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Understanding Reverse Mortgages

A reverse mortgage is one of many vehicles that individuals 62 years of age or older can use to turn the equity in their home into cash. It is very important, though, for an individual to fully understand reverse mortgages, their ramifications, and the alternatives. This article will provide an overview of reverse mortgages, as well as discuss alternatives.

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What is a Reverse Mortgage?

With a “normal” home loan you pay a monthly amount (principal and interest). With each month, the amount that you owe goes down and the equity in your home goes up. As one might expect from its name, a reverse mortgage works in an opposite fashion. With a reverse mortgage you can turn the equity in your home into cash. You do not have to make monthly payments. The cash may be paid to you in one or more of the following ways:

• As a single lump sum payment • As a regular monthly amount (a cash advance) • As a credit line account that you draw upon as needed

With a reverse mortgage, the homeowner continues to own their home and receives cash in whatever way is preferable to them. As they receive cash, their loan amount goes up, and the equity in their home declines. A reverse mortgage cannot grow to more than the amount of the equity of the house. In addition, a lender cannot seek payment of the loan from anything other than the value of the house.

A reverse mortgage, plus accrued interest, does eventually have to get paid back. Repayment of a reverse mortgage happens when the last owner of the property named on the loan either dies, sells the home, or permanently moves out of the home. Before then, nothing needs to be paid on the loan.

A reverse mortgage should not be confused with a home equity loan or home equity line, both of which are other means of obtaining money for the equity in your home. With either of these loan vehicles, an individual must pay at least monthly interest on the loan amount received, or amount that they have drawn on their equity line.

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Alternatives to Reverse Mortgages

While usually an option that causes a negative emotional reaction, selling a home is an alternative to a reverse mortgage. The proceeds of the sale can be used to either rent, or purchase a smaller, more “age-friendly” home, while money leftover can be invested to provide additional income. This option should at least be considered and compared to a reverse mortgage so that an individual is making an informed decision.

Reverse Mortgage Counseling

Counseling is required in order to obtain certain types of reverse mortgages. Counseling is required before an individual can obtain a Federally-insured Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs). Even if counseling is not required for a particular reverse mortgage, individuals considering a reverse mortgage should seek either counseling or the advice of a qualified financial adviser.