Marshmallows and the Reverse Mortgage Line of Credit Growth

Delayed gratification is the principle that resisting a SMALLER reward today may lead to a LARGER reward later. Yet how many people are really willing to wait for something better?

Consider the famous Stanford Marshmallow Experiments conducted in the early 1970s. Children were offered one marshmallow immediately, but two marshmallows if they waited only 15 minutes to consume it. According to Wikipedia, “In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures.”

The children ONLY had to wait 15 minutes for their reward to double. How much harder is it for many homeowners to wait approximately 10 years for their available reverse mortgage funds to double? But, research shows it is indeed worth the wait.

Line of Credit Growth

The growth associated with the federally insured reverse mortgage is one of the hidden gems of the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) program. For those homeowners who obtain a reverse mortgage as soon as they are eligible (62), and leave the funds in the line of credit (LOC), their delayed gratification comes in the form of guaranteed growth.

Reverse Mortgage LOC Growth

The LOC grows at current interest rates, which means many homeowners should want their interest rates to rise. It is also very secure, as the Federal government guarantees that those funds will be available to homeowners as long as they occupy their homes and abide by program guidelines. The LOC will never be frozen, reduced, or even eliminated if home values decline. In other words, you can trust the one who distributes the marshmallows.

Social Security Delays

Delaying Social Security has a similar benefit. Imagine an 8% increase in monthly benefit each year delayed until age 70. Yet, according to data from the Social Security Administration only 1.1% of men and 1.7% of women are willing or able to wait until age 70 to draw file for their benefits.

If reverse mortgages are so great, why is nationwide use of the program down?

Again, it is built for delayed gratification. The reverse mortgage is a great planning tool, but it is no longer designed for reckless massive cash draws upfront. For example, until September of 2009, homeowners could access a percentage of their homes value that was roughly equivalent to their age. A homeowner, age 62, would qualify for 62.5% of his/her home value, and a 95 year old would qualify for 90%. How can any homeowner resist that kind of immediate gratification? Reverse mortgage advertising was unnecessary because homeowners willingly drew large sums, knowing they could never owe more than the home’s value.

In 2013, however, the updated “New Reverse Mortgage” installed restrictions on how much can be drawn upfront. A homeowner may have an initial principal limit of $200,000, but unless he/she is paying off a large loan balance, that homeowner will likely have access to only $120,000 (60%) in the first year. The additional $80,000 (40%) is generally kept in the growing line of credit. These regulatory changes became a form of forced delayed gratification.

The reverse mortgage has been refined over the years, and is very attractive for many types of retirement planning needs. Nevertheless, it is now unattractive as a massive cash-out refinance tool, as the product was once used.

Several years of research has shown that mathematically, it does not make sense to wait to obtain a reverse mortgage. It does, however, make sense to get one as early as possible, and not draw from the available funds until later… if you can resist.

Those children who resisted the marshmallows in 1972 will be eligible for a Home Equity Conversion in approximately 13 years. If I were a betting man, I would wager that they will have significant home equity, are more likely to delay social security, and will enjoy watching their reverse mortgage line of credit grow every month.

If you want to learn more about the strategic use of home equity in retirement, please subscribe to my blog and purchase my book, Understanding Reverse.

Dan Hultquist

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