Reverse Mortgages – Run Away, Don’t Walk

Normally I enjoy hearing from former Senator Fred Thompson.  He has enjoyed both a Senate career and an acting career on Law and Order.  Lately, however, I have not enjoyed seeing him on television because he is making commercials for a reverse mortgage company.

The pitch for reverse mortgages goes like this:  “Need a little extra cash for daily expenses, travel, and prescriptions?  Use the equity in your home.  Call today to see how much cash you qualify for!”

A reverse mortgage is when a company pays the homeowner, who typically has a paid for home, a cash payment each month in exchange for increasing ownership in the home.  The amount of the payment and the number of payments depends upon how much of the equity the company is willing to buy from the homeowner.  When the homeowner dies or wants to move, the home would be sold with the reverse mortgage company receiving whatever equity they have purchased plus fees and interest.

The trouble with reverse mortgages is that the fees are outrageous.  It is odd that what would seem like a very safe investment, because the homeowner has large amounts of equity so the lender is well shielded against default, would charge such high fees.  The only reason I can see for the high fees is that the lenders are taking advantage of old people.

The best solution for having cash and income when one is retired is to save all of one’s life, building up assets, and then have stock and bond investments from which one receives an income.  For those in their twenties to  forties reading this, take this to heart before going out and buying a bunch of depreciating toys.  If one has failed to do this and is in retirement, at least do not give up the amount you have saved in your home to a lender with outrageous fees.

Instead of taking out a reverse mortgage, there are many other ways of using one’s home to gain income.  One way is to simply sell a large home and pay cash for a smaller home or rent a townhouse or condo, putting the rest of the money in a CD or investment account.  Another method is to rent out a room in the house to a tenant.  Another possibility si to rent the whole house for periods of the year, for example if one has a summer home, the house could be rented out for the months of the year during which the home is unoccupied.  An ideal situation would be if one lived in a college town in a cold climate is to rent the place to a visiting professor during the school year while one is in warmer climates.

Much as I enjoy writing about investing, it doesn’t make sense unless people are reading. If you’d like to keep the articles coming, please return often and refer a friendhttps://smallivy.wordpress.comComments are also greatly appreciated, as is lively and friendly debate.  Also feel free to link to or reference posts – all I ask for is fair credit.

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on a specific investment strategy and picking stocks. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing


  1. Your objections to reverse mortgages are common and factually errant. The fees are not outrageous, I just closed one where the closing costs were $2600. The other problem is the general terms you use. “Sell the large home and pay cash for a smaller one.” Can you give me the numbers on how well that works? Let’s say the seniors owns a home worth $450,000 and is 65. Give me the details on how well it works to sell and buy and the monthly income it brings, I am sure you have examples since you so confidently tell people to run away.

    • OK, let’s use the rates from the All Reverse Mortgage Company: They advertise a reverse mortgage with a 5.58% APR, which includes closing costs and insurance. Let’s say our 65 year old home owner takes out a $260,000 reverse mortgage on his paid-for $450,000 home, lives for 10 years, and then dies. Assuming he can invest the payout and spend 4% each year without losing principle, he would get a $10,400 yearly income during the next 10 years while maintaining his $260,000 account balance. His assets and income would then be:

      Income: $10,400*10 = $104,000
      Remaining cash from lump sum: $260,000
      Remaining home equity: $3,000 ($260,000 loan at 5.44% compounded monthly for 10 years is about $447,000, leaving $3000 in equity)
      Total assets and income: $367,000

      Let’s now say the same senior sold his home and bought a condo for $150,000 and invested the remaining $300,000 in equity he frees. Drawing 4% each year from the $300,000 he pulled out of the house. This would be an income of $12,000 per year. He also dies after 10 years.

      Remaining cash: $300,000
      Income: $12,000*10 = $120,000
      Remaining home equity : $150,000
      Total assets and income: $570,000

      So, the reverse mortgage costs you about $570,000-$367,000 = $203,000, almost a quarter million dollars over 10 years. Did I say run?

      Note the lender gets about $187,000 in interest over that 10 years with very little risk since there is so much equity remaining in the home.

      • Nice to use a world that doesn’t exist. Unless you want to give the names of the relators and moving companies that work for free you need to lose 10% to selling and moving costs.
        Also in an area where homes are $450,000 you cannot find a condo for $150,000, $250,000 is more realistic. Also let’s assume the live to 85 not 75. So change your numbers to be more realistic and I will then tell you two ways to use a reverse that will not be as expensive. Your idea of taking a lump sum and investing is not the best way to use the reverse.

      • I’ll give that there are some broad assumptions, since I’m doing a back-of-the-envelope calculation here on a theoretical person. The point of a back-of-the-envelope calculation is to see if you’re close before doing a more detailed calculation. In this case we’re talking a $200,000 difference in favor of selling the house and buying a condo. That is not even close. I’ll agree that we should give 5% for the realtor, so subtract $23,000 from the total, and I’m still $177,000 ahead. As far as moving goes, if you are going from a three bedroom with a bonus room and a yard to a two bedroom condo, you’d sell most of your furniture and yard equipment, so you’d probably end up making money even after paying a moving company for the few things you have. And you wouldn’t necessarily stay in the same area. The goal here is to get money to live off of from your home, so you’d look for a place where you could find a suitable condo for $150,000. If you had saved and invested enough to retire comfortably without touching the house, such that you have $10 M in the bank, you wouldn’t need to sell the home or get a reverse mortgage as far as needing money for living expenses goes. In that case you could afford to get a $1M loft in NYC if you wanted, but we’re talking about people who need to get money from their homes for food. You would need to make some sacrifices.

        It is true that I didn’t include appreciation on the bigger home, but then I didn’t include the savings in utilities and upkeep either, which I’ll bet would at least wash. If you live to 85, the numbers get worse because now you are taking out a longer term loan. If I borrow at 5.44% for 20 years instead of ten, the most I could borrow as a lump sum would be about $154,000 (because ths would wipe out the equity in 20 years), which would drop your yearly income from investing the lump sum to $6160. I also think this would be closer to what you’d actually get in a reverse mortgage since most people would live to about 85 and not 75. Again though, my argument gets better and yours gets worse. Yes, you’d do better if you took out the money in installments because then you would not be paying as much interest for as long, but then again, we’re talking about a huge difference.

  2. Sure let’s ship Mom and Dad off to an area where there are no friends and family…. Wonderful idea, but then again these people were so stupid that they forgot to make 10 M like you sugest. I’m not going to ship mom and dad off to save money…. The condo will be $250,000.

    There are two more problems with your fantasy land. You assume that there will not be any market corrections in 10 years, and you assume that the couple will not need any long term care. If either of those happens your numbers tank.

    How would you handle those two issues?

    Now before we look at the actual numbers, I would suggest that you read some articles by ACTUAL FINANCIAL PLANNERS who have researched reverse mortgages….

    Now let’s look at the reverse.
    Where are you wrong on a reverse mortgage? First let me address your statement; “The only reason I can see for the high fees is that the lenders are taking advantage of old people.” Do you realize that the RM was established by an Act of Congress signed into law by Ronald Regan and it is highly regulated and overseen by FHA? The lender is not an evil entity trying to steal from seniors, you would have to blame congress if that is the case which it is not. Other points. 1) It is disturbing that you do not understand what a disclosed APR is and that it has little to do with the actual interest rate on a loan. 2) A 65 year old with a $450,000 cannot take out a RM for $260,000. 3) Taking all of the money out in a lump sum and investing the money is how can i say this delicately, STUPID!

    So if the home sells and you buy a $250,000 condo, you can offer the seniors $8000/year given $200K invested. If there is no market correction or LTC need you will have a total of $200K plus $80,000 plus new home value $370K = 650,000

    With the reverse you will have the same annual draw $8000 and the home value will be $666,100 after ten years. There will also be a line of credit available of $208,000 to handle any LTC needs if they arise and the funds are protected and guaranteed, no matter what the market does they are there. The total remaining equity available will be $535,680. So the total is $615,680 it is only $35,000 difference in ten years, not $203,000. Any market down turn of 20% will wipe that away and any stay in a Skilled Nursing Facility will wipe them out, leaving the remaining spouse without options, unless we move them to a small hut in Puerto Rico, we’re trying to save money here….

    Let’s assume the couple has three children. What scenario do you think they would chose for Mom and Dad?

    Sell and move five states away to get them a $150,000 condo? Sell and move them near by with a total risk of market volatility or LTC needs wiping them out. Or lose $12,000 in inheritance to have your parents protected and stay in their home.

    At any rate, a reverse is not right for all people. It is also not something to run away from. There are so many options that it merits considering which most CFPs would do.

    • Wow, that’s a lot of hubris and faith in regulation.

      I think you’re missing an important element – risk. A couple with a $450,000 home as their only asset at retirement can’t afford to take risk. My 4% withdrawal rate isn’t from a set of stock mutual funds. It is a structured plan that includes primarily CDs, fixed income assets, and a few large cap stock mutual funds. You’re putting all of their money into one huge asset – their home. There is much more market risk for individual homes than there is for a theoretical, average home price. There are risks to individual homes such as sink holes, floods, mold, neighbors, and city infrastructure changes that can drastically affect the value of one’s home. What happens to your homeowner with a reverse mortgage when their $450,000 home drops to $300,000? Even assuming an average appreciation rate, as we saw in 2008, average home values don’t always go up either.

      Now what about LTC? Our couple should absolutely buy long term care insurance since they cannot afford risk. With a small portion of the proceeds they get from their home, which I still think would be about $270,000, they could buy LTC insurance. (They could also buy term life insurance for the early years to give the remaining spouse some additional funds should one spouse die early.) In your case they would have the option of taking out a loan and probably losing all of the equity in their home to pay for long term care.

      Now, what happens to your couple after they have taken out their full reverse mortgage loan after 10 years and then they live another 10 years? Mine would continue to be able to withdraw money at the same rate since they would still have just as much cash as they started with and they would be earning interest on their money. Yours would be paying interest on the full loan amount. What equity would they have left in their house at age 85?

  3. It is interesting that you completely ignored how wrong you were on the costs of the reverse mortgage; the point of this discussion. Your lack of understanding of how a reverse mortgage works cannot be overcome, on this blog.

    There is a reason that those who give financial advice need to be licensed. You are a prime example of why. Can reverse mortgages be expensive, at times, but what is more expensive is your advice. Seniors should not run away from a reverse but they should absolutely run away from you!

    • Well, they say the advise is worth what you pay for it, but then again there are a lot of licensed financial advisors who sell their clients a lot of expensive annuities and high load funds, costing them tens of thousands of dollars over the life of the investment, because they get a big premium payment from the product provider. I don’t claim to be a financial advisor, however, but more of a journalist providing information on what works financially along with some analysis to back it up. Everyone’s situation is different, however, so as I say all the time, people should go to an accountant and a financial planner who can provide a plan specific to their situation.

      I think I have the math behind reverse mortgages right, however, but please feel free to correct me:

      Our 65 year old couple reaches retirement with only their $450,000 home and maybe $2,500 per month in Social Security payments as assets. They hear an advertisement from Fred Thompson for reverse mortgages, and because they remember liking him in his role on Law and Order, they decide to call the number and find out more details. They are told that they can get the money locked in their home out and that it is absolutely safe and secure. They are told it is best to take a payment each month, rather than a lump sum (which is the correct advice), and that they can receive $8000 per month for 10 years, plus they’ll qualify for a $210,000 line of credit, just in case.

      Now the lender determines how much they will lend based on 1) the value of the home, 2) the expected average appreciation, and 3) the average life expectancy of the couple. On average, if the couple uses the line of credit, the lender would ideally like to own the home at the time when the remaining spouse dies (this is their maximum profit), They would then have purchased the $450,000 for $290,000, plus the time value of the money they lend. They figure out the odds and price things to, on average, make this happen.

      Now, the lender of course wants to make a profit, so they charge an interest rate to make sure that, on average, the amount they can sell the home for, after costs, is sufficiently higher than the price they pay for the home, including the time value of the money they lend. I’m assuming that they would not throw a 90-year old out of their home (correct me if I’m wrong), so they would use actuary tables to figure out how long people are likely to live, on average, and price the loan accordingly. They need to make the interest rates and fees high enough to cover the times when one of the couple live to be 95. They charge a higher interest rate than they would for a standard mortgage because of not knowing when they would get the home. They think they are making a 20-year loan, but it may end up being a 40 year loan where the loan stops gaining interest after 25 years because they’ve reached the value of the home in 25 years.

      So, a person getting a standard 10-year loan might pay about 3.5% right now, while they’ll pay 5.75% for a reverse mortgage for 10 years of income. This would be $14,930 in interest for the standard loan, but $23,900 more for the reverse mortgage. I’d call that expensive. But wait, it gets worse.

      After the ten years, I assume the income would stop but you’d keep paying interest on the loan value and that interest would keep compounding. With the standard loan, you’d be done – paid off. With the reverse, your loan balance would double every 12 1/2 years.

      Trading down in home would be better in any case because you would be making interest on your money rather than paying interest. If you properly invested the money with the help of a good financial planner, you could earn on the order of 6% per year. That is money flowing into your pockets for living expenses instead of flowing out of your pocket to a loan company. As I also said, the theoretical couple should get long term care insurance to buy down their risk, but rather than having access to a line of credit to pay for expenses, they’d have cash. When they spent cash, they’d just lose the interest it geenrated – they wouldn’t need to pay additional money out in the form of loss of equity in their home.

      Finally, as I said, with the reverse mortgage they have just one large asset. What happens in your reverse mortgage scenario if there is a sink hole, flood, or major amounts of mold – events that aren’t typically covered by standard insurance – just before one of them needs long term care? Do they still have the line of credit if their home becomes worthless or falls into a hole in the ground? Wouldn’t it be safer to spread their money out into a wide variety of assets?

  4. Quite simply, you have no idea how a reverse mortgage works. I have shown you your math is incorrect but you ignore the numbers. My last comment will be simple, you ask…
    “If the house goes into a sink hole… do they still have the line of credit?” THE ANSWER IS YES! again you don’t have a clue about reverse mortgages.

    • No, I understand them perfectly, and they are really expensive. For example see:

      1. Reverse mortgages are a lot more expensive that traditional mortgages for the same time period (they have to be or they would lose money when people live for a lot longer than average). Those who live shorter time periods make up for those losses (meaning they pay more).
      2. Downsizing your home would save you a lot of money compared to a reverse mortgage or even a standard mortgage.
      3. You’ll pay out a lot more (up until the bank owns your entire home) if you live longer than the period during which you’re receiving cash since you’ll be paying a high interest rate on the whole loan amount without the normal reductions in loan balance that come with a standard loan for each year past the last payment.
      4. Only if the home value continues to increase will your calculations work. For a single home, this is a big if.
      5. You will be trapped in the home if your balance gets too high since the loan in full will be due if you decide to move out.

      Some facts I didn’t realize:

      1. Reverse mortgages get even more expensive since you must carry mortgage insurance in case of the sink hole or the bad neighbor destroys the home value.
      2. In some cases the bank can take your home if you are in the hospital or a nursing home for a period of time.

      Did I get anything wrong? Are you sure you still want to be selling these things?

  5. Everything, but you don’t seem to care. Did you read any of the articles I linked?
    Am I still selling them? Absolutely, the one I closed last week got the couple out of foreclosure. Try reading the links, you might learn something to pass on to your readers that is accurate.

    • Wow, everything is wrong. Let’s take them one by one.

      Yes, I’ve read each of the papers you referenced. And they indicate also that PMI is required, which is what protects the lender from the risk that the home value will not be enough to repay the mortgage, so the buyer is paying to cover that risk. Doesn’t this make the mortgage more expensive that a traditional mortgage for the same term. For example, if I took out a $80,000 ten-year mortgage (putting the rest of the cost of the home down), would I pay more or less at the end of 10 years than if I took at a reverse mortgage that paid me $8,000 per year for ten years?

      • Ok well here’s one more to read, it is entitled “Is A Reverse Mortgage Better Than Keeping A Traditional Amortizing Mortgage In Retirement?” It is written by a Certified Financial Planner who is licensed and educated on Financial Planning none of which you are….

        So your theory is that because a loan has mortgage insurance it is more expensive. Don’t interest rates have something to do with that?

        Let’s assume that the senior has the money to pay for the 10 year fixed, and let’s assume they can qualify. Both fairly big assumptions.

        The interest rate on a reverse mortgage today is 2.154% add on to it the 1.25% mortgage insurance and you get a total cost of credit of 3.4%
        A 10 year fixed at today’s rates is 3.5%, quick without a calculator, which is more expensive? BTW the monthly PI payment on that is $1977 for a $200,000 loan

        So yes you were wrong on EVERYTHING!

      • So that’s 2.154% fixed, or adjustable?

        And I’m not saying anyone in retirement should take out a mortgage or keep a mortgage. My plan would net the retiree 4-6% interest going to them, not 4% going out the door.

  6. Let’s stay on task, you asked “Doesn’t this make the mortgage more expensive?” They answer depends on the interest rate. In this case “NO.” You assumption shows once again a very limited view on finance. This has to do with the lack of eduaction and certification you suffer from. You are quite frankly wrong on reverse mortgages as I have shown you time and time again. You have difficulty admitting you didn’t know or were wrong. I am saying that people should consider using a reverse mortgage in retirement. I am not saying it is always the best option but to “run away” without understanding could hurt your retirement as there are very powerful ways of using a reverse that give far more security than trusting in any advisor being able to navigate through ten years of market swings.

    I am not a progressive BTW I am very conservative.

    • I’ve looked up your numbers and see that you are trying to pull a fast one. The 2.154% rate you cite is a variable rate, meaning it could adjust all over the place (and with rates at historic lows, chances are much better it will adjust up rather than down). Our retiree could see those rates jump to 6% or 8% or who knows what. The fixed rate I see for reverses is 3.99%, which with PMI comes up to 5.74% APR! The 3.5% rate you cite for the “ten year mortgage” is the average 15-year fixed rate. Not only are you comparing apples to oranges by comparing variable to fixed, you aren’t even using the same number of years on the mortgage. (see for the rates on reverses). The fixed 10-year rate would be below the 15 year rate.

      Even the expert you cite in the article says that reverse mortgages are more expensive, both in the closing costs and the interest rates. Unless you can repay the mortgage and still have enough equity left to buy another place, which is unlikely for a retiree 15-20 years into a reverse mortgage, you’ll be stuck in the home. And what if they cannot maintain the insurance or the upkeep on the home? Does the bank come and take the home?

      I ask if you are a progessive because you are using the same tactics used by progressives to pass the Affordable Care Act, carbon taxes, and basically every other left-wing legislation. Put out half-truths under the guise of “I’m an expert and know the truth, so you should just believe what I say,” and attack you opponents personally.

  7. I am not attacking you personally just pointing out that you lack the education needed to be giving advice in this area. You lack knowledge on how a reverse works, and you lack knowledge on the many uses of a reverse. I am an expert on reverse mortgages, and never said you need to beleive me. I showed you time and time again that your numbers were off. You have yet to balance your perspective on reverse mortgages. They are not a “run away” mortgage. They should be considered. Thoughtfully considered. It is irresponsible on your part to say run away. That could hurt a senior who would benefit from a reverse mortgage. (for instance the couple I just got out of foreclosure) I was answering a very limited question you asked, does mortgage insurance make the reverse more expensive. The answer is not necessarily. It depends on the interest rate. You may be a fabulous investor and your adivce in that area may be incredible. Your advice to those considering a reverse mortgage is off and you should either not give advice on reverse mortgage (prefered) or at least say that people should consider them carefully. It is impossible for you or anyone else to give blanket advice on reverse mortgages. For some it may not be the right way to go for others it is a god-send.

    • I think we’re getting down to the place in the comments in an old post where maybe 1-2 people per year will read, so we’re wasting our time continuing much further. This therefore is my final comment, to which I’d welcome a reply. We can then let people do further research on their own and decide for themselves.

      From a purely financial point of view, where the definition of “good” is spending less money and minimizing risk, I would still say that a reverse mortgage is a poor choice compared to downsizing in home and buying long term care insurance. Your numbers with the reverse mortgage only come close if the home appreciates at an average rate, which it may not. The reverse mortgage, because it has negative amortization, makes it very likely that someone who takes one out and holds it for any appreciable amount of time will not be able to sell their home and have enough cash from the home to buy another home, including a modest condo. Their next move will be to the grave, to a nursing home paid for by the government or into a child’s home. Their children will likely get little or nothing from the value of the house as an inheritance because it will be taken in interest, and interest on interest. They will be essentially selling their home for a fraction of it’s value.

      I do agree with you that in cases where people have not done good financial management throughout their lives (or they have had circumstances in their lives where they truly couldn’t save and invest), in that they don’t have the resources needed to sustain their retirement expenses without selling their home, and they did not plan to sell their home to fund their retirement, a reverse mortgage provides a way to stay in their homes and have access to some of the equity for living expenses. This comes at a cost, however, and it becomes a philosophical debate on whether it is worth the cost and the extra risk. (They could still lose the home if the home doesn’t appreciate enough to keep drawing out funds and they become unable to maintain insurance, taxes, and upkeep on the home. I read this right out of one of your papers. This is risk they don’t have with downsizing in home.)

      There are other things people do with money like buying new cars every few years or going on expensive vacations with credit cards when they are in their 20’s that cost a lot more and are not smart from a financial point-of-view. Some people will say it is worth the extra cost and the extra risk. My blog is not for them because I want them to have the $10M at retirement so they won’t need to use the equity in their home for living expenses. They get there by doing things differently than their neighbors, which means waiting for things until they can pay cash, living on less than they make so they can save interest payments and actually make interest on their money, and making sacrifices while they are younger like driving older cars and taking less exotic vacations. They still get to do these things and a lot more than their friends when they get older and have the resources. They trade things for financial stability that takes away a lot of worry and grief.

      I also agree with the papers you provided that using a reverse mortgage with a somewhat inadequate investment account ($500,000) is better than trying to live on the investment account alone before doing a reverse mortgage. They would then be able to stay invested in down years and pull money out of the markets on good years. They would be better off still, however, downsizing and using the equity they free in the home in the same manner, but without the interest payments that the reverse mortgage creates.

      I’m hoping that you will at least see that there is a cost for the people who are taking out the reverse mortgages you are selling. It isn’t a good choice from a financial viewpoint, and you can see this if you drop the jargon and the gimmicks. Drill down to the basics and use some logic, something I can and have done, and you’ll see it has to be more expensive. In some cases it may be someone’s only choice and I get that, just like you might need to buy a $3.00 bottle of water sometimes because otherwise you’ll die. For others, however, it is a cost they don’t need to be taking, but it may be worth it for them to stay in a home. Certainly emotions and sentimentality come into play and it is difficult to put a value on these things.

  8. The whole point was simply this, to say run away is extreme and could hurt potential seniors who need it. It is not free or even inexpensive. It is a powerful tool when used correctly. Here is an actual loan that was written a few years ago.

    A 70 year widow needed to supplement her income by $8,800 per year (4% of her $220,000 portfolio)
    During market down turn her portfolio declined 36% and is now $140,000
    Secured a Reverse Mortgage giving her $131,000 in a line of credit
    Drew $8,800 a year from her credit line rather than her investment portfolio
    Allowed her investment portfolio to recover
    When her portfolio recovered to $320,000.
    She was able to discontinue supplementing from her RM credit line
    Resumes 4% payments from her investment portfolio
    Used excess from portfolio recovery to pay down the line of credit.
    Remaining Credit Line Continues to grow in availability.

    no one should run away from that scenario!

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