A reverse mortgage can be a great tool in the right circumstances, but if you aren't careful you could end up losing your home. A recent front-page article in the New York Times lays out some of the problems homeowners are encountering with these mortgages.
You must be 62 years or older to qualify for a reverse mortgage, which allows you to use the equity in your home to take out a loan. The loan does not have to be paid back until you sell the house or die, and the loan funds can be used for anything, including providing money for retirement or to paying for nursing home expenses.
It all sounds like a no-lose proposition, but there are downsides. For example, these loans carry large insurance and origination costs, they may affect eligibility for government benefits like Medicaid, and they are not ideal for parents whose major objective is to safeguard an inheritance for their children. There also have been complaints about aggressive marketing techniques.
In addition to these drawbacks, the Times points out two more important potential pitfalls:
- Pay attention to whose name is on the mortgage. When purchasing a reverse mortgage, be sure to put both spouses' names on the mortgage. If only one spouse's name is on the mortgage and that spouse dies, the surviving spouse will be required to either pay for the house outright or move out. This might happen if only one spouse is over 62 when the mortgage is signed. According to the Times, some lenders have actually encouraged couples to put only the older spouse on the mortgage because the couple could borrow more money that way.
- Watch out for a lump-sum loan. Usually reverse mortgages come in a line of credit with a variable interest rate. This allows homeowners to take money only when they need it. According to the Times, some brokers have been pushing lump-sum loans because the brokers earn higher fees. The problem is these loans have a fixed interest rate. The interest charges are added each month, so that over time the total amount owed can surpass the amount of the original loan.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created in the wake of the mortgage crisis in part to scrutinize consumer mortgages, is working on new rules to better regulate reverse mortgage lenders and provide disclosures to seniors.
To read the New York Times article about reverse mortgages, click here