Reverse Mortgage Basics
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
Whether seeking money to finance a home improvement, pay off a current mortgage, supplement their retirement income, or pay for healthcare expenses, many older Americans are turning to "reverse" mortgages. They allow older homeowners to convert part of the equity in their homes into cash without having to sell their homes or take on additional monthly bills.
In a "regular" mortgage, you make monthly payments to the lender. But in a "reverse" mortgage, you receive money from the lender and generally don't have to pay it back for as long as you live in your home. Instead, the loan must be repaid when you die, sell your home, or no longer live there as your principal residence. Reverse mortgages can help homeowners who are house-rich but cash-poor stay in their homes and still meet their financial obligations.
To qualify for most reverse mortgages, you must be at least 62 and live in your home. The proceeds of a reverse mortgage (without other features, like an annuity) are generally tax-free, and many reverse mortgages have no income restrictions.
Three Types of Reverse Mortgages
The three basic types of reverse mortgage are: single-purpose reverse mortgages, which are offered by some state and local government agencies and nonprofit organizations; federally-insured reverse mortgages, which are known as Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs), and are backed by the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); and proprietary reverse mortgages, which are private loans that are backed by the companies that develop them.
Single-purpose reverse mortgages generally have very low costs. But they are not available everywhere, and they only can be used for one purpose specified by the government or nonprofit lender, for example, to pay for home repairs, improvements, or property taxes. In most cases, you can qualify for these loans only if your income is low or moderate.
HECMs and proprietary reverse mortgages tend to be more costly than other home loans. The up-front costs can be high, so they are generally most expensive if you stay in your home for just a short time. They are widely available, have no income or medical requirements, and can be used for any purpose.
Before applying for a HECM, you must meet with a counselor from an independent government-approved housing counseling agency. The counselor must explain the loan's costs, financial implications, and alternatives. For example, counselors should tell you about government or nonprofit programs for which you may qualify, and any single-purpose or proprietary reverse mortgages available in your area.
The amount of money you can borrow with a HECM or proprietary reverse mortgage depends on several factors, including your age, the type of reverse mortgage you select, the appraised value of your home, current interest rates, and where you live. In general, the older you are, the more valuable your home, and the less you owe on it, the more money you can get.
The HECM gives you choices in how the loan is paid to you. You can select fixed monthly cash advances for a specific period or for as long as you live in your home. Or you can opt for a line of credit, which allows you to draw on the loan proceeds at any time in amounts that you choose.You also can get a combination of monthly payments plus a line of credit.
HECMs generally provide larger loan advances at a lower total cost compared with proprietary loans. But owners of higher-valued homes may get bigger loan advances from a proprietary reverse mortgage. That is, if you have a higher appraised value without a large mortgage, then you may likely qualify for greater funds. Location (for example, your neighborhood) is only one part of the determination of appraised value.
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