By: Lance T. Denha, Esq.
When you have a regular mortgage, you pay the lender every month to buy your home and, as a result, earn more of its equity 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. Put another way, you can access the equity in your home without having a monthly mortgage loan payment. 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.
Reverse mortgages are only available for homeowners who are:
- 62 years of age or older;
- occupy the property as a principal residence, and
- own the home outright or have significant equity in the home.
A reverse mortgage is different from a traditional mortgage in that it does not require the borrower to make monthly payments to the lender to repay the loan. Instead, loan proceeds are paid out to the borrower as a monthly payment, line of credit, or a lump sum (subject to some limitations). You can also get a combination of monthly installments and a line of credit. The amount of the loan is based on the equity or sale value of the house.
There are three kinds of reverse mortgages: single purpose reverse mortgages – offered by some state and local government agencies, as well as non-profits; proprietary reverse mortgages – private loans; and federally-insured reverse mortgages, also known as Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs). 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.
Here are some things to consider about reverse mortgages:
- 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. Variable rate loans tend to give you more options on how you get your money through the reverse mortgage. Some reverse mortgages – mostly HECMs – offer fixed rates, but they tend to require you to take your loan as a lump sum at closing. Often, the total amount you can borrow is less than you could get with a variable rate loan.
- 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 and this is for the borrower’s protection. 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.
Although rules and regulations for the reverse mortgage loan program may seem stringent to some, they are designed with the borrower’s best interests in mind and are truly beneficial to you as a borrower. These regulations and rules are meant to encourage borrowers to use this great financial tool as part of an intelligent retirement planning strategy, which in turn solidifies the overall strength of the reverse mortgage loan product.