January 7, 2010 in Insurance

Free job-loss mortgage insurance?

Job-loss mortgage insurance — which pays all or part of your mortgage payment if you lose your job — can bring peace of mind to homeowners and would-be homebuyers alike.

And it’s often available at no cost to the homebuyer.

With the unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent — the highest in more than 25 years — it’s not surprising people are hesitant to buy a home, even in a low-rate, low-priced market. And countless current homeowners no doubt lose sleep worrying how to keep a roof over their heads if they join the ranks of the unemployed.

Once hard to find, job-loss mortgage insurance is now available not only from traditional insurers but from new-home builders, banks and other lenders, real estate agents, realty groups, and state and local housing agencies as well.

“The only reason people may not be buying (homes) now is fear of losing their jobs,” says George Akers, executive vice president of First Mortgage Company, whose mortgage customers get the Worry-Free Mortgage Protection program free. In his experience, mortgage protection plans have become increasingly common in the past year or so.

Policies vary

As with any insurance product, policies vary. For example:

“Job loss protection plans in real estate are gaining in momentum,” says Dan Forsman, president and CEO of Prudential Georgia Realty, which began offering the program this year. “It’s a bit early to quantify at this point, but I can tell you our 1,200 agents love having this as an option.” Forsman says it can differentiate a house from similar ones in the same market, especially in a market in which the greatest activity is in homes that have a lower price. Buyers of these homes — often first-time homebuyers — tend to gravitate toward the peace of mind offered by these plans the most, he adds.

In the fine print

As with any insurance plan or legal document, read carefully before you sign. Common provisions in the fine print include:

Will it work for you?

Who are these plans best suited for? “Anyone in a company or career field that is not rock solid in this economy,” Forsman says, adding that recent college graduates may also be looking for some insurance assurance.

Many people are excluded from taking advantage of these plans, typically those who are:

Moreover, the job loss must be “involuntary.” The definition of “involuntary unemployment” is narrow. It does not include quitting, resigning, retiring, expiration of an employment contract, being fired for cause, or being on leave due to accident, sickness, disability, family obligations, childbirth, pregnancy, or due to scheduled seasonal or temporary breaks. If you’re a union worker, find out — before you sign up — if you’re covered while on strike.

Some plans are only for first-time buyers (there’s the likely assumption that this group is least likely to have an emergency fund after forking over a down payment) and must be handled at the closing. Some plans are available to current homeowners. Some are renewable, others aren’t.

One more thing: Any payments made on your behalf to the mortgage company may be considered taxable unemployment benefits.

“Evaluate carefully whether the investment is well-spent,” says McRaith. Could the premium paid be better spent or saved elsewhere? “As the decision is made, the consumer should ensure that his or her unique financial and life circumstances are properly considered.”