August 27, 2013
Reverse Mortgage Article Hits Nerve
Readers reacting to a recent blog post about reverse mortgages fiercely debated the financial product’s pros and cons, which they felt were missing from the article.
The July 25 article noted that fewer than 55,000 older Americans in 2012 used the federally insured loans. The advantage of a reverse mortgage is that Americans age 62 or older can borrow against some of the equity in their homes to generate much-needed income or create a financial cushion. The principal and interest are repaid when the retiree or his children sell the house.
Even though reverse mortgages are rare, the topic hit a nerve with readers, including lawyers, brokers, and people with elderly parents.
A mortgage broker named D. Gardner, for example, said that he’s often seen people use reverse mortgages to maintain a lifestyle they can’t afford, eliminating a financial option they may need later in life.
For some borrowers, he said, a reverse mortgage “was a means to paper over problems.”
But JP, a former reverse mortgage executive, said a reverse mortgage allowed his parents to pay off their traditional home loan. Free from the monthly payments, they were able to preserve their investment portfolio.
One reader thought it was important to note that reverse mortgages are affected by one factor that also impacts traditional mortgages: changing interest rates. For reverse mortgages with adjustable rates, a higher rate will more quickly eat up any remaining home equity.
The responsibilities of homeownership also do not change with a reverse mortgage, another reader said. The homeowner shouldn’t take one out if they still can’t afford to pay the taxes or maintain the property.
Reverse mortgages, like traditional mortgages, also carry fees. Jerry Peterson, who originates them, said fees are a key consideration for older borrowers. The mortgage insurance premium required for the two types of reverse mortgages available is 1.25 percent (paid annually) of the loan balance, which grows every year as interest accrues. One type of mortgage, known as the Standard, charges another 2 percent of the appraised house value (paid upfront).
One criticism of reverse mortgages that Peterson doesn’t buy, however, comes from homeowners’ children. He said some are concerned their parents will deplete the equity they might otherwise get when their parents die.
“Are we all put on this earth to build up a nice equity in our homes, and then scrimp and save so we can give this equity to our kids?” Peterson said.
Several readers advocated using a reverse mortgage, but they had three suggestions for anyone considering one:
- Get the facts.
- Discuss it with a trusted friend or family member.
- Buyer beware.
For a primer on reverse mortgages created by the Center for Retirement Research, click here.
As with any financial product, there’s potential for fraud. To read a consumer advisory about reverse mortgages by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, click here.