What is a Reverse Mortgage?
If you’re 62 or older – and want money to pay off your mortgage, supplement your income, or pay for healthcare expenses – you may consider a reverse mortgage. It allows you to convert part of the equity in your home into cash without having to sell your home or pay additional monthly bills. But take your time: a reverse mortgage can be complicated and might not be right for you. A reverse mortgage can use up the equity in your home, which means fewer assets for you and your heirs. If you do decide to look for one, review the different types of reverse mortgages, and comparison shop before you decide on a particular company.
How does a reverse mortgage work?
When you have a regular mortgage, you pay the lender every month to buy your home 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. 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.
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).
If you get a reverse mortgage of any kind, you get a loan in which you borrow against the equity in your home. You keep the title to your home. Instead of paying monthly mortgage payments, though, you get an advance on part of your home equity. 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. 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.
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How to qualify for a revese mortgage
To qualify for the HECM reverse mortgage in the United States, borrowers generally must be at least 62 years of age and the home must be their primary residence (second homes and investment properties do not qualify).
For a reverse mortgage to be a viable financial option, existing mortgage balances usually must be low enough to be paid off with the reverse mortgage proceeds. However, borrowers do have the option of paying down their existing mortgage balance to qualify for a HECM reverse mortgage.
The HECM reverse mortgage follows the standard FHA eligibility requirements for property type, meaning most 1–4 family dwellings, FHA approved condominiums, and PUDs qualify. Manufactured homes also qualify as long as they meet FHA standards.
Before starting the loan process for an FHA/HUD-approved reverse mortgage, applicants must take an approved counseling course. An approved counselor should help explain how reverse mortgages work, the financial and tax implications of taking out a reverse mortgage, payment options, and costs associated with a reverse mortgage. The counseling is meant to protect borrowers, although the quality of counseling has been criticized by groups such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
In a 2010 survey of elderly Americans, 48% of respondents cited financial difficulties as the primary reason for obtaining a reverse mortgage and 81% stated a desire to remain in their current homes until death.
Types of reverse mortgages
Unlike FHA loans, conventional loans are not insured by the government. Qualifying for a conventional mortgage requires a higher credit score, solid income and a down payment of at least 3 percent for certain loan programs. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the two types of loans.
As you consider whether a reverse mortgage is right for you, also consider which of the three types of reverse mortgage might best suit your needs.
Single-purpose reverse mortgages are the least expensive option. They’re offered by some state and local government agencies, as well as non-profit organizations, but they’re not available everywhere. These loans may be used for only one purpose, which the lender specifies. For example, the lender might say the loan may be used only to pay for home repairs, improvements, or property taxes. Most homeowners with low or moderate income can qualify for these loans.
Proprietary reverse mortgages are private loans that are backed by the companies that develop them. If you own a higher-valued home, you may get a bigger loan advance from a proprietary reverse mortgage. So if your home has a higher appraised value and you have a small mortgage, you might qualify for more funds.
Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs) are federally-insured reverse mortgages and are backed by the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HECM loans can be used for any purpose.
HECMs and proprietary reverse mortgages may be more expensive than traditional home loans, and the upfront costs can be high. That’s important to consider, especially if you plan to stay in your home for just a short time or borrow a small amount. How much you can borrow with a HECM or proprietary reverse mortgage depends on several factors:
- your age
- the type of reverse mortgage you select
- the appraised value of your home
- current interest rates, and
- a financial assessment of your willingness and ability to pay property taxes and homeowner’s insurance.
In general, the older you are, the more equity you have in your home, and the less you owe on it, the more money you can get.
Before applying for a HECM, you must meet with a counselor from an independent government-approved housing counseling agency. Some lenders offering proprietary reverse mortgages also require counseling.
The counselor is required to explain the loan’s costs and financial implications. The counselor also must explain the possible alternatives to a HECM – like government and non-profit programs, or a single-purpose or proprietary reverse mortgage. The counselor also should be able to help you compare the costs of different types of reverse mortgages and tell you how different payment options, fees, and other costs affect the total cost of the loan over time. You can visit HUD for a list of counselors, or call the agency at 1-800-569-4287. Counseling agencies usually charge a fee for their services, often around $125. This fee can be paid from the loan proceeds, and you cannot be turned away if you can’t afford the fee.
With a HECM, there generally is no specific income requirement. However, lenders must conduct a financial assessment when deciding whether to approve and close your loan. They’re evaluating your willingness and ability to meet your obligations and the mortgage requirements. Based on the results, the lender could require funds to be set aside from the loan proceeds to pay things like property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and flood insurance (if applicable). If this is not required, you still could agree that your lender will pay these items. If you have a “set-aside” or you agree to have the lender make these payments, those amounts will be deducted from the amount you get in loan proceeds. You are still responsible for maintaining the property.
The HECM lets you choose among several payment options:
- a single disbursement option – this is only available with a fixed rate loan, and typically offers less money than other HECM options.
- a “term” option – fixed monthly cash advances for a specific time.
- a “tenure” option – fixed monthly cash advances for as long as you live in your home.
- a line of credit – this lets you draw down the loan proceeds at any time, in amounts you choose, until you have used up the line of credit. This option limits the amount of interest imposed on your loan, because you owe interest on the credit that you are using.
- a combination of monthly payments and a line of credit.
You may be able to change your payment option for a small fee.
HECMs generally give you bigger loan advances at a lower total cost than proprietary loans do. In the HECM program, a borrower generally can live in a nursing home or other medical facility for up to 12 consecutive months before the loan must be repaid. Taxes and insurance still must be paid on the loan, and your home must be maintained.
With HECMs, there is a limit on how much you can take out the first year. Your lender will calculate how much you can borrow, based on your age, the interest rate, the value of your home, and your financial assessment. This amount is called your “initial principal limit.”
Generally, you can take out up to 60 percent of your initial principal limit in the first year. There are exceptions, though.
Types of FHA loans
In addition to its popular FHA loan, the FHA also insures other loan programs offered by private lenders. Here’s a look at each of them.
FHA 203(k) loans — These FHA loans help homebuyers purchase a home — and renovate it — all with a single mortgage. Homeowners can also use the program to refinance their existing mortgage and add the cost of remodeling projects into the new loan. FHA 203(k) loans come in two types:
- The limited 203(k) has an easier application process, and the repairs or improvements must total $35,000 or less.
- The standard 203(k) requires additional paperwork and applies to improvements costing more than $5,000, but the total value of the property must still fall within the FHA mortgage limit for the area.
Home Equity Conversion Mortgage, or HECM — A HECM is the most popular type of reverse mortgage and is also insured by the FHA. A HECM allows older homeowners (aged 62 and up) with significant equity or those who own their homes outright to withdraw a portion of their home’s equity. The amount that will be available for withdrawal varies by borrower and depends on the age of the youngest borrower or eligible non-borrowing spouse, current interest rates and the lesser of the home’s appraised value or the HECM FHA mortgage limit or sales price.
FHA Energy Efficient Mortgage (EEM) program — Energy efficient mortgages backed by the FHA allow homebuyers to purchase homes that are already energy efficient, such as EnergyStar-certified buildings. Or they can be used to buy and remodel older homes with energy-efficient, or “green,” updates and roll the costs of the upgrades into the loan without a larger down payment.
FHA Section 245(a) loan — Also known as the Graduated Payment Mortgage, this program is geared at borrowers whose incomes will increase over time. You start out with smaller monthly payments that gradually go up. Five specific plans are available: three plans that allow five years of increasing payments at 2.5 percent, 5 percent and 7.5 percent annually. Two other plans set payment increases over 10 years at 2 percent and 3 percent annually.
How to find FHA lenders
Borrowers get their home loans from FHA-approved lenders rather than the FHA, which only insures the loans. FHA-approved lenders can have different rates and costs, even for the same loan.
FHA loans are available through many sources — from the biggest banks and credit unions to community banks and independent mortgage lenders. Costs, services and underwriting standards vary among lenders or mortgage brokers, so it’s important to shop around.
FHA loan limits for 2019
For 2019, the floor limit for FHA loans in most of the country is $314,827, up from $294,515 in 2018. For high-cost areas, the ceiling is $726,525, up from $679,650 a year ago. These limits are referred to as “ceilings” and “floors” that FHA will insure. FHA updates limit amounts each year in response to changing home prices.
FHA is required by law to adjust its amounts based on the loan limits set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, or FHFA, for conventional mortgages guaranteed or owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Ceiling and floor limits vary according to the cost of living in a certain area, and can be different from one county to the next. Areas with a higher cost of living will have higher limits, and vice versa. Special exceptions are made for housing in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and the Virgin Islands, where home construction is more expensive.
FHA loan relief
Loan servicers can offer some flexibility on FHA loan requirements to those who have suffered a serious financial hardship or are struggling to make their payments.
That relief might be in the form of a temporary period of forbearance, a loan modification that would lower the interest rate, extend the payback period, or defer part of the loan balance at no interest.