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Dangers Of Reverse Mortgages - Top 3 Things To Be Aware Of

Apr 17, 2008
As the baby-boomers prepare for retirement reverse mortgages are going to be the next mortgage boom according to most analyst. The baby boom began in 1946 and continued through 1964. During those 19 years, 76 million people were born. As this segment of America begins to retire a large portion of them will need to rely on their homes equity to make "ends meet." How they access that equity will be the mortgage industries primary focus in the years to come.

The traditional "forward" mortgage has the homeowner borrow the money by way of a traditional mortgage or home equity line and make payments on that amount. The homeowner takes the money, places it in a safe interest bearing account and uses the money to augment their income. The interest that is earned on the money is used to supplements the monthly payment that the homeowner has to make. The problem is that the interest shrinks as the money is used and the mortgage payments stay the same.

Reverse mortgages have actually been around since 1989, but their popularity is skyrocketing as a result of the wave of baby-boomers that are retiring. These mortgage products are safe and beneficial when applied to the right homeowner and circumstances. Lendfast.com recommends that borrowers use FHA-insured Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) when considering these mortgage products. Getting a reverse mortgage from the private sector may include more headaches and costs. However, as with financial product, there are some dangers that you need to be aware of; here are the top three reverse mortgage pitfalls to lookout for.

1) Repayment and Forfeiture - Most, if not all reverse mortgages will not require you to make payments or repay the loan for as long as you live. Once you pass on your heirs will have the opportunity to remortgage the debt or sell the house and repay the loan. If the home has equity above the amount owed to the bank your heirs will receive those proceeds. If the home is "upside down" your heirs have no obligation to repay the debt, but they will forfeit the home unless they pay the amount owed.

However FHA rules state: "When you sell your home or no longer use it for your primary residence, you or your estate will repay the cash you received from the reverse mortgage, plus interest and other fees, to the lender." The danger here is "no longer use it for your primary residence. This means if you have to go to a hospice, nursing home or intend to live in another home and use the house as a second home the bank will call the debt due. This is definitely something you want to consider before taking out a reverse mortgage.

2) Cost and Interest Rates - At the inception of reverse mortgages they were almost exclusively offered with adjustable interest rates. Adjustable rates are still standard practice and you are almost certain to be offered this option to begin with. Don't! There are fixed rate programs available now and at today's rates adjustable rates are only going to go up in the future. It's easy to be lured into an adjustable rate because lower interest rates in a reverse mortgage have higher monthly payments. If the interest rate increases your payment decreases, as does the time frame you have to draw on the mortgage. Just remember, adjustable interest rates are a gamble and Las Vegas wasn't built on winners.

A considerable downside to reverse mortgages is the high up front costs. This cost can be compensated by a lower interest rate over time, but some seniors choose other options to draw on their home equity. Reverse mortgage closing costs should be about the same as most loans except the 2% mortgage insurance premium that FHA charges to insure the loan. FHA insures the lender will be paid regardless of the home's value when and if the lender has to take over the property.

At Lendfast.com we have noticed that many homeowners are paying higher closing costs for reverse mortgages than traditional forward mortgages. We believe this is because most homeowners are unfamiliar with reverse mortgages and tend to not shop around as with traditional mortgages. This is why we recommend the FHA insured type of reverse mortgages because they have closing cost limits that lenders must abide by. Always get two quotes or use the "lenders compete" method to apply for a reverse mortgage. You should also read How Does a Reverse Mortgage Work an article that explains reverse mortgages better.

3) Upkeep, Taxes and Insurance - On traditional mortgages your escrow payments are added to your payment but they are subtracted from your monthly check on a reverse mortgage. Most of the time you will be shown the monthly amount you will receive each month BEFORE the escrows are taken out. This means that you could sign up expecting to get $900 per month and only receive around $700. Make sure you are given the monthly payment LESS your escrow payment. Like most mortgages you will usually be given the option to escrow or not to escrow, however the bank has a vested interest in your home. Meaning if you do not maintain your insurance and taxes as they deem responsible they can call the loan or force an escrow account on you.

When you consider that the bank is basically buying your home you can understand why they would want you to keep their property in good shape. The problem is that this loan is being made to senior citizens. As they age they may become unable to do the necessary maintenance that the bank requires."Good shape" can mean thousands of dollars out of pocket for the homeowner when you consider what a new roof or a fresh coat of paint costs these days. Ask the loan officer what the lenders policy is on maintenance and repair. You may want to take enough money up front to have future repairs taken care of so that your monthly payment stays the same.
About the Author
Aubrey Clark is a syndicated writer on financial matters and the editor for Lendfast.com. He writes extensively on lending topics like finding the best Atlanta mortgage rates and how investors obtain Georgia low mortgage rates.
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