Or…you can just strike oil

Laurie MacNaughton [506562] © 2017

When I was little I played house. I played school. I played orphan, pilgrim, mommy, fairy, and – as we called it then – Indian. In another nod to the political incorrectness of the time, my sister and I once played Siamese twins by tying ourselves together using my father’s neckties. Notice…”once.”

But never among the roles my siblings and I played did we include “adult child of an aging parent.” I didn’t see this role in the families I knew nor did I read about it in the books I read. In fact, the role wasn’t really much of a “thing” back then – and by “back then” I mean the 1970’s.

Fast forward: today most of us are either dealing with aging-related issues as they impact ones we love, or we have friends who are. And, typically, chief among the issues is the financial cost of care.

This Saturday past I met with an impressive couple in their lovely home. Both retired medical doctors, they did everything right – saved, lived within their means, engaged in a healthy lifestyle. But now, though only in their late-seventies, they’re beginning to worry their retirement savings may not be sufficient.

So what’s the deal here? How could a solidly upper-middleclass couple have made a significant dent in their savings ahead of schedule?

Easy: they’re bankrolling the wife’s 96-year-old mother. And in this case, though Mom is advanced-elderly, she’s by no means at death’s door. From all appearances, she could live another five years, maybe more. She’s not going back to work, however, and she long ago exhausted her own retirement savings. That means her daughter and son-in-law are probably looking at several more years of providing for Mom – and Mom’s care costs are unlikely to decrease over time.

Scarcely does a week go by that I don’t see some variation on this same theme: a couple who indeed planned appropriately for retirement, but was thrown a curve ball in the form of financing a relative’s longevity. Good health insurance is not a cure, as insurance doesn’t pay for many goods and services attendant with aging, and family typically foots the bill for non-medical sundries.

We hear a lot about a sustainable drawdown of retirement savings. But the not-uncommon situation I’m describing is a double drawdown, meaning the retired couple is funding their own retirement and a parent’s longevity. If the couple also goes on to enjoy a long life, they are likely to need someone to step in to help finance them. You can see a multigenerational impact in the making.

I hasten to add I was privileged to assist in the care of my parents, both of whom died of cancer a few years back. However, I am still in the workforce, and consequently did not experience a drawdown of my retirement funds, let alone a double drawdown. At least not on the surface.

Look a little closer, however, and there was a very real long-term financial cost: every dollar I spent flying to Arizona to spend weekends with my parents was a dollar I was not putting into retirement savings – and transit costs barely scratched the surface of my expenditures. Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t have traded those months with my parents for all the 401(k)’s in the world. But the point remains: the financial reality of caring for aging parents carries a long-range impact.

So what’s the cure here? Well, one is what J. Paul Getty said, namely, “Rise early, work hard, strike oil.” Sign me up.

For the rest of us, there are several things financial professionals recommend, including  becoming a lifelong saver – meaning continuing to save even once you’re receiving Social Security or other retirement benefits. Increasingly I hear financial advisors say they’re incorporating aging-parent care-costs into discussions even with younger clients.

But here’s also where a discussion of reverse mortgage comes in. Along with many others, when I first heard the term I assumed reverse mortgages were some shady mess cooked up in the back alley – and there’s a historical reason most of us think that. However, the modern reverse mortgage is an FHA-insured home equity line of credit designed to give homeowners access to some of their home’s equity, while not creating a monthly repayment obligation.

Reverse mortgage is going to play a role in the long-term financial well-being of many boomers as they age. Furthermore, if boomers’ parents are homeowners themselves, the parents’ reverse mortgage can help fund their care, taking some of the financial burden off adult children. Indeed, over the years I have done several “twin” reverse mortgages – one for the adult children and one for the advanced-elderly parent.

With longevity increasing, none of us is likely to get by on just our Social Security. Few will survive just on an IRA, a 401(k), or pension – or, for that matter, on a reverse mortgage. But when added together, all these contribute to becoming “self-pay” through the end of life.

A reverse mortgage is not a fit for everyone – no one financial product is.

But a reverse mortgage is going to play an important role in many homeowners’ financial health in retirement, particularly when used as part of a sound, long-term retirement plan.

Or…you can just strike oil.

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Understandable issues, unintended consequences

Laurie MacNaughton © 2017

The call seemed like an outlier: the elder law attorney said her widowed, wheelchair-bound client was poised to lose her home due to foreclosure of a HECM after the homeowner failed to pay her property taxes.

Weird thing was, the homeowner had long had a full property tax waiver.

And then came another call, and then another – all within a couple weeks. All borrowers involved had had property tax waivers.

The question then became the following: had anything in the tax code changed regarding property tax waivers for senior homeowners?

Bingo.

A few months earlier tax waivers for the elderly had been changed to tax deferrals. And that’s a big deal.

Here’s why: the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) citation addressing tax deferrals as they impact HECM reads:

The mortgagor shall not participate in a real estate tax deferral program or permit any liens to be recorded against the property, unless such liens are subordinate to the insured mortgage and any second mortgage held by the Secretary (24 C.F.R. PART 206, § 206.27 (B)(3)).  [Emphasis added]

Tax deferrals are also addressed in the HUD Handbook:

The mortgagor is prohibited from participating in any real estate tax deferral program unless the lien created by this program is subordinate to the insured mortgage held by the mortgagee (HUD Handbook, 4330.1, chapter 13, section 12). [Emphasis added]

Due to federal guidelines on deferrals, if a HECM-holder’s tax waiver is turned into a deferral, the homeowner is subject to a clawback of the full amount of back taxes. If they cannot come up with the clawback and report late on their property taxes, their HECM is in default.

Virginia elder law attorney Veronica E. Williams cites an example.

She says:

My client, a participant in a senior homeowner tax relief program, has a reverse mortgage. Per county requirement, my client filed his annual application for tax relief and it was accepted.

Due to a municipal change from tax waivers to tax deferrals, my client’s reverse mortgage servicer became aware of the fact he now has tax deferral status instead of tax exempt status. As a result, the servicer advised that he had to withdraw his application for tax relief. When my client withdrew the application all deferred taxes became due and payable. The reverse mortgage servicer then notified him he had to pay all back real estate taxes.

The story gets worse. Attorney Williams continues:

My client advised the servicer he was unable to pay the taxes all at once because he was on a fixed income.  The servicer offered to put him on an affordable installment plan, and he agreed to the terms of the plan.  However, the servicer also advised that HUD would have to approve the payment plan.

Unfortunately, HUD did not approve the payment plan. This lack of approval was not based upon any fault on the part of my client, but instead was based upon the fact my client’s reverse mortgage didn’t contain funds enough to pay the back taxes.

The reverse mortgage servicer paid my client’s real estate taxes and then sent notice he would be subject to foreclosure and eviction if he did not reimburse them for paying back real estate taxes.

This homeowner did nothing wrong. The rules changed and now he stands to lose his home.

From the county or municipality viewpoint the issues here are understandable: county boards concede the point that payment of property taxes can be a crushing burden in the retirement years. However, many counties face declining revenues, have yet to recover financially from the recession. For this reason they feel they cannot forfeit taxes outright, and instead recover back taxes after the property has been vacated by the senior homeowner.

But here’s where the math becomes complex: if seniors who were successfully aging in place and on track to being self-pay through the end of life lose their homes, solutions can represent a pricy fix. Long-term solutions potentially carry a price tag that far exceeds the tax revenue the county recovered. For instance, is there affordable housing sufficient to accommodate the newly displaced senior? And, does the county want to foot bill for aging homeowners who cannot qualify for reverse mortgages in the future due to property tax policies?

One last twist here: If the senior homeowner had Medicaid home-based care (also called an EDCD Waiver), and now has no home in which to receive care, are there enough Medicaid-approved nursing home beds to house the Medicaid recipients?

Medicaid is a cooperative between states and the federal government, meaning the financial burden does not fall upon individual counties’ shoulders. If counties inadvertently cause a care crisis, they don’t foot the bill; rather, the burden falls to the state and federal governments. No county would dare say, “We are a senior un-friendly community, and our goal is to disenfranchise our older homeowners.”

And yet – and yet – this can be precisely the unintended consequence if counties move forward with tax deferrals in a manner that does not take HECM guidelines into account.

There are examples of states successfully addressing the waiver/deferral issue. National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association Executive Vice President Steve Irwin says California, Oregon, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire record tax liens subordinate to a HECM, thus fulfilling both the CFR and HUD Handbook qualifying requirements. Oregon is taking it one step further and moving legislation on the matter.

Making a way forward for as many people as possible to be self-pay through the end of life is a goal shared by many homeowners and municipalities alike – and reverse mortgage plays an integral role in achieving this goal.

Informed tax policy is going to prove a determining factor for many as to whether aging in place remains a viable option. As author Eckhart Tolle says, “Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” ‘Tis indeed, ‘tis indeed.

Silence of the “Silent Generation” extends to finances

Laurie MacNaughton © 2017

Yesterday I met with two couples, one in their 60’s and another in their early 80’s. The younger couple was discussing a reverse mortgage as part of their pre-retirement financial planning. The older couple, retired for years, has encountered serious health issues and is drawing down retirement funds at an unsustainable rate. They’ve also been late on their past few mortgage payments, which is likely to complicate their reverse mortgage qualification process.

Couples in their 60’s, couples in their 80’s – this is a pattern so common I had to reflect for perhaps the hundredth time: where are the couples in their 70’s, members of the so-called “Silent Generation”?

I can only conclude the following: 60 may well be the new 40 – but 80 is still 80. However, when you’re in your 70’s and still in the workforce, long past the age at which your parents retired, it can be hard to fathom that within a decade your finances may be stressed and your health may be less than stellar. A strong work-ethic and an uncomplaining acceptance of circumstances served the Silent Generation well…right up until it didn’t.

And here’s the real rub: if the couple I met who now are in their early 80’s had sought financial help five years ago, odds are they would not be in the straights they’re now in.

A reverse mortgage can help in several ways with financial survivability in retirement: it can pay off financing currently on the property. It can establish a line-of-credit safety net that grows over time. Or, reverse mortgage proceeds can be structured as a monthly stipend that arrives each month for as long as at least one homeowner resides in the home.

Reverse mortgages are not a fit for everyone – no one financial product is. But a reverse mortgage is going to play an important role in many homeowners’ financial health in retirement, particularly when used as part of a sound, informed, long-term retirement plan.

If you would like to explore how an FHA-insured reverse mortgage might help with your retirement plans or with the plans of those you love, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

Laurie

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And…It’s Good News!

Laurie MacNaughton © 2016

So, first the technical mumbo-jumbo (and it’s good news): FHA just announced the Reverse Mortgage loan limit will go up to $636,150, effective January 1, 2017.

Why You Care

Starting January 1, homeowners aged 62 or older who have higher-value homes (i.e. homes that appraise for $636,150 or more) will have access to more equity – potentially meaning a bigger line of credit or a larger monthly stipend.

Reverse for Purchase

For those looking to purchase a home using Reverse for Purchase, this new lending limit means homebuyers may be able to consider extra aging-in-place amenities or other upgrades.

Rates Are Low, Housing Values Are Strong

If you are considering a Reverse Mortgage, now is a really great time to move forward, as you may qualify for more than ever before. So give me a call – I always love hearing from you!

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A profound paradox

Laurie MacNaughton [506562] © 2016

I don’t usually spend much time reading statistics on aging. Truth is, I don’t really feel the need: I see retirement-related issues every day.

But recently I spent 10 days touring Ireland, and in a sort of by-the-by fashion the tour guide mentioned Ireland has an astounding 8% growth rate, easily the highest in Europe. Everywhere I looked I saw signs of young life: strollers, bikes, schools, sports fields.

We were in a remote area where I couldn’t google numbers for the U.S., but the comment wildly piqued my interest.

So how fast, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is our population growing? In 2016, a projected .77%. That’s not a big increase.

Some other data points: by 2040 Americans 65 and older will represent a tad under 25% of the population. In that same timeframe, the number of Americans aged 85 and older will triple. Triple. That is a big increase.

Herein lies a profound paradox: dramatically improved longevity, widely recognized as one of mankind’s greatest triumphs, may well prove one of its greatest challenges.

For most workers, pensions are a luxury of previous generations. Social Security, already strained, is going to need big overhauls if it’s going to be there for upcoming retirees. Savings and investment dollars are going to have to last longer – much longer.

But many homeowners are also going to need to look to other assets as part of their retirement funding.

And this is where reverse mortgage can play a role.

A reverse mortgage is fundamentally a home equity line of credit. The difference between the credit lines we’re more acquainted with and a reverse mortgage line of credit is that there is no monthly repayment requirement with a reverse mortgage line of credit.

Instead, when the last person on title permanently leaves the home, the loan is repaid. The remaining equity goes to the homeowner, heirs or estate.

Reverse mortgages are not a fit for everyone – no one financial product is.

But a reverse mortgage is going to play an important role in many homeowners’ financial health in retirement, particularly when used as part of a sound, long-term retirement plan.

If you would like to explore how an FHA-insured reverse mortgage might help with your retirement plans, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

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It’s only obvious if you know your options

Laurie Denker MacNaughton ©2016

I read a great term recently: retrospectively obvious.

Maybe it struck me because over the years I have done many things that were retrospectively obvious – from trying to take off my jeans while still wearing my tennis shoes to asking a vegan for a restaurant recommendation. Not good, not good.

But some of life’s avoidable difficulties are not retrospectively obvious, only because there is no known alternative.

Yesterday I met with a husband and wife who could have been neighbors, friends, or colleagues: both hold graduate degrees and have pension plans, they own a lovely home, they change their oil every 5,000 miles. Ok, so I’m not sure about that last one. But you get the point.

But here’s what they also have: retirement accounts that are almost tapped out – and they haven’t yet retired though they’re both approaching 70.

How did this happen? Profligate spending? Extravagant lifestyle? That’s what most of us would assume if given the bare bones of the scenario.

But the answer is far more common, far more relatable, far more touching: for 17 years they bankrolled the wife’s incapacitated father, until he died this spring at the age of 92.

First they used the father’s long-term care – until it ran out. Then they used the father’s savings, until those ran out. Then they sold the father’s home and moved him in with them. Then they continued to care for him, draining their own saving to cover what Medicare did not.

Now they’re looking to retire. They’ve done the math. If they live to age 90, their own adult kids are going to have to bankroll them – which means the adult kids won’t be able to save appropriately. You can see the dominos lined up far into the future.

Let me interject here on a personal level: my own parents both died within the past few years. I will be the first say it was a blessing to journey with them through their final chapter – and I can testify to the fact the financial cost was not inconsequential. Ignoring aging parents’ needs is not what I’m talking about here.

What I am talking about is that, as a parent myself, I would do anything possible to prevent my adult daughters from having to bankroll me as I age.

“Self-pay through the end of life” is a term I heard years ago while attending a conference on aging. And this is where reverse mortgage plays a role.

A reverse mortgage is a home equity loan. End of story. However, it’s a home equity loan that does not have a monthly repayment obligation. Rather, the loan is repaid when the last person on title permanently leaves the home.

But there’s another element – a lesser-known element – of a reverse mortgage line of credit that makes it a valuable long-term financial planning tool: the line of credit grows over time, not unlike an annuity. However, unlike an annuity, the funds from a reverse mortgage are non-taxable.

Rarely is a reverse mortgage going to be the full solution to funding retirement. But here’s what a reverse mortgage is: a home equity loan for the years when having a monthly mortgage payment can be a back-breaker. It can be a miracle for adult children struggling to bankroll their parents’ longevity, and make aging in place possible.

A reverse mortgage is not a fit for everyone. But as I’ve said many times, no one is going to get by on just their Social Security. No one is going to make it on their 401-K. Few are going to survive on their pension, their annuity, their IRA, their bank account – or their reverse mortgage. But when added together, all these combine to create a long-term means of maintaining dignity and independence in retirement.

In retrospect it seems so obvious that a reverse mortgage can help fund a parent’s longevity. But it’s only obvious if you know your options.

If you would like to explore how an FHA-insured reverse mortgage might help you or your loved ones in retirement, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

Laurie

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Silver Divorce – How Reverse Mortgage Can Make a Way Forward