Your BBB® receives many questions from people considering a reverse mortgage.
If you’re 62 or older – and want money to pay off your mortgage, supplement your income, or pay for healthcare expenses – you may consider a reverse mortgage. It allows you to convert part of the equity in your home into cash without having to sell your home or pay additional monthly bills. A reverse mortgage can use up the equity in your home, which means fewer assets for you and your heirs.
How do Reverse Mortgages Work?
When you have a regular mortgage, you pay the lender every month to buy your home over time. In a reverse mortgage, you get a loan in which the lender pays you. Reverse mortgages take part of the equity in your home and convert it into payments to you – a kind of advance payment on your home equity. The money you get usually is tax-free. Generally, you don’t have to pay back the money for as long as you live in your home. When you die, sell your home, or move out, you, your spouse, or your estate would repay the loan. Sometimes that means selling the home to get money to repay the loan.
If you get a reverse mortgage of any kind, you get a loan in which you borrow against the equity in your home. You keep the title to your home. Instead of paying monthly mortgage payments, though, you get an advance on part of your home equity. The money you get usually is not taxable, and it generally won’t affect your Social Security or Medicare benefits. When the last surviving borrower dies, sells the home, or no longer lives in the home as a principal residence, the loan has to be repaid. In certain situations, a non-borrowing spouse may be able to remain in the home.
There are fees and other costs. Reverse mortgage lenders generally charge an origination fee and other closing costs, as well as servicing fees over the life of the mortgage. Some also charge mortgage insurance premiums (for federally-insured HECMs).
You owe more over time. As you get money through your reverse mortgage, interest is added onto the balance you owe each month. That means the amount you owe grows as the interest on your loan adds up over time.
Interest rates may change over time. Most reverse mortgages have variable rates, which are tied to a financial index and change with the market.
Interest is not tax deductible each year. Interest on reverse mortgages is not deductible on income tax returns – until the loan is paid off, either partially or in full.
You have to pay other costs related to your home. In a reverse mortgage, you keep the title to your home. That means you are responsible for property taxes, insurance, utilities, fuel, maintenance, and other expenses. And, if you don’t pay your property taxes, keep homeowner’s insurance, or maintain your home, the lender might require you to repay your loan. A financial assessment is required when you apply for the mortgage. As a result, your lender may require a “set-aside” amount to pay your taxes and insurance during the loan. The “set-aside” reduces the amount of funds you can get in payments. You are still responsible for maintaining your home.
What happens to your spouse? With HECM loans, if you signed the loan paperwork and your spouse didn’t, in certain situations, your spouse may continue to live in the home even after you die if he or she pays taxes and insurance, and continues to maintain the property. But your spouse will stop getting money from the HECM, since he or she wasn’t part of the loan agreement.
What can you leave to your heirs? Reverse mortgages can use up the equity in your home, which means fewer assets for you and your heirs. Most reverse mortgages have something called a “non-recourse” clause. This means that you, or your estate, can’t owe more than the value of your home when the loan becomes due and the home is sold. With a HECM, generally, if you or your heirs want to pay off the loan and keep the home rather than sell it, you would not have to pay more than the appraised value of the home.
Types of Reverse Mortgages
As you consider whether a reverse mortgage is right for you, also consider which of the three types of reverse mortgage might best suit your needs.
Single-purpose reverse mortgages are the least expensive option. They’re offered by some state and local government agencies, as well as non-profit organizations, but they’re not available everywhere. These loans may be used for only one purpose, which the lender specifies. For example, the lender might say the loan may be used only to pay for home repairs, improvements, or property taxes. Most homeowners with low or moderate income can qualify for these loans.
Proprietary reverse mortgages are private loans that are backed by the companies that develop them. If you own a higher-valued home, you may get a bigger loan advance from a proprietary reverse mortgage. So if your home has a higher appraised value and you have a small mortgage, you might qualify for more funds.
Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs) are federally-insured reverse mortgages and are backed by the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HECM loans can be used for any purpose.
HECMs and proprietary reverse mortgages may be more expensive than traditional home loans, and the upfront costs can be high. That’s important to consider, especially if you plan to stay in your home for just a short time or borrow a small amount. How much you can borrow with a HECM or proprietary reverse mortgage depends on several factors: your age, the type of reverse mortgage you select, the appraised value of your home, current interest rates, and a financial assessment of your willingness and ability to pay property taxes and homeowner’s insurance.
In general, the older you are, the more equity you have in your home, and the less you owe on it, the more money you can get.
If you have read this far, you should now understand that it is not just a simple quick-fix to get instant money. Take your time: a reverse mortgage can be complicated and might not be right for you.
A salesperson may not be the best guide for what works for you. This is especially true if he or she acts like a reverse mortgage is a solution for all your problems, pushes you to take out a loan, or has ideas on how you can spend the money from a reverse mortgage.
For example, some sellers may try to sell you things like home improvement services – but then suggest a reverse mortgage as an easy way to pay for them. Your home improvement costs include not only the price of the work being done – but also the costs and fees you’ll pay to get the reverse mortgage.
Some reverse mortgage salespeople might suggest ways to invest the money from your reverse mortgage – even pressuring you to buy other financial products, like an annuity or long-term care insurance. Resist that pressure. If you buy those kinds of financial products, you could lose the money you get from your reverse mortgage. You don’t have to buy any financial products, services or investment to get a reverse mortgage. The FTC says in some situations, it’s illegal to require you to buy other products to get a reverse mortgage.
Some salespeople try to rush you through the process. Stop and check with a counselor or someone you trust before you sign anything. A reverse mortgage can be complicated, and isn’t something to rush into.
The bottom line: If you don’t understand the cost or features of a reverse mortgage, walk away. If you feel pressure or urgency to complete the deal – walk away. Do some research and find a counselor or company you feel comfortable with.
Your Right to Cancel
With most reverse mortgages, you have at least three business days after closing to cancel the deal for any reason, without penalty. This is known as your right of “rescission.” To cancel, you must notify the lender in writing. Send your letter by certified mail, and ask for a return receipt. That will let you document what the lender got, and when. Keep copies of your correspondence and any enclosures. After you cancel, the lender has 20 days to return any money you’ve paid for the financing.
You may qualify for less costly alternatives. The following organizations have more information:
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), HECM Program 800-225-5342
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 855-411-2372
AARP Foundation Reverse Mortgage Education Project, 800-209-8085
For more information you can trust, visit bbb.org/evansville.