Title Insurance: Coverage, Cost and Why It’s Making Headlines

Title insurance covers mortgage lenders or homeowners against losses related to ownership of the property.
Barbara Marquand
By Barbara Marquand 
Updated
Edited by Johanna Arnone Reviewed by Michelle Blackford

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Title insurance is one of those buy-it-and-forget-it financial products you encounter when purchasing a home or refinancing a mortgage — not often a hot topic around the water cooler.

But the insurance is in the spotlight as the Biden administration pushes a plan to lower housing costs.

In his State of the Union address March 7, President Biden announced his administration was eliminating the title insurance requirement for certain mortgage refinance transactions. He said the change could save homeowners $1,000 or more.

The White House said Biden is also asking federal agencies to "take all available actions to lower costs for consumers at the closing table." And the Department of Treasury's Federal Insurance Office will assemble a roundtable this year to discuss the title insurance industry and potential reforms.

These moves are part of a sweeping plan to lower housing costs, including a proposed home buyer tax credit and measures to make it easier for residential builders to get federal financing and produce more affordable homes.

Here's what you need to know about title insurance, whether you're buying a home, refinancing a mortgage or just want to understand what all the fuss is about.

What is title insurance?

Title insurance is a policy that covers mortgage lenders or homeowners against losses related to the title, or ownership of the property.

Say, for instance, you buy a home and there's a hidden lien against the property. (A lien is a legal claim to the property related to outstanding debt.) Perhaps the previous owner stiffed a contractor or didn't pay property taxes. Now the unpaid bill is your headache — and your lender's — because the home is collateral for the debt.

Another nightmarish scenario: Missing heirs of a prior owner come forward and claim the home belongs to them, not you.

Normally problems like this would come to light before the closing, in a title search — an examination of public records to confirm who owns the property.

Title insurance pays out in those rare instances when the title search misses something and a legal claim is made. The coverage protects the homeowner and lender from losses stemming from "title defects" that happened before the home purchase.

There are two types of title insurance policies — one for the lender and one for the owner.

Lender's title insurance

The lender's title insurance policy covers the mortgage lender. It's typically based on the amount of the loan and decreases each year as the mortgage is gradually paid off. If there's a problem with the title, the lender's policy only covers the lender's interests, not yours. Usually mortgage lenders require lender's title insurance when you buy a home or refinance a mortgage.

Owner's title insurance

The owner's title insurance policy covers you and is in effect for as long as you or your heirs own the property. Usually the coverage is equal to the purchase price of the home.

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