What is lenders mortgage insurance (LMI)?

author-avatar By on September 10, 2018
What is lenders mortgage insurance (LMI)?

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.

Buying a home or looking to refinance? The table below features home loans with some of the lowest interest rates on the market for owner occupiers.

Base criteria of: a $400,000 loan amount, variable, fixed, principal and interest (P&I) home loans with an LVR (loan-to-value) ratio of at least 80%. If products listed have an LVR <80%, they will be clearly identified in the product name along with the specific LVR. The product and rate must be clearly published on the Product Provider’s web site. Monthly repayments were calculated based on the selected products’ advertised rates, applied to a $400,000 loan with a 30-year loan term.

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.

Buying a home or looking to refinance? The table below features home loans with some of the lowest variable interest rates on the market for owner occupiers.

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.

Estimated Lenders Mortgage Insurance (LMI) Premiums for First Home Buyers
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

Source: Genworth LMI premium estimator. Prices including GST but excluding stamp duty. Based on a loan term up to 30 years

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.

Case study

LMI case study

Brianna has $40,000 in savings and wants to buy a $400,000 property. Her $40,000 in savings would be worth a 10% deposit, putting her LVR at 90%. This would see her charged an LMI premium of around $7,000.

Brianna could save herself from having to pay this $7,000 by waiting till she’d saved up a 20% deposit ($80,000). At her current wage and expenses, she’s saving $20,000 per year, so this would take her two years to save up a total deposit of $80,000. Brianna might decide it is worth the two-year wait to save herself from paying $7,000 in LMI.

But what if the property’s value is increasing at a rate of 5% per annum? By the time Brianna has saved up the $80,000, the property would be worth $441,000 and Brianna’s $80,000 would be worth only 18%. Had Brianna bought the property two years’ earlier with just her 10% deposit, she could’ve paid off a significant portion of her loan and earned $41,000 in unrealised capital gains. In that case, the cost of LMI seems worth it.

Frequently asked questions

1. How long do you pay mortgage insurance for?

Lenders Mortgage Insurance (LMI) can either be paid upfront or capitalised into the loan. Capitalising LMI into the loan essentially means you’re adding it onto the loan amount and paying it off in regular instalments with your home loan. If you choose to add LMI onto the loan amount, how quickly you pay off LMI will depend on how quickly you pay off your home loan.

2. How can I avoid LMI without 20% down payment?

Borrowers without a 20% deposit can be exempt from having to pay LMI by having a guarantor or working in a highly-regarded profession.

3. How do I avoid LMI when refinancing?

The simplest way to avoid paying LMI when refinancing is to have an LVR below 80%. Alternatively, you could try asking a member of your family to go guarantor.

4. Is mortgage insurance worth it?

LMI can be worth paying in circumstances where you don’t have the time to save up a 20% deposit, such as in a property market where prices are rising quicker than you can save, or if there’s a rare, limited-time opportunity for you to snap up your dream house at a good price.

Savings.com.au’s two cents

Avoiding LMI obviously saves you money by not having to pay premiums. But if property values rise over the time it takes you to come up with a 20% deposit, you’d pay more on the purchase price than you would’ve if you’d snapped up a house back when you only had a 5% deposit. You may even be shocked to discover that because prices have risen, what you thought was a 20% deposit is now only worth 15%.

That’s not to mention the intangible emotional costs that can come with having to wait longer – such as missing out on the chance to buy that dream house you’ve always loved that’s rarely on the market.

Of course with LMI, you’re paying thousands for insurance that doesn’t provide any cover to you, which can seem like a big waste of money.

Perhaps then its best to aim to have at least a 20% deposit, but be willing to buy with less and bear the cost of LMI in special cases where:

  • You’re very confident the property’s price will rise significantly enough in the near future to outweigh the additional cost of LMI; or
  • It’s your dream house (you have a strong emotional connection to it) that you intend on living in long-term and you don’t think you’ll get another chance to buy it in the near future.


The entire market was not considered in selecting the above products. Rather, a cut-down portion of the market has been considered which includes retail products from at least the big four banks, the top 10 customer-owned institutions and Australia’s larger non-banks:

  • The big four banks are: ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac
  • The top 10 customer-owned Institutions are the ten largest mutual banks, credit unions and building societies in Australia, ranked by assets under management in November 2020. They are (in descending order): Credit Union Australia, Newcastle Permanent, Heritage Bank, Peoples’ Choice Credit Union, Teachers Mutual Bank, Greater Bank, IMB Bank, Beyond Bank, Bank Australia and P&N Bank.
  • The larger non-bank lenders are those who (in 2020) has more than $9 billion in Australian funded loans and advances. These groups are: Resimac, Pepper, Liberty and Firstmac.
  • If you click on a product link and you are referred to a Product or Service Provider’s web page, it is highly likely that a commercial relationship exists between that Product or Service Provider and Savings.com.au

Some providers' products may not be available in all states. To be considered, the product and rate must be clearly published on the product provider's web site.

In the interests of full disclosure, Savings.com.au, Performance Drive and Loans.com.au are part of the Firstmac Group. To read about how Savings.com.au manages potential conflicts of interest, along with how we get paid, please click through onto the web site links.

*Comparison rate is based on a loan of $150,000 over a term of 25 years. Please note the comparison rate only applies to the examples given. Different loan amounts and terms will result in different comparison rates. Costs such as redraw fees and costs savings, such as fee waivers, are not included in the comparison rate but may influence the cost of the loan.

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Dominic Beattie is the Editor of Savings.com.au. He has been publishing articles on finance, business and economics since 2015, having previously worked as a Senior Journalist at financial research firm Canstar before helping to launch Savings.com.au in November 2018. Dominic aspires to help everyday Australians discover simple and effective ways to comfortably manage their finances and save money, without sacrificing their joie de vivre. His commentary has featured on various news outlets, including: Channel 7 News, News.com.au, Domain, Realestate.com.au, Daily Mail, Radio 2NURFM and DrWealth.

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