Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about reverse mortgages for retirees? My wife and I are contemplating getting one but want to make sure we know what we're getting into.
For retirees who own their home and want to stay living there, but could use some extra cash, a reverse mortgage is a viable financial tool, but there's a lot to know and consider to be sure it's a good option for you.
Let's start with the basics.
A reverse mortgage is a unique type of loan that allows older homeowners to borrow money against the equity in their house (or condo) that doesn't have to be repaid until the homeowner dies, sells the house or moves out for at least 12 months. At that point, you or your heirs will have to pay back the loan plus accrued interest and fees, but you will never owe more than the value of your home.
It's also important to understand that with a reverse mortgage, you, not the bank, own the house, so you're still required to pay your property taxes and homeowners insurance. Not paying them can result in foreclosure.
To be eligible, you must be 62 years of age or older, own your own home (or owe only a small balance) and currently be living there.
You will also need to undergo a financial assessment to determine whether you can afford to continue paying your property taxes and insurance. Depending on your financial situation, you may be required to put part of your loan into an escrow account to pay future bills. If the financial assessment finds that you cannot pay your insurance and taxes and have enough cash left to live on, you'll be denied.
Around 95 percent of all reverse mortgages offered today are Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECM), which are FHA insured and offered through private mortgage lenders and banks. HECM's also have home value limits that vary by county, but cannot exceed $679,650.
How much you can actually get through a reverse mortgage depends on your age (the older you are the more you can get), your home's value and the prevailing interest rates. Generally, most people can borrow somewhere between 50 and 65 percent of the home's value. To estimate how much you can borrow, use the reverse mortgage calculator at ReverseMortgage.org.
You also need to know that reverse mortgages have recently become more expensive with a number of fees, including: a 2 percent lender origination fee for the first $200,000 of the home's value and 1 percent of the remaining value, with a cap of $6,000; an upfront 2 percent mortgage insurance premium (MIP) fee on the maximum loan amount, plus an annual MIP fee that's equal to 0.5 percent of the outstanding loan balance; along with an appraisal fee, closing costs and other miscellaneous expenses. Most fees can be deducted for the loan amount to reduce your out-of-pocket cost at closing.
To receive your money, you can opt for a lump sum, a line of credit, regular monthly checks or a combination of these.
To learn more, read the National Council on Aging's online booklet "Use Your Home to Stay at Home" at NCOA.org/home-equity. And see the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association self-evaluation checklist at ReverseMortgage.org/consumerguides.
Also note that because reverse mortgages are complex loans, all borrowers are required to get face-to-face or telephone counseling through a HUD approved independent counseling agency before taking one out. Most agencies typically charge around $125. To locate one near you, visit Go.usa.gov/v2H, or call 800-569-4287.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.