping around.

“Ask about the price and features of each policy and whether it can be converted into whole life insurance,” says Ketcham. “Also investigate the insurer’s financial condition through A.M. Best Co., which rates insurers.”

If you’re considering MPI payable upon your death, you might buy a level life insurance instead. Your policy wouldn’t decline in value and would cover not only your mortgage but also your family’s living and educational expenses in the absence of your income.

“You’re far better off using a level product because most insurance carriers allow a later reduction in the policy’s face value,” Holleman says. “If at, say, year seven in your policy, you decide your need isn’t $1 million but only $800,000, you can reduce the face amount and save through the reduced premium. You’re better off controlling the benefit than having it automatically reduced.”

 

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