With trillions of dollars of collective wealth embedded in the value of their homes, it’s no wonder people ask about how they might someday access their real estate to help support their retirement years. This question often leads to a conversation about a little understood product, the reverse mortgage.
Reverse mortgages are somewhat complex and definitely counterintuitive. As opposed to the traditional “forward” mortgage, where you borrow money and then slowly pay back the loan, a “reverse” mortgage is an entirely different beast.
With a reverse mortgage, you borrow against your home’s value with no scheduled repayment. You either start out a reverse mortgage by receiving a lump sum, getting a monthly check, opening a line of credit or choosing a combination of these options.
Unlike a typical mortgage where each monthly payment you make builds equity in your home, a reverse mortgage produces just the opposite; a drawing down of the equity you have in your home. Your net worth literally heads in reverse.
Your reverse mortgage’s growing debt load – invisible, almost, with no payment obligation – will only come due when you move out of your home and it’s eventually sold. Your move may be by choice, by necessity or by death. At least one of those triggers is under your control!
Let’s dig further into the growing and invisible nature of the loan. With each check sent to you by your reverse mortgage, your principal and interest piles up. And, with each passing month, your new borrowing plus your unpaid interest speeds up your debt accumulation. It’s all by design, of course.
HUD, the government agency, closely regulates how much equity a person can tap with a reverse mortgage. Depending on your age and various other factors, only about 50% to 75% of your home’s equity is initially available to you. The reason for the limit is crystal clear.
If your debt pile grows to exceed your home’s value, the federal government is stuck with any shortfall after your home is sold. In fact, HUD’s current shortfall with reverse mortgages recently prompted them to increase the fees they charge borrowers in order to protect the government against future losses.
To get a sense of the fees involved with reverse mortgages, imagine your home is worth $250,000, you’ve reached age 62 – the youngest age allowed – and you currently have no mortgage. If you chose to borrow your initial maximum of around $125,000, your startup loan fees would likely exceed $10,000. This helps to explain why HUD requires all would-be borrowers to complete financial counseling before getting a reverse mortgage.
Join Jason P. Tank, CFA for the Money Series’ season opening presentation on reverse mortgages to be held on Wed., September 13 at 6:30pm in the McGuire Rm. at the Traverse Area District Library. To see the Money Series’ season lineup, visit www.MoneySeries.org