It's difficult to turn on the television these days without seeing a slew of commercials for reverse mortgages. They feature past-their-prime celebrities such as Henry Winkler and Fred Thompson, extolling the benefits of "guaranteed tax-free income" for those 62 and over. What they don't tell you is that reverse mortgages can be dangerous and can put your biggest asset - your home - at risk.

A reverse mortgage really a misnomer. It is really nothing more than a regular mortgage, except that the loan proceeds are paid out to you in installments, rather than all at once. These plans mortgage the existing equity in your home, bleeding it down while it accrues interest on the growing debt. This mortgage does not have to be repaid until you either sell the home or die. Then the loan balance, interest and accrued fees are extracted from the sale proceeds. This type of loan can be beneficial in a very limited set of circumstances, such as allowing a senior to remain in his or her home, rather than having to sell it to pay for medical or other unexpected expenses.

In many circumstances, however, a reverse mortgage can be a risk to your financial security. Here are six dangers you should consider before signing on the bottom line.

Complexity
Each lender offers slightly different products under the reverse mortgage banner. The rules are often complex and the contract you sign can be full of hidden landmines. The program will outline fees and interest, along with rules for repayment or default. Regardless of what the salesperson says to you verbally, have a lawyer review the contract and explain it to you in plain English before signing.

Pressure
Like the sale of any product where the salesperson is being paid a commission, reverse mortgage pitches can be forceful and intense. Some financial planners tout reverse mortgages as a way to fund investments, such as annuities. The costs of the reverse mortgage, however, may completely erase any benefit of investing in other products, leading borrowers to risk losing their homes. Lenders cannot force you to use your reverse mortgage proceeds for any particular purpose. It pays to have some time to consider the product and the pros and cons of using it as a source of funding. Never sign a reverse mortgage contract on the spot.

Future Health
This is perhaps the largest risk of a reverse mortgage. You can't predict the future. Reverse mortgages come with stipulations about which circumstances require immediate repayment or foreclosure on the home. Some outline how many days or months the property can sit vacant before the lender can call the loan. For example, if you have a heart attack and spend three months in hospital and residential rehabilitation, the lender may be able to call the loan and foreclose on the house because it is unoccupied. The same is true if you have to go into an assisted living facility. The reverse mortgage must be repaid or the house must be sold.

Eligibility for Government Programs
Certain government programs, such as Medicaid, are calculated with reference to your total liquid asset base. If you have reverse mortgage proceeds that you haven't yet spent, they may affect your eligibility for some of these plans. Before signing a contract, check with an independent financial professional to ensure that the cash flows from a reverse mortgage won't impact other funds you receive.

High Fees
When considering taking equity out of your home in the form of a reverse mortgage, all of the loan origination and servicing fees must be taken into account. Many of these fees can be buried in the expansive loan documents and should be thoroughly reviewed before signing the contract. Reverse mortgages can be a very expensive way to tap into the equity in your home, so be sure to look at other alternatives, such as home equity loans, if you qualify.

Spousal Eviction
In cases where only one spouse's name is on the reverse mortgage contract, the house can be sold out from under the other spouse if the borrower dies. All reverse mortgage contracts require immediate repayment on the death of the borrower. Federal law limits the amount due to the lesser of the total loan balance or 95% of the home's market value. If repayment cannot be made from other estate assets or other assets of the spouse, the house must be sold to repay the loan, leaving the spouse homeless.

The Bottom Line
Reverse mortgages can be an important source of emergency funds for some seniors who would otherwise have to sell their homes to access their equity. There are several dangers to these plans, however, that can put your home at risk and sap your asset base.

Related Articles
  1. Credit & Loans

    5 Signs a Reverse Mortgage Is a Bad Idea

    Here are the key situations when you should probably pass on this type of home loan.
  2. Credit & Loans

    5 Signs a Reverse Mortgage Is a Good Idea

    If these five criteria describe your situation, a reverse mortgage might be a good idea for you.
  3. Retirement

    Overhaul Social Security to Fix Retirement Shortfall

    There are several theories and ideas about how we can make up for the $6.6 trillion retirement savings shortfall in America. Adjustments to Social Security and our retirement savings plans are ...
  4. Credit & Loans

    Guidelines for FHA Reverse Mortgages

    FHA guidelines protect borrowers from major mistakes, prevent lenders from taking advantage of borrowers and encourage lenders to offer reverse mortgages.
  5. Investing News

    How Does US Social Security Measure Up Abroad?

    Social Security is a hotly debated topic. After examining the retirement plans of three different countries, the U.S.'s does not come out the winner.
  6. Investing

    Five Things to Consider Now for Your 401(k)

    If you can’t stand still, when it comes to checking your 401 (k) balance, focus on these 5 steps to help channel your worries in a more productive manner.
  7. Home & Auto

    The Pros and Cons of Owner Financing

    Details on the upside and risks of this type of deal for both the owner and the buyer.
  8. Retirement

    The World's Most Luxurious Retirement Destinations

    If money is no object (or if you would just like to dream), these five spots are the crème de la crème.
  9. Professionals

    How to Protect Elderly Clients from Predators

    Advisors dealing with older clients face a specific set of difficulties. Here's how to help protect them.
  10. Professionals

    Social Security 'Start, Stop, Start' Explained

    The start, stop, start Social Security strategy is complicated. Here's what retirees considering it need to consider.
RELATED TERMS
  1. Equity

    The value of an asset less the value of all liabilities on that ...
  2. Dynamic Updating

    A method of determining how much to withdraw from retirement ...
  3. Possibility Of Failure (POF) Rates

    The likelihood that a retiree will run out of money prematurely ...
  4. Safe Withdrawal Rate (SWR) Method

    A method to determine how much retirees can withdraw from their ...
  5. Chattel Mortgage Non-Filing Insurance

    An insurance policy covering losses that result from a policyholder ...
  6. Mandatory Distribution

    The amount an individual must withdraw from certain types of ...
RELATED FAQS
  1. Are spousal Social Security benefits taxable?

    Your spousal Social Security benefits may be taxable, depending on your total household income for the year. About one-third ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Are spousal Social Security benefits retroactive?

    Spousal Social Security benefits are retroactive. These benefits are quite complicated, and anyone in this type of situation ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Why are IRA, Roth IRAs and 401(k) contributions limited?

    Contributions to IRA, Roth IRA, 401(k) and other retirement savings plans are limited by the IRS to prevent the very wealthy ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. How do you calculate penalties on an IRA or Roth IRA early withdrawal?

    With a few exceptions, early withdrawals from traditional or Roth IRAs generally incur a tax penalty equal to 10% of the ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What is the Social Security administration responsible for?

    The main responsibility of the U.S. Social Security Administration, or SSA, is overseeing the country's Social Security program. ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What are Social Security spousal benefits?

    Social Security spousal benefits are partial retirement or disability benefits granted to the spouses of qualifying taxpayers.  Qualifying ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center
×

You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!