Earlier in the year, I was asked to write an article for a large national publication. My primary message was that the reverse mortgage is NOT the financial product you thought you knew. With recent regulatory changes and a renewed focus on financial planning, the FHA-insured mortgage is now being used by the affluent as a form of retirement planning, longevity insurance, tax planning, and long-term care funding.
While flattered that a monthly magazine wanted to publish what I had to say, it was clear the editor didn’t understand my message. By the time it ended up in mailboxes, the headline was changed, the content was edited, and the selected image gave the reader the wrong impression that it was simply an ATM machine – the magazine literally inserted a giant ATM machine in the shape of a house!
WHAT IS THE COMMON PERCEPTION?
Unfortunately, the reverse mortgage is still seen by most as an act of desperation for borrowers in need of cash. Television, radio, internet, and magazine coverage has generally reinforced this narrow view of home equity conversion.
Consequently, this is how reverse mortgages have historically been perceived:
“I need some cash. I found a tool that will pay off my mortgage. It may even give me more cash than I need. Now I don’t have to pay monthly principal and interest mortgage payments ever again. Sure, my loan balance will rise. But FHA guarantees that I’ll never owe more than the value of my home.”
While every assumption listed above is technically correct, this type of homeowner is becoming a smaller portion of the reverse mortgage pie.
WHAT IS THE CORRECT PERCEPTION?
People have always criticized the hammer for being a poor screwdriver. Likewise, the reverse mortgage suffers from a misunderstanding of its proper function. The new reverse mortgage is slowly being recognized as a powerful financial planning solution. But it has always been a fourth pillar of retirement income that included social security, pensions/annuities, retirement savings, and home equity.
The primary financial planning advantage is the available line-of-credit that grows and can be accessed at a later date. It may be converted to tax-free monthly income whenever needed. It can be used to delay social security, manage taxable income, and more. And because of the compounding growth, it makes sense to opt in as early as possible.
Consequently, the following is how reverse mortgages SHOULD be perceived:
“I need greater assurance that my funds will last through retirement. I have found a tool that offers a secure line-of-credit (LOC) that will be available if I need it. The available LOC grows over time, so it makes sense to obtain one at age 62. As rates go up, my available funds grow even faster. I have the option to make prepayments that reduce my loan balance and increase my line of credit. The longer I live, the more funds I have available, which may allow my home to pay for my long-term care needs.”
There were many economic factors that led to older homeowners using a reverse mortgage as an ATM machine. However, the program should be a sustainable solution for older homeowners, and a tool that those age 62 or older should consider using in their retirement portfolios.
Unfortunately, the magazine destroyed my intended message, and served to reinforce the wrong perception of how this tool should be used. But if you want to learn more about the strategic use of home equity in retirement, subscribe to my blog and purchase my book, Understanding Reverse. You will find it is likely not the reverse mortgage you thought you knew.