A reverse mortgage enables older homeowners (62+) to convert part of the equity in their homes into tax-free income without having to sell the home, give up title, or take on a new monthly mortgage payment. The reverse mortgage is aptly named because the payment stream is “reversed.” Instead of making monthly payments to a lender, as with a regular mortgage, a lender makes payments to you.

The amount of funds you are eligible to receive depends on your age (or the age of the youngest spouse in the case of couples), the appraised home value, interest rates, and in the case of the government program, the lending limit in your area. In general, the older you are and the more valuable your home (and the less you owe on your home), the more money you can get.

Eligible Properties

Eligible property types include single-family homes, 2-4 unit properties, manufactured homes (built after June 1976), condominiums, and townhouses. In general, cooperative housing is ineligible. However, some lenders have developed private programs that lend on co-ops in New York.

Plan Options

You can choose to receive the money from a reverse mortgage all at once as a lump sum, fixed monthly payments either for a set term or for as long as you live in the home, as a line of credit, or a combination of these. The most popular option – chosen by more than 60 percent of borrowers – is the line of credit, which allows you to draw on the loan proceeds at any time.

How Does the Interest Work on a Reverse Mortgage?

With a reverse mortgage, you are charged interest only on the proceeds that you receive. Most reverse mortgages charge a variable interest rate (although fixed rate products are entering the marketplace) that is tied to an index, such as the 1-Yr.Treasury Bill or the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), plus a margin that typically adds an additional one to three percentage points onto the rate you’re charged. Interest is not paid out of your available loan proceeds, but instead compounds over the life of the loan until repayment occurs.

What If I Have An Existing Mortgage?

You may qualify for a reverse mortgage even if you still owe money on an existing mortgage. However, the reverse mortgage must be in a first lien position, so any existing indebtedness must be paid off. You can pay off the existing mortgage with a reverse mortgage, money from your savings, or assistance from a family member or friend.

What Is the Service Fee Set-Aside?

Under the FHA HECM program, you are charged a monthly servicing fee that ranges from $30-$35 to manage your account once the loan closes. The SFSA is an estimate of what the total servicing fees will be over the life of the loan, by multplying your life expectancy (converted from years into months) multiplied by either $30 or $35. Although it’s not considered a closing cost, the SFSA can equal several thousand dollars, which is deducted from your available loan proceeds. You do not have access to that money, nor do you earn interest.

Will I Lose My Government Assistance If I Get a Reverse Mortgage?

A reverse mortgage does not affect regular Social Security or Medicare benefits. However, if you are on Medicaid, any reverse mortgage proceeds that you receive must be used immediately. Funds that you retain would count as an asset and could impact Medicaid eligibility. For example, if you receive $4,000 in a lump sum for home repairs and spend it all the same calendar month, everything is fine. Any residual funds remaining in your bank account the following month would count as an asset. If the total liquid resources (including other bank funds and savings bonds) exceed $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a couple, you would be ineligible for Medicaid. To be safe, you should contact the local Area Agency on Aging or a Medicaid expert.

Why Do I Need to Get Counseling?

Counseling is one of the most important consumer protections built into the program. It requires an independent third-party to make sure you understand the program, and review alternative options, before you apply for a reverse mortgage.

You can seek counseling from a local HUD-approved counseling agency, or a national counseling agency, such as AARP (800-209-8085), National Foundation for Credit Counseling (866-698-6322), and Money Management International (877-908-2227). Counseling is required for all reverse mortgages and may be conducted face-to-face or by telephone.

By law, a counselor must review (i) options, other than a reverse mortgage, that are available to the prospective borrower, including housing, social services, health and financial alternatives; (ii) other home equity conversion options that are or may become available to the prospective borrower, such as property tax deferral programs; (iii) the financial implications of entering into a reverse mortgage; and, (iv) the tax consequences affecting the prospective borrower’s eligibility under state or federal programs and the impact on the estate or his or her heirs.

When Do I Pay Back My Loan?

No monthly payments are due on a reverse mortgage while it is outstanding. The loan is repaid when you cease to occupy your home as a principal residence, whether you (the last remaining spouse, in cases of couples) pass away, sell the home, or permanently move out. The amount owed can never exceed the value of your home. Furthermore, if the home is sold and the sales proceeds exceed the amount owed on the reverse mortgage, the excess money goes to you or your estate.

Under What Circumstances Should I Not Consider a Reverse Mortgage?

Because of the upfront costs associated with a reverse mortgage, if you intend to leave your home within 2-3 years, there may be other less expensive options to consider, such as home equity loans, no-interest loans or grants that may be offered by your county government or a local non-profit to repair your home, or a tax deferral program, if you’re having problems paying your property taxes. Also, if you want to leave your home to your children, then you should consider other options, because in many cases, the home is sold to pay back a reverse mortgage.

All reverse mortgages—whether the government-insured Home Equity Conversion Mortgage or a conventional product—share a set of common characteristics, which include the following:

  • You must be at least 62 years old and own a home. (Note: There are some conventional reverse mortgages that have differing age requirements.)
  • You ALWAYS retain title (ownership) to the home. The lender never, at any point, owns the home, even after you (or last surviving spouse) permanently vacate the property.
  • You must still pay property taxes and insurance, and keep the home well maintained. If you are unable to pay your property taxes and insurance, then a special set-aside from your reverse mortgage can be created.
  • Repayment of the loan occurs when you (or last surviving spouse) permanently vacate the home. You or your heirs (estate) then must facilitate the pay back of the loan using either private funds or selling the home. After the loan is repaid, all leftover proceeds from the sale of the home go to you or the estate.
  • The amount of funds you are eligible to receive depends on your age (or age of the youngest borrower in the case of couples), the value of the home, the interest rate and the upfront costs. With the HECM product, the county lending limit is a factor. With all products, the older you are, the more proceeds you are eligible to receive.
  • Loan fees can be financed, or paid out of the available loan proceeds. This means you incur very little out-of-pocket expense to get a reverse mortgage. In most cases, you only have to pay for the appraisal, which costs roughly $350 depending on your market.
  • The loan balance (amount owed) grows each time you access funds from your line of credit or receive a monthly payment.In addition, the lender is charging you interest on the outstanding loan balance as well as a monthly servicing fee.
  • Repayment of the loan is not required until you (or the last surviving spouse) permanently leave the home as a primary residence. For the HECM program, you can live up to 12 consecutive months outside the home, but this may vary forother products.
  • All reverse mortgages have a “non-recourse” feature, which means that the total amount owed can never exceed the appraised value of the home. If the amount owed exceeds the home’s appraised value, then the lender or the federal government (in the case of the HECM product) will absorb that loss.

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