Advice for Seniors: May 2010 update
A reverse mortgage is essentially a loan against your home that you do not have to pay back for as long as you live there. It allows homeowners age 62 or older to borrow cash from the equity in their homes without having to make monthly payments. A reverse mortgage is often advertised as a great source of easy money for older homeowners to supplement their income, pay healthcare expenses or use the money as they please. But as FDIC Consumer News has reported in the past, while there are potential benefits to a reverse mortgage, it may not be the best option for everyone. With the number of potential borrowers growing with the aging population, it’s important that homeowners fully understand the risks involved. Here are our latest tips.
Remember that a reverse mortgage is a loan that must be repaid. “Not all advertisements clearly indicate that a reverse mortgage is a loan,” said Mira Marshall, an FDIC Section Chief specializing in consumer issues. “In fact, a reverse mortgage is a very complicated loan that uses home equity as collateral, just like the mortgage you probably used to purchase your home.”
Reverse mortgages allow homeowners to receive cash in a lump sum, through monthly payments, as a line of credit whenever they need money, or any combination of these options. Unlike traditional mortgage products, homeowners do not make any monthly payments to the lender. However, they eventually do have to repay the principal and interest when they move, sell the house or pass away. And, because no monthly payments are being made, the amount owed will grow over time as interest costs build up and, in some cases, as additional funds are advanced.
The borrower also is still responsible for paying the property taxes and insurance and maintaining the house. Failure to do so can cause the reverse mortgage to become immediately due and payable in full.
The rules to determine how much you can borrow through a reverse mortgage are complex. For example, the total amount of cash available is a percentage of the home’s value that will vary by the age of the borrower and the location of the property. And if there’s a co-borrower, the value is determined by the age of the youngest borrower.
Let’s say your house has a market value of $250,000, you owe nothing on a mortgage and the youngest co-owner is 70 years old. Even though your home equity is about $250,000, with a reverse mortgage and depending on the location of the property, you can borrow only up to approximately $130,000. In contrast, with a traditional home equity loan, it may be possible to borrow up to 100 percent of the value of the home.
Be aware that not all reverse mortgages carry insurance and other protections from the federal government. The most common type of reverse mortgage — the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage or HECM — is offered as part of a program from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Federal Housing Administration. The FHA has protections for the lender as well as the borrower. In the case of the latter, for example, if the borrower or heirs sell the home to repay the reverse mortgage (instead of keeping the house and repaying the loan otherwise), the total debt will never be greater than the value of the home.
However, there are several types of reverse mortgages that are not FHA-insured. These are mostly reverse mortgages developed and offered by private companies, nonprofit organizations, and state and local governments. They may not offer the same guarantees and protections as an FHA-insured HECM.
Understand the costs and fees, which can be significant. Most reverse mortgages have an origination fee, closing costs and periodic servicing fees. There also is an additional monthly insurance premium for an FHA-insured reverse mortgage. The total amount of fees will depend on the loan product. And while the costs and fees can be added to the reverse mortgage instead of being paid up front, doing so increases the loan balance and incurs interest charges.
Borrowers also should keep in mind that the more cash they take out and the longer they go without making loan payments, the interest charges and other costs can use up much or all of the equity, leaving fewer and fewer assets for the borrower or heirs. And if you or your heirs want to keep the house instead of selling it, the full loan amount would be due and payable from your own funds, even if it’s more than the value of the property.
“Because the costs and fees can be extremely high,” said Mike Evans, an FDIC Fair Lending Specialist, “most experts generally advise homeowners not to take out a reverse mortgage if they plan to stay in their home less than five years or if they simply need extra money for small expenses.”
Do your research and shop around before committing to a reverse mortgage. To understand the potential pros and cons of a reverse mortgage, talk to financial advisors and qualified housing counselors. Depending on your circumstances, there may be other, less expensive options available to you. Explore different kinds of loans (including a mortgage refinancing, a home equity loan and a home improvement loan) and programs from local government agencies or nonprofit organizations. In some cases, it may even make financial sense to sell your home and downsize to a less expensive home or even a rental.
If you decide that borrowing money is the way to go, contact several lenders and compare the costs and benefits of the options they offer.
“Most financial experts also agree that it is never a good idea to use the funds from a reverse mortgage to purchase other financial products or services,” added David Lafleur, an FDIC Senior Examination Specialist. “Not only will you immediately incur expensive interest charges and other fees in connection with the reverse mortgage, but having large deposits or annuities may make it tougher for you to qualify for certain entitlement programs that take assets into consideration, such as Medicaid. Also, if you tie up money in CDs or annuities, you will be giving up easy access to funds you may need to meet your expenses.”
Additional information and guidance on reverse mortgages is available from HUD at www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/hecm/rmtopten.cfm or by calling 1-800-569-4287.
Note: To receive an FHA-insured reverse mortgage, you must first speak with a HUD-approved counselor, who can provide you with information on this product and other alternatives so you can determine what is suitable for you.
This is a reprint of Spring 2010 FDIC article.