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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.

Read on to learn more about how reverse mortgages work, qualifying for a reverse mortgage, getting the best deal for you, and how to report any fraud you might see.

  • How do Reverse Mortgages Work?
  • Types of Reverse Mortgages
  • Shopping for a Reverse Mortgage
  • Be Wary of Sales Pitches for a Reverse Mortgage
  • Your Right to Cancel
  • Report Possible Fraud

How do Reverse Mortgages 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 to 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.

Types of Reverse Mortgages

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.

Shopping for a Reverse Mortgage

If you’re considering a reverse mortgage, shop around. Decide which type of reverse mortgage might be right for you. That might depend on what you want to do with the money. Compare the options, terms, and fees from various lenders. Learn as much as you can about reverse mortgages before you talk to a counselor or lender. And ask lots of questions to make sure a reverse mortgage could work for you – and that you’re getting the right kind for you.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Do you want a reverse mortgage to pay for home repairs or property taxes? If so, find out if you qualify for any low-cost single-purpose loans in your area. Staff at your local Area Agency on Aging may know about the programs in your area. Find the nearest agency on aging at eldercare.gov, or call 1-800-677-1116. Ask about “loan or grant programs for home repairs or improvements,” or “property tax deferral” or “property tax postponement” programs, and how to apply.
  • Do you live in a higher-valued home? You might be able to borrow more money with a proprietary reverse mortgage. But the more you borrow, the higher the fees you’ll pay. You also might consider a HECM loan. A HECM counselor or a lender can help you compare these types of loans side by side, to see what you’ll get – and what it costs.
  • Compare fees and costs. This bears repeating: shop around and compare the costs of the loans available to you. While the mortgage insurance premium is usually the same from lender to lender, most loan costs – including origination fees, interest rates, closing costs, and servicing fees – vary among lenders.
  • Understand total costs and loan repayment. Ask a counselor or lender to explain the Total Annual Loan Cost (TALC) rates: they show the projected annual average cost of a reverse mortgage, including all the itemized costs. And, no matter what type of reverse mortgage you’re considering, understand all the reasons why your loan might have to be repaid before you were planning on it.

Be Wary of Sales Pitches for a Reverse Mortgage

Is a reverse mortgage right for you? Only you can decide what works for your situation. A counselor from an independent government-approved housing counseling agency can help. But a salesperson isn’t likely to be the best guide for what works for you. This is especially true if he or she acts like a reverse mortgage is a solution for all your problems, pushes you to take out a loan, or has ideas on how you can spend the money from a reverse mortgage.

For example, some sellers may try to sell you things like home improvement services – but then suggest a reverse mortgage as an easy way to pay for them. If you decide you need home improvements, and you think a reverse mortgage is the way to pay for them, shop around before deciding on a particular seller. Your home improvement costs include not only the price of the work being done – but also the costs and fees you’ll pay to get the reverse mortgage.

Some reverse mortgage salespeople might suggest ways to invest the money from your reverse mortgage – even pressuring you to buy other financial products, like an annuity or long-term care insurance. Resist that pressure. If you buy those kinds of financial products, you could lose the money you get from your reverse mortgage. You don’t have to buy any financial products, services or investment to get a reverse mortgage. In fact, in some situations, it’s illegal to require you to buy other products to get a reverse mortgage.

Some salespeople try to rush you through the process. Stop and check with a counselor or someone you trust before you sign anything. A reverse mortgage can be complicated and isn’t something to rush into.

The bottom line: If you don’t understand the cost or features of a reverse mortgage, walk away. If you feel pressure or urgency to complete the deal – walk away. Do some research and find a counselor or company you feel comfortable with.

Your Right to Cancel

With most reverse mortgages, you have at least three business days after closing to cancel the deal for any reason, without penalty. This is known as your right of “rescission.” To cancel, you must notify the lender in writing. Send your letter by certified mail, and ask for a return receipt. That will let you document what the lender got, and when. Keep copies of your correspondence and any enclosures. After you cancel, the lender has 20 days to return any money you’ve paid for the financing.

Eligibility

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).

On 25 April 2014, FHA revised the HECM age eligibility requirements to extend certain protections to spouses younger than age 62. Under the old guidelines, the reverse mortgage could only be written for the spouse who was 62 or older. If the older spouse died, the reverse mortgage balance became due and payable. If the surviving spouse was unable to pay off or refinance the reverse mortgage balance, he or she was forced either to sell the home or lose it to foreclosure. This often created a significant hardship for spouses of deceased HECM mortgagors, so FHA revised the eligibility requirements in Mortgagee Letter 2014-07. Under the new guidelines, spouses who are younger than age 62 at the time of origination retain the protections offered by the HECM program if the older spouses dies. This means that the surviving spouse can remain living in the home without having to repay the reverse mortgage balance as long as he or she keeps up with property taxes and homeowner’s insurance and maintains the home to a reasonable level.

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.

Financial assessment

On March 2, 2015, FHA implemented new guidelines that require reverse mortgage applicants to undergo a financial assessment. Though HECM borrowers are not required to make monthly mortgage payments, FHA wants to make sure they have the financial ability and willingness to keep up with property taxes and homeowner’s insurance (and any other applicable property charges). Financial assessment involves evaluating two main areas:

  1. Residual income – Borrowers must have a certain amount of residual income left over after covering monthly expenses.
  2. Satisfactory credit – All housing and installment debt payments must have been made on time in the last 12 months and there are no more than two 30-day late mortgage or installment payments in the previous 24 months. There is no major derogatory credit on revolving accounts in the last 12 months.

If residual income or credit does not meet FHA guidelines, the lender can possibly make up for it by documenting extenuating circumstances that led to the financial hardship. If no extenuating circumstances can be documented, the borrower may not qualify at all or the lender may require a large amount of the principal limit (if available) to be carved out into a Life Expectancy Set Aside (LESA) for the payment of property charges (property taxes, homeowners insurance, etc.).

Interest rates

The HECM reverse mortgage offers fixed and adjustable interest rates. The fixed-rate program comes with the security of an interest rate that does not change for the life of the reverse mortgage, but the interest rate is usually higher at the start of the loan than a comparable adjustable-rate HECM. Adjustable-rate reverse mortgages typically have interest rates that can change on a monthly or yearly basis within certain limits.

Applicants for a HECM reverse mortgage will likely notice that there are two different interest rates disclosed on their loan documents: the initial interest rate, or IIR, and the expected interest rate, or EIR.

Initial interest rate (IIR)

The initial interest rate, or IIR, is the actual note rate at which interest accrues on the outstanding loan balance on an annual basis. For fixed-rate reverse mortgages, the IIR can never change. For adjustable-rate reverse mortgages, the IIR can change with program limits up to a lifetime interest rate cap.

Expected interest rate (EIR)

The expected interest rate, or EIR, is used mainly for calculation purposes to determine how much a reverse mortgage borrower qualifies for based on the value of the home (up to the maximum lending limit of $625,500) and age of the youngest borrower. The EIR is often different from the actual note rate, or IIR. The EIR does not determine the amount of interest that accrues on the loan balance (the IIR does that).

Amount of proceeds available

The total pool of money that a borrower can receive from a HECM reverse mortgage is called the principal limit (PL), which is calculated based on the maximum claim amount (MCA), the age of the youngest borrower, the expected interest rate (EIR), and a table to PL factors published by HUD. Similar to loan-to-value (LTV) in the forward mortgage world, the principal limit is essentially the percentage of the value of the home that can be lent under the FHA HECM guidelines. Most PLs are typically in the range of 50% to 60% of the MCA, but they can sometimes be higher or lower. The table below gives examples of principal limits for various ages and EIRs and a property value of $250,000.

Borrower’s age at originationExpected interest rate (EIR)Principal limit factor (as of Aug. 4, 2014)[36]Initial principal limit based on MCA of $250,000
655.5%0.478$119,500
657.0%0.332$83,000
755.5%0.553$138,250
757.0%0.410$102,500
855.5%0.644$161,000
857.0%0.513$128,250

The principal limit tends to increase with age and decrease as the EIR rises. In other words, older borrowers tend to qualify for more money than younger borrowers, but the total amount of money available under the HECM program tends to decrease for all ages as interest rates rise.

Closing costs, existing mortgage balances, other liens, and any property taxes or homeowners insurance due are typically paid out of the initial principal limit. Any additional proceeds available can be distributed to the borrower in several ways, which will be detailed next.

Options for distribution of proceeds

The money from a reverse mortgage can be distributed in four ways, based on the borrower’s financial needs and goals:

  • Lump sum in cash at settlement
  • Monthly payment (loan advance) for a set number of years (term) or life (tenure)
  • Line of credit (similar to a home equity line of credit)
  • Some combination of the above

Note that the adjustable-rate HECM offers all of the above payment options, but the fixed-rate HECM only offers lump sum.

The line of credit option accrues growth, meaning that whatever is available and unused on the line of credit will automatically grow larger at a compounding rate. This means that borrowers who opt for a HECM line of credit can potentially gain access to more cash over time than what they initially qualified for at origination.

The line of credit growth rate is determined by adding 1.25% to the initial interest rate (IIR), which means the line of credit will grow faster if the interest rate on the loan increases.

On 3 September 2013 HUD implemented Mortgagee Letter 2013-27, which made significant changes to the amount of proceeds that can be distributed within the first year of the loan.  Because many borrowers were taking full draw lump sums (often at the encouragement of lenders) at closing and burning through the money quickly, HUD sought to protect borrowers and the viability of the HECM program by limiting the amount of proceeds that can be accessed within the first 12 months of the loan.

If the total mandatory obligations (which includes existing mortgage balances, all closing costs, delinquent federal debts, and purchase transaction costs) to be paid by the reverse mortgage are less than 60% of the principal limit, then the borrower can draw additional proceeds up to 60% of the principal limit in the first 12 months. Any remaining available proceeds can be accessed after 12 months.

If the total mandatory obligations exceed 60% of the principal limit, then the borrower can draw an additional 10% of the principal limit if available.

HECM for purchase

The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 provided HECM mortgagors with the opportunity to purchase a new principal residence with HECM loan proceeds — the so-called HECM for Purchase program, effective January 2009. The “HECM for Purchase” applies if “the borrower is able to pay the difference between the HECM and the sales price and closing costs for the property.[31] The program was designed to allow the elderly to purchase a new principal residence and obtain a reverse mortgage within a single transaction by eliminating the need for a second closing. Texas was the last state to allow for reverse mortgages for purchase.[40][41]

Closing costs

Reverse mortgages are frequently criticized over the issue of closing costs, which can sometimes be expensive. The following are the most typical closing costs paid at closing to obtain a reverse mortgage:

  1. Counseling fee: The first step to get a reverse mortgage is to go through a counseling session with a HUD-approved counselor. The average cost of the counseling session is usually around $125, but counselors often don’t charge at all.
  2. Origination fee: This is charged by the lender to arrange the reverse mortgage. Origination fees can vary widely from lender to lender and can range from nothing to several thousand dollars.
  3. Third-party fees: These fees are for third-party services hired to complete the reverse mortgage, such as appraisal, title insurance, escrow, government recording, tax stamps (where applicable), credit reports, etc.
  4. Initial mortgage insurance premium (IMIP): This is a one-time cost paid at closing to FHA to insure the reverse mortgage and protect both lenders and borrowers. The IMIP protects lenders by making them whole if the home sells at the time of loan repayment for less than what is owed on the reverse mortgage. This protects borrowers as well because it means they will never have to pay out of other assets to settle up the reverse mortgage if they owe more than the home is worth. How the IMIP is calculated was changed in late 2013 with Mortgage Letter 2013-27. The IMIP is now charged as either 0.50% or 2.50% of the max claim amount (which usually equals the appraised value of the home up to a maximum of $625,500), depending on how much of the principal limit is utilized within the first 12 months of the loan. If the utilization is under 60% of the principal limit, the lower rate applies. If it’s above that amount, then the higher rate applies.

The vast majority of closing costs typically can be rolled into the new loan amount (except in the case of HECM for purchase, where they’re included in the down payment), so they don’t need to be paid out of pocket by the borrower. The only exceptions to this rule may be the counseling fee, appraisal, and any repairs that may need to be done to the home to make it fully compliant with the FHA guidelines before completing the reverse mortgage.

Lenders disclose estimated closing costs using several standardized documents, including the Reverse Mortgage Comparison, Loan Amortization, Total Annual Loan Cost (TALC), Closing Cost Worksheet, and the Good Faith Estimate (GFE). These documents can be used to compare loan offers from different lenders.

Ongoing costs

There are two ongoing costs that may apply to a reverse mortgage: annual mortgage insurance and servicing fees. Like IMIP, annual mortgage insurance is charged by FHA to insure the loan and accrues annually at a rate of 1.25% of the loan balance. Annual mortgage insurance does not need to be paid out of pocket by the borrower; it can be allowed to accrue onto the loan balance over time.

Servicing fees are less common today than in the past, but some lenders may still charge them to cover the cost of servicing the reverse mortgage over time. Servicing fees, if charged, are usually around $30 per month and can be allowed to accrue onto the loan balance (they don’t need to be paid out of pocket).

Taxes and insurance

Unlike traditional forward mortgages, there are no escrow accounts in the reverse mortgage world. Property taxes and homeowners insurance are paid by the homeowner on their own, which is a requirement of the HECM program (along with the payment of other property charges such as HOA dues).

Life expectancy set aside (LESA)

If a reverse mortgage applicant fails to meet the satisfactory credit or residual income standards required under the new financial assessment guidelines implemented by FHA on March 2, 2015, the lender may require a Life Expectancy Set Aside, or LESA. A LESA carves out a portion of the reverse mortgage benefit amount for the payment of property taxes and insurance for the borrower’s expected remaining lifespan. FHA implemented the LESA to reduce defaults based on the nonpayment of property taxes and insurance.

Are HECM proceeds taxable?

The American Bar Association guide advises that generally,

  • The Internal Revenue Service does not consider loan advances to be income.
  • Annuity advances may be partially taxable.
  • Interest charged is not deductible until it is actually paid, that is, at the end of the loan.
  • The mortgage insurance premium is deductible on the 1040 long form.

The money received from a reverse mortgage is considered a loan advance. It, therefore, is not taxable and does not directly affect Social Security or Medicare benefits. However, an American Bar Association guide to reverse mortgages explains that if borrowers receive MedicaidSSI, or other public benefits, loan advances will be counted as “liquid assets” if the money is kept in an account (savings, checking, etc.) past the end of the calendar month in which it is received; the borrower could then lose eligibility for such public programs if total liquid assets (cash, generally) is then greater than those programs allow.

When the loan comes due

The HECM reverse mortgage is not due and payable until the last borrower (or non-borrowing spouse) dies, sells the house, or fails to live in the home for a period greater than 12 months. The loan may also become due and payable if the borrower fails to pay property taxes, homeowners insurance, lets the condition of the home significantly deteriorate, or transfers the title of the property to a non-borrower (excluding trusts that meet HUD’s requirements).

Once the mortgage comes due, borrowers or heirs of the estate have several options to settle up the loan balance:

  1. Pay off or refinance the existing balance to keep the home.
  2. Sell the home themselves to settle up the loan balance (and keep the remaining equity).
  3. Allow the lender to sell the home (and the remaining equity is distributed to the borrowers or heirs).

The HECM reverse mortgage is a non-recourse loan, which means that the only asset that can be claimed to repay the loan is the home itself. If there’s not enough value in the home to settle up the loan balance, the FHA mortgage insurance fund covers the difference.

Report Possible Fraud

If you suspect a scam, or that someone involved in the transaction may be breaking the law, let the counselor, lender, or loan servicer know. Then, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, your state Attorney General’s office, or your state banking regulatory agency.

Whether a reverse mortgage is right for you is a big question. Consider all your options. You may qualify for less costly alternatives. The following organizations have more information:

U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

HECM Program

1-800-CALL-FHA (1-800-225-5342)

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Considering a Reverse Mortgage?

1-855- 411-CFPB (1-855-411-2372)

AARP Foundation

Reverse Mortgage Education Project

1-800-209-8085

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