Are you short on cash, and in a situation where your home equity is your biggest asset? Some homeowners end up in a situation where they don’t have any other viable way to raise money for their daily living expenses. In this case, they may want to take out a reverse mortgage.

However, this action is not a decision to make lightly because it's probably taken years of hard work to accumulate your home equity; taking out a reverse mortgage means spending a significant part of that equity on loan fees and interest.

Key Takeaways

  • Some homeowners end up in a situation where they don’t have any other viable way to raise money for their daily living expenses; in this case, they may want to take out a reverse mortgage.
  • You need to have enough equity that a reverse mortgage will leave you with a reasonable lump-sum monthly payment or line of credit after paying off your existing mortgage balance.
  • You should plan on remaining in your home for the near future if you take out a reverse mortgage.
  • Keeping up with your property taxes, homeowner's insurance, and home maintenance is essential if you have a reverse mortgage because if you fall behind, the lender can declare your loan due and payable.

A Solution for Long-Term Problems

To qualify for a reverse mortgage, you must either own your home outright or be close to paying it off. You need to have enough equity that a reverse mortgage will leave you with a reasonable lump-sum monthly payment or line of credit after paying off your existing mortgage balance (provided you still have one).

Getting quotes from three lenders and going through reverse mortgage counseling should give you a good idea of whether it can provide a long-term solution to your financial problems.

Explore how much you could get with each of the payment options available for reverse mortgages. If none of them can provide the liquidity or large up-front sum you need, you’re probably better off avoiding this complicated loan. There may be a better financial solution to your current predicament.

For example, selling your home would allow you to cash out all of your equity, rather than just a percentage of it (as is the case with a reverse mortgage). Renting or moving in with a family member might be a better solution. If you end up taking out a reverse mortgage and then find yourself facing the same financial problems just a few years later, you might regret the time and energy you put into getting a reverse mortgage.

You Don’t Plan to Move

You should plan on remaining in your home for the near future if you take out a reverse mortgage. To begin with, a reverse mortgage comes with high up-front costs. There are lender fees, such as the origination fee—which can be as high as $6,000—depending on your home’s value.

Upfront mortgage insurance is equal to either 0.5% or 2.5% of your home’s appraised value, depending on the reverse mortgage payment plan you choose. And then there are the closing costs, such as title insurance, a home appraisal, and a home inspection.

It doesn't make sense to pay this if you are going to move in a few years. Furthermore, if you move, you’ll have to repay the mortgage. Depending on what you've spent of the cash you obtained by taking out a reverse mortgage, you may not be able to do that. The worst-case scenario is that you'll be left without a place to live.

You Can Afford Ongoing Costs

Keeping up with your property taxes, homeowner's insurance, and home maintenance is essential if you have a reverse mortgage. If you fall behind, the lender can declare your loan due and payable.

If you don’t pay your property taxes for long enough, the county tax authorities can place a lien on your home, take possession, and sell it to recoup the taxes owed. The tax authority’s claim to your property supersedes the lender’s. So, if you don’t pay your property taxes, you’re putting the lender’s collateral (your house) at risk.

Not paying your homeowner’s insurance premiums also puts the lender’s collateral at risk. If your house burns down, there’s no insurance to pay the costs of rebuilding. Your lender doesn’t want to get stuck with a burned-out shell of a home that isn’t worth nearly what you owe on the reverse mortgage.

Not keeping up with home maintenance also causes your home to lose value. If you don’t replace a failing roof, for example, your home could end up with extensive water damage after it rains or snows. Prospective buyers would pay a lower price than they would for similar houses in good repair in your neighborhood. The need to spend money to replace the roof and fix the water damage to return the home to a good condition may deter buyers altogether.

Your Spouse Is 62 or Older

Any borrower on a reverse mortgage must be at least 62 years old. If you’re married and your spouse isn’t yet 62, getting a reverse mortgage is not ideal. While new laws protect your non-borrowing spouse from losing the home if you die first, they can’t receive any more reverse mortgage proceeds after you’re gone.

If your reverse mortgage is set up as either a monthly income stream or a line of credit, your spouse might lose access to a source of income they were depending on. Also, reverse mortgage proceeds are based on the youngest spouse’s age (whether that person is on the loan or not). The younger that age is, the lower the amount you can initially borrow.

If you and your spouse are each at least 62, getting a reverse mortgage might be a good choice. Use an online calculator that is focused on reverse mortgages and talk to prospective lenders or your reverse mortgage counselor about how the value of proceeds you will get changes as you get older.

Mortgage lending discrimination is illegal. If you think you've been discriminated against based on race, religion, sex, marital status, use of public assistance, national origin, disability, or age, there are steps you can take. One such step is to file a report to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

If you don’t need the money immediately, postponing this loan may be a good way to increase the proceeds (interest rates and home values also determine your proceeds). And between now and then, you might find another solution to your financial concerns.

No Plans to Bequeath Your Home

Some people don’t choose to leave their home to anyone, except their spouse if they're married. If you don’t have children—or your kids are financially successful and inheriting your home won’t make a meaningful difference in their lives—then you probably have no specific plans for bequeathing the home.

Maybe because you worked hard to pay for your home, you just want to cash in your equity and spend it all before you die. You’re perfectly entitled to do so.

Upon your death (or your spouse's death, if you go first), your loan becomes due and payable. Heirs who want to take possession of the house have the opportunity to pay the reverse mortgage balance to the lender and take back the title. However, they can’t always do this. They may not have the cash or qualify to get a regular mortgage to buy your home.

If your heirs don’t purchase the home, the lender will sell it on the open market to recoup the money it has lent you through the reverse mortgage. Any positive balance between the sale proceeds and what you owed goes to your estate. If there’s a negative balance, Federal Housing Administration insurance covers it. So if you’re not concerned about leaving your home to anyone, getting a reverse mortgage might be a good way to get cash.

The Bottom Line

Reverse mortgages are widely criticized, and for a good reason; they aren't an ideal financial choice for everyone.

But that doesn’t mean they’re a bad deal for every homeowner, in every situation. Even if a reverse mortgage is an expensive option and not an ideal one, it may still be the best for your circumstances. Here are the ifs: if you will get enough proceeds from the loan to solve your financial problems (in the long run), if you plan to stay in your home long term, if you can afford the ongoing costs of homeownership, if you have a spouse who is 62 or older—and if you don’t plan to leave your home to anyone.