Reverse Mortgages – Benefits and Risks

Reverse Mortgages - Benefits and Risks
Reverse mortgages are a relatively new product to the financial industry. Although the first reverse mortgage was written in Maine in the early 1960’s, they have not become popular until more recently.

Benefits of a Reverse Mortgage

The concept of a reverse mortgage can be very beneficial especially for seniors who have run out of assets to draw from to maintain their standard of living. In simple terms, a reverse mortgage allows a borrower to cash out a certain amount of money from the equity in their home to use as they wish. Some of the non-conventional ways people are using these mortgages:

  • Some seniors use their loan to pay off unexpected medical bills or renovate their home so they can age comfortably in place.
  • The older you are and the value of your home dictates the amount of money you can get

Unlike a traditional mortgage or home equity loan, the borrower does not have pay the loan back until they either move or die. Also unlike a traditional mortgage or home equity loan, the interest due accrues instead of declines over time since the borrower is not making payments to pay back the loan.

There are a number of formulas used to determine exactly how much can be borrowed, but that is beyond the scope of what I want to talk about here. Suffice it to say, the amount that can be borrowed is a function of your age (minimum age 62) and the amount of equity in your home. The credit worthiness of the borrower is a moot point because the mortgage is backed by the equity in the home and an insurance policy that is tied to the reverse mortgage. So the borrower could have disastrous credit and still obtain the reverse mortgage.

Risks of Reverse Mortgages

Although reverse mortgages can be a great program, they have a number of drawbacks and have received a great deal of negative publicity in recent years for a number of reasons.

  1. The origination costs are a bit higher than traditional mortgages (maximum $6000 or 2% of loan amount).
  2. An insurance policy tied to the mortgage that the borrower finances into the loan (roughly 1.25% annually) is required.
  3. Because the interest accrues and is added to the principle, the amount of equity left over for the borrower’s children may be minimal depending upon the growth of real estate values (or lack thereof) and possible longevity.
  4. They are sold by commission-based mortgage brokers who don’t always have the borrower’s best interest in mind.
  5. May effect needs based government programs such as Medicaid. (Social Security benefits are generally not effected by reverse mortgages)

When to consider a reverse mortgage

Throughout my career spanning over 25 years and despite the drawbacks, I have, on numerous occasions, recommended a reverse mortgage. Also on numerous occasions I have discouraged people from entering into a reverse mortgage.

The truth of the matter is everything in life has pros and cons. The question of whether or not a reverse mortgage is right for you depends solely on your personal situation.

Even though reverse mortgages can be used in a number of circumstances, I generally find people in the following situations are best suited for a reverse mortgage:

  • Those with no other sources of income to draw from including family members. (Family member funded reverse mortgages can be a very good option).
  • People who do not have dependent children relying on them for ongoing support. Those who do, such special needs situations, should not enter into a reverse mortgage.
  • Those who are not receiving benefits from a government program such as Medicaid.
  • People who are in the home they plan on never leaving.

Although reverse mortgages are beneficial in some cases, you should consider all your options and choose wisely. I strongly suggest hiring a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) to help you determine if a reverse mortgage is right for you. The FHA requires that you to receive counseling before being approved for a loan to explain the loan’s costs and financial implications which minimizes the risk of (3) above. However, a Certified Financial Planner will delve into your personal situation well beyond the level that a reverse mortgage councilor will.

Listen to the following for a live discussion on reverse mortgages.