Reverse Mortgages: The Facts
Whether seeking money to finance a home improvement, pay off a current mortgage, supplement their retirement income, or pay for healthcare expenses, many older Americans are turning to “reverse” mortgages. They allow older homeowners to convert part of the equity in their homes into cash without having to sell their homes or take on additional monthly bills.
In a “regular” mortgage, you make monthly payments to the lender. But in a “reverse” mortgage, you receive money from the lender and generally don’t have to pay it back for as long as you live in your home. Instead, the loan must be repaid when you die, sell your home, or no longer live there as your principal residence. Reverse mortgages can help homeowners who are house-rich but cash-poor stay in their homes and still meet their financial obligations.
To qualify for most reverse mortgages, you must be at least 62 and live in your home. The proceeds of a reverse mortgage (without other features, like an annuity) are generally tax-free, and many reverse mortgages have no income restrictions.
Reverse mortgage loan advances are not taxable, and generally do not affect Social Security or Medicare benefits. You retain the title to your home and do not have to make monthly repayments. The loan must be repaid when the last surviving borrower dies, sells the home, or no longer lives in the home as a principal residence. In the HECM program, a borrower can live in a nursing home or other medical facility for up to 12 months before the loan becomes due and payable.
As you consider a reverse mortgage, be aware that:
- Lenders generally charge origination fees and other closing costs for a reverse mortgage. Lenders also may charge servicing fees during the term of the mortgage. The lender generally sets these fees and costs.
- The amount you owe on a reverse mortgage generally grows over time. Interest is charged on the outstanding balance and added to the amount you owe each month. That means your total debt increases over time as loan funds are advanced to you and interest accrues on the loan.
- Reverse mortgages may have fixed or variable rates. Most have variable rates that are tied to a financial index and will likely change according to market conditions.
- Reverse mortgages can use up all or some of the equity in your home, leaving fewer assets for you and your heirs. A “nonrecourse” clause, found in most reverse mortgages, prevents either you or your estate from owing more than the value of your home when the loan is repaid.
- Because you retain title to your home, you remain responsible for property taxes, insurance, utilities, fuel, maintenance, and other expenses. So, for example, if you don’t pay property taxes or maintain homeowner’s insurance, you risk the loan becoming due and payable.
Interest on reverse mortgages is not deductible on income tax returns until the loan is paid off in part or whole.
ACCC’s HUD approved housing counseling agency offers HECM (reverse mortgage) counseling nationally and foreclosure counseling to Massachusetts residents. If you are seeking debt relief via housing counseling, contact ACCC here.