Is a Reverse Mortgage Right for You?

While reverse mortgages may look like no-lose propositions on the surface, they also have some significant downsides. First, the closing costs for these loans are about double those for conventional mortgages. For example, closing costs on a $110,000 reverse mortgage for a $200,000 home would be more than $10,000. These costs can be financed by the loan itself, but that reduces the money available to you.

Reverse mortgage payments also may affect your eligibility for government benefits, including Medicaid.  Generally, these payments will not be counted as income as long as they are spent within the same month that they are received. The unspent balance from a lump-sum reverse mortgage loan could put a borrower over the allowable asset limits for Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) eligibility.  Even if the loan is taken as monthly payments, the payments could accumulate and push your resources over. In addition, payments from reverse annuity mortgages may be counted as income for purposes of Medicaid and SSI whether or not they are spent within the month they are received. This shouldn’t be treated as income, since it simply involves withdrawing equity from one’s home, but the state may view it differently since the funds come in a regular monthly check. In any case, you should consult with an elder lawyer in your state if you have any concern about how a reverse mortgage will affect your eligibility for federal benefits.

Also, bear in mind that if your major objective is to safeguard an inheritance for your children, a reverse mortgage may not be a good idea. As soon as the elderly person (or the survivor of an elderly couple) dies, it will be necessary to sell the home and much — if not all — of the sales proceeds will have to be paid to the reverse mortgage lender. But if you have a pressing need for additional income and have no close heirs, or if you do not intend to benefit your children or your children don’t particularly want to inherit the house, a reverse mortgage can be a way to supplement income, perhaps without jeopardizing Medicaid eligibility.

Reverse mortgages are complex products and borrowers are advised to acquaint themselves with the different options available and then carefully compare competing loan offerings. Following are two outstanding Web sites to get you started in that process:

  • You can learn the basics about reverse mortgages from the AARP’s excellent reverse mortgage Web site. The site includes a calculator for estimating the loan for which a borrower would be eligible. Go to: www.aarp.org/revmort
  • For more details, background information, and supplementary materials, visit the National Center for Home Equity Conversion site at www.reverse.org

In addition, the names of FHA-insured lenders are available from the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), (800) 7-FANNIE.

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