The Pros and Cons of Reverse MortgagesSkip to content

Reverse Mortgages: A Guide to the Pros and Cons

Published: Dec 30, 2022. Last Updated: Jan 8, 2023.

Reverse mortgages can be a valuable financial tool for seniors who want to stay in their homes, but they are not right for everyone. Before deciding whether a reverse mortgage is the right choice, it is important to understand how they work and weigh the pros and cons.

A reverse mortgage is a type of loan that allows homeowners who are 62 years of age or older to borrow against the equity in their home. Unlike a traditional mortgage, a reverse mortgage does not require monthly payments. Instead, the loan is repaid when the borrower sells the home, moves out permanently, or passes away. While reverse mortgages can provide a source of income for seniors and allow them to stay in their homes, they also come with costs and risks that should be carefully considered.

Types of Reverse Mortgages

  1. The Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) is the most popular type of reverse mortgage offered in the United States. It is backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and is available through FHA-approved lenders. The HECM is designed for homeowners who are 62 years of age or older and allows them to convert a portion of their home equity into cash.

  2. Proprietary reverse mortgages are offered by private lenders and are not backed by the FHA. These types of reverse mortgages are typically used by homeowners with high-value homes who are not eligible for a HECM due to the FHA's maximum loan limits. Proprietary reverse mortgages may offer higher loan amounts and more flexible terms than HECMs, but they can also be more expensive.

  3. Single-purpose reverse mortgages are offered by state and local government agencies and non-profit organizations. These types of reverse mortgages are designed for specific purposes, such as home repairs or property tax payments. Single-purpose reverse mortgages tend to have lower upfront costs and may be more affordable for some borrowers, but they may also have stricter eligibility requirements.

When considering a reverse mortgage, it is important to carefully weigh the pros and cons and compare the different types of loans available. Be sure to ask about the fees, interest rates, and repayment terms associated with each type of reverse mortgage. It may also be helpful to seek the advice of a financial professional or housing counselor to ensure that you are making an informed decision.

Pros of Reverse Mortgages

Let's explore the pros of reverse mortgages:

Income for Seniors

One of the main benefits of a reverse mortgage is that it can provide a source of income for seniors. This can be especially useful for those who are retired or on a fixed income and need additional funds to cover expenses.

Stay in Your Home

A reverse mortgage can allow seniors to stay in their home, even if they are struggling to make monthly mortgage payments. This can be especially helpful for those who have a lot of equity in their home but may not have the income to cover the mortgage.

No Monthly Payments

Because the lender makes payments to the borrower, there are no monthly mortgage payments required with a reverse mortgage. This can be a relief for those who are struggling to make ends meet on a fixed income.

Pay Off Existing Mortgages or Debts

A reverse mortgage can also be used to pay off existing mortgages or debts, such as credit card balances or medical bills. This can provide financial relief and help seniors get out of debt. While there are certainly some benefits to reverse mortgages, it's important to also consider the potential drawbacks. It's always a good idea to seek professional advice and carefully weigh all of your options before deciding if a reverse mortgage is right for you.

Cons of Reverse Mortgages

Reverse mortgages can be a valuable financial tool for seniors who want to stay in their homes and have a source of income, but they also come with a number of cons that should be carefully considered before deciding to take one out. Here are some of the main drawbacks of reverse mortgages:

Can be expensive, with high upfront costs and ongoing fees

Reverse mortgages involve a number of fees, including origination fees, closing costs, mortgage insurance premiums, and servicing fees. These fees can add up quickly, making reverse mortgages more expensive than other options such as traditional home equity loans or lines of credit. In addition, the interest rates on reverse mortgages are generally higher than those on traditional mortgages, further increasing the overall cost.

Can impact eligibility for government benefits

If you take out a reverse mortgage, the money you receive may be considered income, which could affect your eligibility for certain government benefits such as Social Security and Medicare. It's important to carefully consider how a reverse mortgage could impact your eligibility for these benefits before deciding to take one out.

Can reduce the amount of inheritance for heirs

When you take out a reverse mortgage, you are essentially borrowing against the equity in your home. If the amount you borrow exceeds the value of the home when you pass away, your heirs may be responsible for paying back the difference. This can significantly reduce the amount of inheritance they receive.

Requires ongoing property maintenance

In order to qualify for a reverse mortgage, you must maintain your home and keep it in good repair. If you fail to do so, you could be in default on your mortgage, which could result in the lender foreclosing on your home.

Can be difficult to understand and navigate

Reverse mortgages can be complex financial products with a lot of fine print, which can make them difficult to understand and navigate. It's important to carefully research and understand the terms of your reverse mortgage, and to seek professional advice if you have any questions or concerns.

Overall, while reverse mortgages can be a useful tool for some seniors, they come with a number of cons that should be carefully considered before deciding to take one out. If you're thinking about a reverse mortgage, it's important to carefully weigh the pros and cons, and to seek professional advice to ensure that you fully understand the terms and risks involved.

Alternatives to Reverse Mortgages

If you're a senior homeowner who is looking for additional financial support, a reverse mortgage might seem like an attractive option. However, it's important to be aware of the potential drawbacks of reverse mortgages, including high upfront costs, ongoing fees, and the impact on government benefits and inheritance.

Before deciding on a reverse mortgage, it's worth considering some alternatives that might provide similar benefits without the same level of risk. Here are four alternatives to reverse mortgages that you might want to explore:

Traditional home equity loan or line of credit

If you have equity in your home, you might be able to take out a traditional home equity loan or line of credit. This allows you to borrow against the value of your home, and you can use the funds for any purpose you choose. With a home equity loan, you'll receive a lump sum of money and make fixed monthly payments. With a home equity line of credit, you can borrow money as needed and make payments only on the amount you borrow.

Both options can provide a source of income for seniors, but they do require monthly payments, which might be a drawback for some.

Selling the home and downsizing

If you're no longer able to maintain a large home or if you're looking to simplify your life, selling your home and downsizing might be a good option. This can allow you to release equity from your home and use the funds to purchase a smaller, more manageable property. Downsizing can also reduce your ongoing expenses, such as property taxes, utilities, and maintenance costs.

Renting out a portion of the home

If you have a spare room or a basement that you're not using, you might consider renting it out to generate additional income. This can be a good option if you're not ready to sell your home and you want to stay in your current location. Just be sure to carefully consider the legal and financial implications of being a landlord before proceeding.

Asking family members for financial assistance

If you have a close relationship with your family and you feel comfortable asking for help, you might consider asking a family member for financial assistance. This could be in the form of a loan, a gift, or a co-sign on a mortgage. Be aware that this option might not be suitable for everyone, and it's important to have open and honest communication about the terms of any financial arrangement.

No matter which option you choose, it's important to carefully consider the pros and cons and to seek professional advice before making a decision. A financial planner or attorney can help you understand the options available to you and can provide guidance on the best course of action.

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About the Author

Ericka Nicolas

Writer & Researcher

Elder Guide LLC

Ericka Nicolas began her career in the banking industry where she learned the importance of being detail-oriented and well-organized, both of which she applies to her current work as a writer and proofreader. With her vast experience in writing, Ericka is able to produce well-researched and engaging content that appeals to Elderguide's target audience. She was able to provide readers with valuable insights on a variety of topics and ensures that all the information she provides is accurate and up-to-date. She takes the time to carefully study each topic given to her, which allows her to produce truly informative articles. Ericka's passion for writing and her dedication to producing quality content gave way to her goal of helping our readers navigate the complex world of senior living and make informed decisions about their future. Aside from her work at Elderguide, Ericka enjoys spending time with her newly-married husband and their dog, Yari. She loves cooking, traveling, and exploring new restaurants in her spare time.