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All About Reverse Mortgages

A reverse mortgage enables older homeowners (62+) to convert part of the equity in their homes into tax-free income without having to sell the home, give up title, or take on a new monthly mortgage payment. The reverse mortgage is aptly named because the payment stream is "reversed." Instead of making monthly payments to a lender, as with a regular mortgage, a lender makes payments to you. Below are some common questions asked by consumers about reverse mortgages.

How Much Money Can I Get?

The amount of funds you are eligible to receive depends on your age (or the age of the youngest spouse in the case of couples), the appraised home value, interest rates, and in the case of the government program, the lending limit in your area. In general, the older you are and the more valuable your home (and the less you owe on your home), the more money you can get.

What are My Payment Plan Options?

You can choose to receive the money from a reverse mortgage all at once as a lump sum, fixed monthly payments either for a set term or for as long as you live in the home, as a line of credit, or a combination of these. The most popular option – chosen by more than 60 percent of borrowers – is the line of credit, which allows you to draw on the loan proceeds at any time.

How Can I Use the Proceeds from a Reverse Mortgage?

The proceeds from a reverse mortgage can be used for anything, whether its to supplement retirement income to cover daily living expenses, repair or modify your home (i.e., widening halls or installing a ramp), pay for health care, pay off existing debts, buy a new car or take a "dream" vacation, cover property taxes, and prevent foreclosure.

Are There Any Special Requirements to Get a Reverse Mortgage?

As long as you own a home, are at least 62, and have enough equity in your home, you can get a reverse mortgage. There are no special income or medical requirements.

What If I Have An Existing Mortgage?

You may qualify for a reverse mortgage even if you still owe money on an existing mortgage. However, the reverse mortgage must be in a first lien position, so any existing indebtedness must be paid off. You can pay off the existing mortgage with a reverse mortgage, money from your savings, or assistance from a family member or friend.

For example, let's say you owe $100,000 on an existing mortgage. Based on your age, home value, and interest rates, you qualify for $125,000 under the reverse mortgage program. Under this scenario, you will be able to pay off ALL the existing mortgage and still have $25,000 left over to use as you wish.

If, however, you only qualify for $85,000, then you would need to come up with $15,000 from your own savings to get the reverse mortgage. Even then, all the money from the reverse mortgage will have been used to pay off the existing mortgage. On the other hand, you won't have a monthly mortgage payment anymore.

If you find yourself in a deficit situation where you don't have enough money to pay off the existing mortgage, you may use funds from a grant or gift from a family member or friend to cover the gap, but you cannot incur a new debt obligation (i.e., loan).

What Is the Service Fee Set-Aside?

Under the FHA HECM program, you are charged a monthly servicing fee that ranges from $30-$35 to manage your account once the loan closes. The SFSA is an estimate of what the total servicing fees will be over the life of the loan, by multplying your life expectancy (converted from years into months) multiplied by either $30 or $35.

Although it's not considered a closing cost, the SFSA can equal several thousand dollars, which is deducted from your available loan proceeds. You do not have access to that money, nor do you earn interest.

Will I Lose My Government Assistance If I Get a Reverse Mortgage?

A reverse mortgage does not affect regular Social Security or Medicare benefits. However, if you are on Medicaid, any reverse mortgage proceeds that you receive must be used immediately. Funds that you retain would count as an asset and could impact Medicaid eligibility. For example, if you receive $4,000 in a lump sum for home repairs and spend it all the same calendar month, everything is fine. Any residual funds remaining in your bank account the following month would count as an asset. If the total liquid resources (including other bank funds and savings bonds) exceed $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a couple, you would be ineligible for Medicaid. To be safe, you should contact the local Area Agency on Aging or a Medicaid expert.

When Do I Pay Back My Loan?

No monthly payments are due on a reverse mortgage while it is outstanding. The loan is repaid when you cease to occupy your home as a principal residence, whether you (the last remaining spouse, in cases of couples) pass away, sell the home, or permanently move out. The amount owed can never exceed the value of your home. Furthermore, if the home is sold and the sales proceeds exceed the amount owed on the reverse mortgage, the excess money goes to you or your estate.

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