More and more homeowners are considering tapping their home equity as they approach retirement age. Getting a reverse mortgage is one way that some older homeowners can do that. Reverse mortgages are a special type of home equity loan sold to homeowners aged 62 years and older, which are repaid when the borrowers sell the home, move out, or die. It’s a complicated type of loan that works best for homeowners who carefully consider all of their options.
Things to consider
Before borrowing, seniors and their families should consider:
- The cost of homeowners’ insurance and taxes
- Plans for staying in the home or leaving it to family members
- Plans for dependents or others living in the home
- Alternatives to reverse mortgages
Because some important things about reverse mortgages have changed recently, we’ve updated our guide to reverse mortgages.
First-year payout limits
One of these changes limits the amount of money you can draw from your loan in the first year. Borrowers often get into trouble by taking a lump-sum payment early on. It may feel great to get a big payment up front, but borrowers can outlive this money – which spells financial trouble for borrowers who live longer lives.
This limit encourages borrowers to make their money last longer. Borrowers can still take out lump-sum single payments – but this is still a risky choice. Borrowers should strongly consider the monthly payment or line of credit options before choosing to get a lump-sum. These options provide more long-term security than lump-sum payments.
Protections for non-borrowing spouses
Another important change is for couples considering a reverse mortgage. In the past, couples who took out a reverse mortgage loan in the name of only one spouse ran into trouble when the borrowing spouse passed away. When a borrower died, the “non-borrowing spouse” had to pay back the reverse mortgage or move out. Many surviving spouses were surprised to learn this, and lost their homes. With recent changes, a non-borrowing spouse may be able continue to live in the home under certain conditions, even after the spouse who signed the loan passes away. However, the non-borrowing spouse will still stop receiving money from the reverse mortgage after his or her spouse dies.
For couples considering a reverse mortgage, borrowing together makes more sense. If both spouses sign the reverse mortgage, then the surviving spouse can continue to receive monthly payments or use an existing line of credit. It also ensures that a surviving spouse may live in the home after his or her spouse (co-borrower) dies.
These changes help protect reverse mortgage borrowers, but make no mistake—reverse mortgages are still not right for everyone and can be risky and expensive. If you’re considering a reverse mortgage, get the information you need to make an informed decision and give yourself time to weigh your options.