Reverse Mortgage Borrowers Are Getting Younger, Which May Not Be a Good Thing

[This article was originally published on April 4, 2012.  The links were updated on June 15, 2018.]

The age of reverse mortgage borrowers is dropping, according to a new study by MetLife. Unfortunately, reverse mortgages come with risks, so younger borrowers need to be careful.

Reverse mortgages allow homeowners who are at least 62 years of age to borrow money on their house. The homeowner receives a sum of money from the lender, based largely on the value of the house, age of the borrower, and current interest rates. The loan does not need to be paid back until the last surviving homeowner dies, sells the house, or permanently moves out.

The MetLife study found that younger borrowers are taking out reverse mortgages. Today baby boomers aged 62 to 64 make up 21 percent of reverse mortgage applicants. In 1999, only 6 percent of applicants were in this age bracket.  Of homeowners who are considering a reverse mortgage, 46 percent are under age 70.

This new trend toward younger borrowers could spell trouble. While reverse mortgages seem like a great idea, there are major downsides. The closing costs for the loans are much higher than for conventional mortgages, and younger borrowers receive less money because their life expectancy is longer. In addition, the borrower is still responsible for property taxes, homeowner's insurance, and maintenance. If the borrower runs out of money and can't pay the property taxes or homeowner's insurance, the loan will default, and the borrower could lose his or her house.

MetLife’s study also found that most reverse mortgage applicants (67 percent) wanted to use the reverse mortgage to lower household debt compared to 27 percent who wanted to enhance their lifestyle and 23 percent who wanted to plan for the future. Instead of using a reverse mortgage to pay for health care that would allow borrowers to remain in their homes during their final years, borrowers are using reverse mortgages to cover short-term financial shortfalls. The MetLife study finds that strong reverse mortgage counseling is needed, and it cautions that homeowners need to consider whether to use their home equity to shore up their retirement financing or preserve this asset for major unexpected expenses in the future, such as health-related expenses that inevitably increase as people age.  (Funds for reverse mortage counseling were eliminated in last year’s budget deal between Democrats and Republicans but have since been restored.) 

To read the MetLife study, click here.

For more information on reverse mortgages, click here.