LIBOR, Schmibor – who cares?

Laurie MacNaughton © 2020

In September Ginnie Mae announced home mortgages, including reverse mortgages, would switch over to the Constant Maturity Treasury, or CMT, from the current LIBOR index. The move came fully one year earlier than anticipated.

So first, who cares?

Turns out, lots of people care. Indeed, global markets have been preparing for the transition for a number of years.

But also turns out…not a lot of consensus exists on exactly what the migration will mean for the average household.

Why the move?

The intent to move away from the LIBOR was announced after the index was found susceptible to manipulation. In fact, depending upon who you talk to, a small group of insiders almost brought about an end to civilization as we know it. Hyperbole notwithstanding, it’s widely acknowledged that manipulation of the LIBOR contributed significantly, almost catastrophically, to the 2008 worldwide credit crisis and global recession.

A few alternative indices were in the running as LIBOR replacements. Most explanations regarding the choice of the CMT are excruciatingly technical – I unsuccessfully tried to find a truly good Cliff’s Notes version – but here’s the Federal Reserve Board’s stab at it:

“Yields on Treasury securities at constant maturity are determined by the U.S. Treasury from the daily yield curve. That is based on the closing market-bid yields on actively traded Treasury securities in the over-the-counter market.”

The general idea is that the CMT accurately reflects the “actual” cost of money; furthermore, the CMT can respond quickly to economic conditions.

What does this mean for you, and for your clients?

If your clients have a loan in process – depending upon the closing date – they may be asked to sign another loan application. We all may well see credit card companies and mortgage servicers contacting us with new disclosures. According to some analysts, there could be short-term market turbulence.

I readily acknowledge I am not an economist. I am not investment advisor. Nor am I an expert on global markets, an investment banker, a possessor of a crystal ball; I am a loan officer. But I am also an avid consumer of financial bulletins, articles, and newsletters, and I believe this much is certain: the markets ultimately will determine whether the CMT index is the best index for the years to come.

But as clients’ increasingly frequent questions have forced me to seriously research the topic, I have grown ever more confident of this: you, and I, and all our clients will weather this transition just fine.

And…I will close with this: if you have questions regarding how a reverse mortgage might improve your client’s financial outlook in these unsettled times, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

Born in 1960? Sound the alarm on a glitch in Social Security

Laurie MacNaughton ©2020

If you are a baby boomer turning 60 in 2020, here’s something you need to know: without a legislative fix, your lifetime Social Security benefits are very likely to be permanently reduced, even if you wait to retire until full retirement age.

Reduced. Permanently. Permanently reduced.

The reason for this is due to the formula the Social Security Administration uses to calculate benefits. The Social Security Administration, according to its website, takes a “snapshot of average wages of every worker in the country and factors it into your benefit calculation.” This means benefits are based upon average wages across all sectors of the economy. Due to COVID-19, wages are projected to be down nearly 6%, as measured by the Average Wage Index (AWI). And, because each subsequent year’s benefits are based upon the recipient’s first year’s benefits, this cohort can anticipate reduced benefits for the rest of their lives.

The news gets even worse for wage-earners with significantly higher-than-average incomes as, dollarwise, they stand to lose much more.

Then there is the knock-on effect. For survivors claiming a deceased spouse’s benefits, their monthly benefits will also be permanently reduced, as will those claiming Social Security Disability Income.

So, how did this problem arise?

Social Security was updated in 1977, and at that time no provision was made for dealing with a crisis that wrought devastation upon nearly all sectors of the economy – like, say, might occur with a global pandemic. There was ample warning indicating protections needed to be added when the dark economic times of 2008-2009 served as a shot over the bow. However, because the AWI fell only briefly and relatively insignificantly, no legislative action was taken to correct the glitch that came to light.

There is a proposal afoot to fix the problem. On August 4, Congressman John Larson (D-CT), Chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee, published an op/ed in which he calls upon “Republicans in Congress [to] join with House Democrats and correct this anomaly with the Social Security COVID Correction and Equity Act.” Chairman Larson’s proposed act would patch this hole and prevent a reduction that would have lifelong effects on a cohort already suffering financially on the doorstep of their retirement years.

Boomers have always been known for getting things done. But it’s hard to accomplish a task if there is no awareness the job needs doing.

Contact your congressperson, and let him/her know the time to fix this is now.

If you do not know who your congressperson is, you can find that information at https://www.house.gov/htbin/findrep. Your future benefits – or the benefits of one you love – are riding on this. And the clock is ticking.

 

 

Foreclosure: the gathering storm

Laurie MacNaughton © 2020

Let’s have a go at Jeopardy. The answer is: “Ten million.” The question? “How many Americans lost their home in the Great Recession?” Ding, ding, ding – you’re right. Ten million.

During the Great Recession it took nearly two years before the US saw the first 1.6 million homeowners fall delinquent on their mortgage. That many homeowners fell delinquent on their mortgage in April 2020 alone. On top of that, some 4.7 million homeowners are currently in forbearance, representing some $1 trillion in unpaid principal balances, according to Black Knight, a mortgage analytics aggregator. Out of that number, less than 30% report having funds on hand to catch up. That ten million from the Great Recession? By early next year it potentially could look like child’s play.

Just like in any crisis, the most vulnerable are hit first, hit hardest, and suffer longest. Included in this group are our youngest homeowners, our communities of color, and our hourly wage-earners, all of whom are likely to have little in savings. And then there are our aging homeowners. Homeowners who worked their entire lives. Homeowners whose largest asset may well be their home. Homeowners who were planning to retire in the next year or two. These homeowners – these are those for whom losing a home may well mean a rewrite of the whole retirement chapter.

We’ve already watched how this scenario rolls. We already know this pre-retirement demographic may not ever fully financially recover if the US drops into an extended recession.

Here’s the classic scenario: husband, wife, or both lose a job, and finances get tight. Rather than falling behind on the mortgage they begin to tap into their savings, and then into their investments, to meet their monthly mortgage payment. By the time they reach out for professional help, their options are severely limited.

So what are realistic options?

If they’re lucky, adult kids can help. However, rarely is this the best option, as bankrolling mom and dad means the kids are using dollars they should be saving for their own retirement. On top of that, adult kids may also be scrambling right now, as many professional positions have been hard hit.

A second option is to sell the home and rent, so long as there are no illusions it’s truly going to be cheaper in the long run. A recent analysis put out by Trulia, the online real estate consolidator, states that after six years buying is cheaper than renting. Additionally, rents in many metro area currently are quite high, and doubtless will climb higher still as foreclosures limit supply. Nonetheless, there are those for whom renting may be the strongest option.

Another option to consider: “Golden Girl” style communal living. This has been a trend among aging women for the better part of two decades, and these arrangements can meet both financial and social needs. In fact, in happiness quotient studies, communal housing generally scores very well.

For some, a reverse mortgage will be their saving grace. If homeowners have income enough to pay property taxes and homeowner’s insurance for the long run, not only is reverse mortgage a strong option, but it may be the ideal option. For the three people left on the globe not familiar with reverse mortgage, here it is in a nutshell: it’s a home equity loan. Punto. It’s a home equity loan that’s repaid on the backend, in reverse, and it is this feature that typically makes it an ideal fit. If there is 50% equity or greater, and if at least one spouse is 62 or older, a reverse mortgage can mean the difference between losing a home and retaining the home.

In one way or another, everyone in has been affected by this pandemic – and it ain’t over yet. In fact, when it comes to the economy in general, and housing in particular, the worst may be yet to come. We’re all going to find ourselves helping others, even if that just means passing on information.

A reverse mortgage is not a fit for everyone. And it’s not going to help everyone. But it’s going to be the solution for many homeowners, aged 62 or older, who otherwise might lose their home.

If you would like more information for a client, friend, or family member, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

 

Reverse mortgage and later-in-life divorce

Laurie Denker MacNaughton © 2020

According to the US Census Bureau, the rate of divorce has been falling for the past 25 years across all demographics – except for adults over the age of 60. Among this age group, the divorce rate has nearly doubled in the same time period.

Though the reasons for divorce remain fairly consistent across all age groups, those going through a “silver divorce” may face issues specific to aging.

Typically, the greatest challenge facing long-married couples is division of assets. This can become very involved at any time, but there may be additional considerations later in life, in part because there simply has been more time to accrue…well…stuff.

For most couples, the single most valuable asset is the marital home. In a divorce, typically the marital home is sold and the proceeds divided per the Property Settlement Agreement. However, a job, proximity to specialists, or failing health may suggest moving is not the best option for one party.

If one spouse is intent upon – or is in need of – staying in the home, one way to accomplish this can be by means of a reverse mortgage.

Older homeowners are likely to have equity enough in the home for the proceeds from a reverse mortgage to pay the departing spouse’s portion of the marital share. This often makes retention of the home possible, without saddling the spouse remaining in the home with a monthly mortgage payment.

A reverse mortgage will not work in every “silver divorce.” But in many divorces involving homeowners in which at least one party is aged 62 or older, it’s one of the few ways a Property Settlement Agreement’s financial mandates can be met without selling the home, depleting financial reserves, or acquiring a monthly mortgage payment in the retirement years.

Divorce is no one’s “Plan A.” But as the classic line goes, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.

If you would like more information on how a reverse mortgage might help you or someone you know, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

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Don’t tell the kids

Laurie MacNaughton © 2020

When she called Saturday I was pretty sure I knew what the conversation would involve.

“We’re both in our 80’s, my husband is four years into an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and our kids live in Nevada. The biggest thing is our investments are getting low.” And then there was this: “But we don’t want our kids to know.”

We don’t want our kids to know. It’s one of the worst statements I hear in the course of my job.

A couple things about this. First, I’m a parent. I understand about not wanting to worry kids, adults though they may be. But I’m also a lender who frequently talks to adult kids worried about their parents.

Would you like to hear how that side of the conversation goes? It’s something like this: “My wife and I live in Nevada but my aging parents are in Virginia. We’re worried about their finances – but they won’t talk about money.”

The risk to adult kids is this: if you do not help parents with the solution, it may get to the point where you are the solution. And odds are good you’re not really the best solution. I have seen adult children quit their job to become a caregiver. I have seen tension in marriages, finances under strain, 401(k)s prematurely tapped. The risk to aging parents is that if your finances are deeply stressed by the time you involve your kids, it’s almost guaranteed they’re going to have to help.

Nobody is going to say the money conversation is anything other than awkward for many people. Talking about money is not fun. But talking about overdue bills is even less fun.

These are anxious times for many, and times may well continue to be anxious for many months to come. There is little we can do to eliminate stress caused by world events. However, there are steps you can take that may greatly reduce hardship, whether you’re an aging parent or the adult child of aging parents.

Three recommendations I often make are the following: first, awkward as it may be, talk to family. These conversations do not get easier over time, so just do it.

Second, pre-crisis, the homeowner should speak with a qualified financial planner, accountant, or elder law attorney who can help put together long-range plans.

Third, the homeowner should consider using the home as a source of retirement funding. Several options exist here, including selling the home and downsizing, renting out a portion of the home, or doing a reverse mortgage.

If you have questions about how you or one you love may benefit from a reverse mortgage, or if you would like contact information for an elder law attorney, accountant, or wealth manager, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

 

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Reverse mortgage or HELOC?

Laurie MacNaughton © 2020

In years past homeowners routinely turned to traditional equity lines to cover unexpected expenses. However, tightened credit qualifications have put this option out of reach for many older homeowners. Additionally, a traditional line of credit requires homeowners to make a monthly mortgage payment once they withdraw funds – and, in accordance with the terms of many lines of credit, the more funds withdrawn, the higher the monthly mortgage payment becomes.

It’s not new news that a reverse mortgage can serve as safety net during times of financial turbulence. In fact, longstanding research demonstrates that a reverse mortgage can relieve unsustainable drawdowns when retirement funds are under pressure. Some experts actually call a reverse mortgage a “buffer asset” due to the significant role it can play in wealth preservation.

Here are three advantages a reverse mortgage can hold over a traditional line of credit:

The first is that a reverse mortgage is a home equity loan. I could pretty much stop there and you would know more than most. However, it’s an equity loan with a few unique features. Most obviously, a reverse mortgage is not repaid on a monthly basis. Rather, it’s repaid on the back-end, in reverse, once the home is sold. Just like with any other home sale, after the loan is repaid all remaining equity belongs to the homeowner or the heirs.

Second, a reverse mortgage line of credit cannot be called due, canceled, or frozen the way a HELOC can be. A reverse mortgage line of credit is established at the time of closing and it’s there for the homeowners’ use regardless of market conditions. This makes it a powerful hedge against economic turmoil, as the value of the credit line does not decrease even if housing values fall.

Third, the unused balance in a reverse mortgage line of credit actually grows larger over time. This little-known attribute can add significantly to the amount available in the line of credit.

The takeaway is this: a reverse mortgage can lessen pressure on investments and create an asset source outside the investment portfolio. This may give other assets time to recover lost value as markets stabilize.

If you would like to discuss how a reverse mortgage might benefit you or one you love, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

 

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Let’s talk about the “F” word

Laurie MacNaughton [NMLS ID#506562] © 2020

Forbearance. It’s the hot topic of the day. It may also prove catastrophic for some homeowners who haven’t read the fine print – if they can even find fine print to read.

Social media posts state in emphatic terms, “Congress gives free money!” “Mortgage holiday!” “Don’t pay your rent!” In a time of uncertainty it feels good to think those in charge are all-wise and all-knowing, that they are looking out for us, that they have our best interests in mind. But it is well to remember the saying, “Rumor circles the world while truth is still lacing on its shoes.”

From the outset I want to make clear: if it comes down to feeding your family or making your mortgage payment, feed your family. If you truly must, ask your mortgage servicer for forbearance. Just don’t imagine for one moment your mortgage payment was forgiven, that it disappeared, or that there will be no long-term consequences.

Which leads to my second point. To date there has been little guidance regarding penalties for forbearance. But as a federally-licensed lender I can tell you this: it is highly unlikely there will be no credit implications for missed payments. Some credit blemishes last a very long time, and mortgage lates can dog homeowners’ feet for years to come.

The likeliest forbearance scenario is that if you miss three months’ worth of payments, all four payments will be due in month four. Let’s say your mortgage payment is $2,000, and you engage in a “mortgage holiday” all three months. Now you owe $8,000 in one lump sum, and you’ve just gone back to work. This would be nearly impossible for most Americans under the best of circumstances, let alone current circumstances when many have been unpaid for weeks. I fear, I deeply fear, we are going to see a foreclosure crisis that makes 2009 pale in comparison.

The punchline is this: if you can pay your mortgage, pay your mortgage. If you can only make a partial payment, call your loan servicer to see if they will accept a partial payment. If you truly cannot pay, bear in mind there will be consequences.

One last word to homeowners aged 62 or older: this time may be the right time to look more deeply into a reverse mortgage. An FHA-insured reverse mortgage is far different than most people think. You do retain title, and the home remains yours until you or your heirs sell it. The loan is not repaid on a monthly basis, but rather in reverse on the back end when the home is sold. All retained equity belongs to you or to your heirs.

Because there is never a monthly mortgage payment due, there is nothing to fall behind on when finances are tight. The FHA-insured reverse mortgage is not exotic, nor mysterious, nor even complex. It can, however, be a financial safety net when life becomes unpredictable.

Be well, stay safe, and if you have questions, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

Shelter in the time of storm

Laurie MacNaughton [NMLS #506562] © 2020

With market uncertainty caused by current events, it can be reflexive to check investments and to wonder if the traditional 4% rule is sustainable. This “rule” refers to longstanding advice that each year 4% can be withdrawn from assets without running out of money. The problem with a volatile market is that 4% of a shrinking asset pool might not provide enough income to meet expenses.

This week I took a call came from a woman I had first spoken with months ago. “We always knew we would do a reverse mortgage,” she said. “We just thought the time wasn’t right. Now our investments are struggling and we need a buffer from the storm.” Indeed – couldn’t we all.

It’s not new news that a reverse mortgage can serve as safety net during market turbulence. In fact, longstanding research demonstrates that a reverse mortgage can relieve unsustainable drawdowns when retirement funds are under pressure. Some experts actually call a reverse mortgage a “buffer asset” due to the significant role it can play in wealth preservation.

Here are three things to remember about a reverse mortgage:

The first is that a reverse mortgage is a home equity loan. I could pretty much stop there and you would know more than most. However, it’s an equity loan with a few unique features. Most obviously, a reverse mortgage is not repaid on a monthly basis. Rather, it’s repaid on the back-end, in reverse, when the home is sold. Just like with any other home sale, once the loan is repaid all remaining equity belongs to the homeowner or the heirs.

Second, a reverse mortgage line of credit cannot be called due, canceled, or frozen. It’s established at the time of closing and it’s there for the homeowners’ use regardless of market conditions. This makes it a powerful hedge against economic turmoil, as the value of the credit line does not decrease even if housing values fall.

Third, the unused balance in a reverse mortgage line of credit actually grows larger over time. This little-known attribute can add significantly to the amount available in the line of credit.

The takeaway is this: a reverse mortgage can lessen pressure on investments and create an asset source outside the investment portfolio. This may give other assets time to recover lost value as markets stabilize.

If you would like to discuss how a reverse mortgage might benefit you or one you love, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

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Minding the gap: funding the space between end of health and end of life

Laurie MacNaughton © 2020

It’s called health span – and though I only recently became aware of the term, turns out…not a new idea.

This odd-sounding term refers to how long one’s impairment-free health lasts. Some experts refer to this as “healthy life years,” and it is a concept separate from lifespan. What makes this topic significant is that for many older adults there is a year’s-long gap between the end of health and the end of life.

And though this isn’t (yet?) a term, for many there is another gap – a “finance gap.” That is to say, at some point in retirement many Americans will run short on money, and this gap is usually associated with health problems.

So how do you fund that gap, the gap between the end of health and the end of life? Where does one turn for money once health is declining and finances are depleted?

If you’re very lucky, your adult kids can help. However, rarely is this the best option, as that means the kids are using dollars they should be saving for their own retirement. Also, monies gifted to parents typically are not tax deductible by the gifter, and under some circumstances gift money may imperil certain benefits.

Though it’s an easy default position to judge those whose finances have grown thin, it’s not fair: when today’s retirees started working, lifespans were notably shorter. While it’s entirely possible to work 40 years and save enough for 5 years of retirement, it’s a whole other proposition to save enough for 25 or 30 years of retirement. And, people now routinely live for years with conditions that once were quickly fatal.

Standard recommendations to improve finances include sticking to a budget, taking a part-time job, and by becoming a “life-long saver,” meaning putting a small amount by each month. But these measures often are not possible when a serious health condition arises.

This is where a reverse mortgage can be a true lifesaver. A reverse mortgage is a seniors’-only home equity line of credit that is repaid when the last titleholder permanently leaves the home; all remaining equity goes to the homeowner, the heirs, or the estate.

I will be the first to say there is never a one-size-fits-all financial product. Financial needs vary and homeowners’ circumstances differ from person to person.

But this much is certain: none of us is likely to get by on just our Social Security. Few will survive on just an IRA, a 401(k), or pension – or, for that matter, on a reverse mortgage. But when added together, all these can contribute to financial health in retirement, and a reverse mortgage can play a very important role in financial wellness in the retirement years.

If you would like to discuss your financial needs, or those of a loved one, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

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If you pay, you stay; if you don’t, you won’t

Laurie MacNaughton [NMLS ID# 506562] © 2020

Recently I heard a heartbreaking story from a friend: A couple years back her 55-year-old cousin lost his job and shortly thereafter had a stroke. He spent well over a year in a rehab facility and during his recovery he fell behind on bills, including his property taxes. By the time I was hearing this story, the county had foreclosed on his home due to tax delinquencies.

Why did he lose his home? Because he lost his job and then had a stroke.

This morning I spoke with an attorney whose advanced-elderly client is losing her home to a tax foreclosure after not paying her property taxes for the past two years. Turns out, the homeowner has a reverse mortgage.

Why is her home in foreclosure? In many people’s eyes, it’s because she has a reverse mortgage.

If someone loses his job and then loses his home, we blame the circumstances. If someone has a reverse mortgage and loses his home, we blame the mortgage.

Wait, what? How did we get here?

The overview is this: in their earliest form, reverse mortgages had little federal oversight and few regulations, and by all accounts there was some pretty crazy stuff going on. Even with the modern reverse mortgage, until 2014 the qualifications were simply age and equity: if a homeowner was 62 and had enough equity, he or she could qualify. There was no financial assessment to verify the homeowner could pay property taxes and homeowner’s insurance on an ongoing basis.

A huge overhaul in 2014 corrected these issues, and now homeowners must meet income guidelines. The amount of equity they can access is spread out over time.

These two simple additions to the qualification process have gone a long way toward preventing problems.

So how is it that in 2020 an elderly woman with a reverse mortgage, living in Arlington, Virginia, may lose her home?

She’s losing her home because she didn’t pay her property taxes. Just because she can afford to pay them, it doesn’t mean she can remember to pay them. Even if she had no mortgage whatsoever, if she didn’t pay her taxes she would still be in foreclosure.

A couple points here. First, most Virginia tax jurisdictions offer property tax relief programs for older homeowners. Many homeowners are unaware of this, and it’s a shame – because tax relief can be a huge financial boost. Second, most tax jurisdictions allow taxes to be set up as an automatic, recurring payment. For some of our oldest homeowners interested in this option, this may mean they need a helping hand setting up recurring payments. My own father, a truly brilliant aerospace engineer, never did master the personal computer. My mother was quite good on the computer, but she wasn’t in charge of finances.

The third thing I want to point out is this: when homeowners with so-called “forward” mortgages lose their homes, the losses are spread over all age groups and the causes vary. When homeowners with reverse mortgages lose their homes, all the homeowners are nearing retirement or have already retired. When there is one demographic represented, it can be easy to blame the type of mortgage, even when the cause overwhelmingly is a failure to pay property taxes. Taxes are taxes, and they must be paid – unless homeowners are property tax exempt. It’s simple: “if you pay, you stay; if you don’t, you won’t.”

One last note is that it is now possible with a reverse mortgage to do something called a “Life Expectancy Set-Aside,” or LESA, whereby property taxes and/or homeowner’s insurance are withheld, and then paid by the loan servicer when due. A LESA may be required in cases where there is a spotty tax or homeowner’s insurance payment history. But some homeowners opt for a LESA simply out of convenience.

If you have aging loved ones in your life, please ask them if they would appreciate help setting up recurring property tax payments. Be mindful that the ability to keep track of dates, deadlines and requirements may diminish as we age, and that the “money talk” may be one you need to have with loved ones on an annual basis. And check to see if they qualify for tax relief.

If you’re an aging homeowner and would like to know more about property tax relief programs, call your county’s Commissioner of the Revenue. Bank branch personnel and local librarians can also look up your county’s property tax exemption guidelines, and many will print the application forms.

I always like to point out that money is not a moral issue, though some people get very judgy about financial matters. Long gone are the days of funding retirement – discussions now have to be about how we’ll fund longevity. This is an altogether different proposition, and it can be tricky. If you’re having money issues, it’s better by far to ask for help earlier than later.

And if you have questions about reverse mortgage, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

 

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