Staying in our lane until invited into another’s

Laurie MacNaughton © 2019

He has just left my office, this dapper gentleman of 70 with a PhD in Applied Science. But what he said will stay with me for some time to come: “Our society treats aging like it’s some great moral failing.”

I hadn’t ever put it in such elegant or concise terms, but I have seen it too, this pervasive notion that if you’re old, or sick – or, heaven forbid, old and sick – you have done something deeply and morally wrong.

This thinking is not limited to a health-and-wealth worldview. Deepak Chopra in Ageless Body, Timeless Mind writes, “…join me on a journey of discovery…[w]here old age, senility, infirmity, and death do not exist and are not even entertained as a possibility.” He goes on to indict parents, teachers, and society for the belief that aging and illness are natural.

It is far outside my area of proficiency to comment on the complex interactions between mental, physical, and spiritual health. But as one who has dealt with a number of health conditions, I can comment on how it feels to be the recipient of judgmentalism and unsolicited advice.

It feels like one is being blamed for one’s condition. It feels like one is being told, “If you were to just try harder, you wouldn’t be experiencing this.” It feels like the advice-giver is assuming a position of moral superiority and that you are being implicated in some heinous crime. In other words, it feels bad.

Personally, I choose to assume unasked-for advice comes from a place of concern, and that the advice-giver is wishing to help. But I also understand when the recipient of unsolicited advice snaps, and fires back a retort – I’ve seen it happen.

I’ve also seen advice-givers do an eyeroll, as though to say, “Suit yourself. When you start listening to me you’ll finally put this behind you.” And it’s not just physical illness that provokes unsought advice. I have seen the aging subjected to similarly judgmental input.

Without question lifestyle choices factor into wellness, but that’s not the whole story. The rest of the story is people get old; people get sick; bodies break down – maybe not at the same rate, certainly, but it’s just the way the world works.

In the voice of my dapper gentleman, self-deprecating humor and irony were clear. But I thought I heard something else. Weariness with the judginess and self-righteousness that can accompany interactions with the young and the well?

It may be too much to ask that we all agree on some points. But perhaps we can at least adhere to the Golden Rule and its corollary: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; but also, say unto others what you would have them say unto you.

Or, as others might put it, let us try to stay in our own lane until invited into another’s.

After all, what goes around really does come around – eventually.

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Can we refinance using another reverse mortgage?

Laurie MacNaughton © 2019

“My wife and I took out a reverse mortgage a few years back. Can we refinance using another reverse mortgage?”

It’s a question I get at least a couple times a week, and the answer is…“maybe.”

The reason there is no perfunctory answer is for the much same reason there’s no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to other home loans: it depends upon the value of the home and upon how much is owed on the loan you currently have.

As I venture into an explanation, a brief word of review becomes necessary.

A reverse mortgage is simply a home equity loan, in many ways like any other home equity loan. The biggest difference is that the loan is not repaid on a monthly basis; rather, the loan typically is repaid in one lump sum on the back-end, in reverse, when the home is sold.

The loans we all grew up with are repaid monthly in a forward direction, and for this reason they are technically called “forward” mortgages. Yup. That’s the real terminology.

With a reverse mortgage the amount a homeowner can borrower is a function of five things: the age of the youngest homeowner; the value of the home; interest rates; current lending limits; and the specific reverse mortgage program one selects.

And here’s where we get back to the question at hand, namely whether homeowners with a reverse mortgage can refinance using another reverse mortgage.

The first calculation is a given – if a couple did a reverse mortgage 5 years ago, they are now…5 years older. The older the homeowners the more they qualify for, so age works in their favor.

The second factor, home value, may also be in their favor, as many of our homes have appreciated nicely over the past few years. This is not a given, of course, and a new home appraisal is always required.

Interest rates have remained fairly stable, even with recent rate hikes, especially when viewed from an historical perspective.

The fourth element, or lending limits, may also be in the homeowners’ favor, as FHA announced higher lending limits in late 2018.

The final factor, namely product type, is currently proving the most interesting. New “flavors” of reverse mortgage have come onto the market, with more due out in 2019, and they are filling a niche long underserved. Homeowners in higher-value homes may benefit from some of these new offerings.

All this said, the determining factor in whether a reverse-to-reverse refinance will work ultimately boils down to how much is owed on the current reverse mortgage. If homeowners qualify for more than is due on their current reverse mortgage, a refinance may be possible.

As an aside, it always bears mentioning: because homeowners retain title to the home – in other words, because they still own the home – property taxes, homeowners insurance, routine maintenance, and other applicable responsibilities such as condo fees or homeowner association dues are still paid by the homeowner. Homeownership is homeownership, and nothing changes in this regard.

If you would like to explore the possibility of refinancing, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

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Triple whammy: the gender wealth gap in retirement

Laurie MacNaughton © 2019

Here’s what I’m not going to address, except in passing: the wage gap between the sexes. Why? It’s not because I doubt its existence. Rather, it’s because for most retirees the peak earning years are past, and they are now drawing down savings and investments.

What I am going to address, however, is the wealth gap between men and women during the retirement years.

Meet Rosemary, a woman who has spent her entire adult life caring for loved ones – first her profoundly handicapped brother, and then her Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother. When her mother died last year, Rosemary started looking for a job. At age 66. With no official work history. We’ll come back to Rosemary in a minute.

Retirement income typically consists of investments, savings, and, for most Americans, Social Security. In fact, information published by the Social Security Administration states half of retirees rely upon Social Security for 50% of their income; one in five relies upon Social Security for 90% of his or her income.

But here’s the catch: didn’t work 35 years? You’re not getting maximum benefits no matter how much you earned during the working years, unless you qualify for a spouse’s, or former spouse’s, benefits.

And if you never worked, as in Rosemary’s case – or if you worked fewer than 10 years – you may fall into a group called “never beneficiaries.” People in this category may qualify for no benefits at all, unless they can claim benefits through a spouse or former spouse.

To reiterate, there are two important numbers to understand: first, you have to work at least 10 years to qualify for Social Security benefits. Second, your monthly Social Security payment will be based upon your 35 highest-income years.

Women disproportionately represent never-beneficiaries because they step out of the workforce far more frequently than do men in order to care for children or elderly relatives, and no amount of curing the wage gap during the working years is going to fully close the wealth gap during the retirement years for these women.

For some women it’s a triple whammy: fewer years worked, lower wages paid during those working years. Add to this the fact women, on average, live longer, and you start to see the magnitude of the problem.

So, what are some cures for women already of retirement age? That can be tricky one, as working is simply not possible for some older citizens. However, for those who can work, even a small income can make a big difference. Also, I am a huge believer in the role faith-based organizations play in a community, as well as the effectiveness of service organizations and other non-profits. Some groups will assist the elderly with smaller home repairs, and many offer other forms of assistance. Many of our local jurisdictions have shuttle services for those needing transportation.

And what about prevention? There are many, many things we could do better, but following is some very low-hanging fruit. First, we must offer financial education early enough in life for it to have a meaningful impact. It does no good to start talking to people about retirement finances when they’re so close to retirement age they have no hope of working a minimum of 10 years. Second, we need to reexamine the wage gap and the many, complex reasons it still exists. And we need to take a very close look at things that are working, such as recent legislation passed in Oregon, whereby employees are automatically enrolled in Roth IRAs.

As for Rosemary, she is doing well. She had the great blessing of inheriting her mother’s home, and was able to do a reverse mortgage to help with her finances. She works as a cashier at a local grocery store, and has qualified for basic health care coverage through her employer.

Many of us, at one time or another, have turned to family for childcare or for eldercare. Twice I myself served as the primary caregiver for aging or ailing family members, and feel blessed to have had that privilege. However, circumstances were such that I was able to step back into the workforce. Not everyone is that fortunate. But I believe we, as a nation, ought to insist upon having this complex discussion.

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New year, exciting new options in retirement financing

Laurie MacNaughton © 2019

His name is Richard, and his question to me was the following: “If my paid-off home is worth $900,000, why do I only qualify for some $220,000 in a lump sum with a reverse mortgage?”

Not only is this a great question, but it’s also a very common one. The answer, however, involves a few basics facts about how a reverse mortgage works.

First, the amount of equity homeowners qualify for is based upon age. More specifically, the loan amount is based upon the age of the youngest homeowner. Second, just like with any other home loan, a reverse mortgage is impacted by interest rates. And third, the amount one qualifies for differs according to the “flavor” of the reverse mortgage the homeowner selects – traditionally there have been two basic types, either a fixed rate or an adjustable rate.

Over the past few months, however, a plethora of other reverse mortgage offerings have come onto market. These loans, sometimes called “jumbo” reverse mortgages, are proving true game-changers for homeowners in higher-valued properties.

Which leads me to my conversation with Richard.

Richard initially enquired about a fixed-rate, FHA-insured reverse mortgage. Until very recently virtually all reverse mortgages were Home Equity Conversion Mortgages, or HECMs. But the HECMs are not always ideal for those in higher-valued homes.

Jumbo reverse mortgages are designed to meet needs of borrowers in homes valued up to $4,000,000. These non-FHA loans have some distinct advantages, with the most prominent being the following: at Richard’s age (78), he currently qualifies for some $430,000 at closing. Because he is looking to establish a special needs trust for an adult handicapped child, the larger amount available may better fit his goals. Second, closing costs on these loans are notably lower than those of an FHA-insured reverse mortgage. And third, at least one of these new offerings is available to homeowners aged 60 or older, rather than 62.

At the time of publication of this post, the new reverse mortgages were not yet available in Virginia as lines of credit. This means the full amount must be taken at closing.

Just like with other reverse mortgages, homeowners must continue to pay their property taxes, homeowners insurance, and other applicable property charges such as homeowners association fees or condominium dues.

I am the first person to say a reverse mortgage is not right for everyone. No one financial product is. However, a reverse mortgage can be an important addition to many homeowners’ long-term financial plans.

No one is likely to get by just on 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 financial soundness.

For more information about how a reverse mortgage may help with your retirement financing, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

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Wait…what? Line of credit growth and reverse mortgage

Laurie MacNaughton | © 2018

There is was again, that same question: “Should we do a reverse mortgage now, or should we wait until our investments are gone?”

Turns out there is research on this – lots, in fact, some sponsored by retirement groups and some by academic institutions.

Regardless of the source, conclusions are consistent: homeowners who do a reverse mortgage early in retirement, while they still have healthy savings, benefit more than do those who wait until their finances are under stress.

This is largely due to two factors.

First is asset preservation during market downturns. Needless to say, the past few months have been a bumpy ride in the investment realm, and paper losses turn into real losses when you have to draw upon a 401(k) or other investments during a downtick. If you’re able to ride out a downturn you benefit financially in the long run.

Second is on account of what may be the most under-reported aspect of a reverse mortgage line of credit, namely the growth added to the unused funds in a reverse mortgage line of credit. If this causes you to say, “Wait…what?” it should, as this is something that does not exist with other types of home loans.

Here’s what this feature of an FHA-insured reverse mortgage means to you: each month a small amount gets added to the funds in your line of credit. This growth compounds over time, and it’s there for you to use when you need it. The growth is not based upon home appreciation, but rather upon prevailing interest rates. It’s counterintuitive, but if rates go up the line of credit actually grows more quickly.

What this tax-free growth may look like over time can be astounding. For illustration purposes let’s consider a husband and wife, both of whom are 68 years old, and whose paid-off home appraises for $400,000. If their line of credit at the time of closing contains about $168,000, in five years’ time it may have grown to over $206,000 – assuming interest rates remain steady. Again, growth is pegged to prevailing interest rates, and the line of credit grows more quickly if rates go up.

This line of credit can create a valuable hedge against having to sell investments in a down market. It can also create a safety net that forestalls the need to apply for Social Security before full retirement age.

Optimally, a reverse mortgage provides just one part of a long-range financial plan for retirement, because as life expectancies continue to increase, retirement is going to take more than your monthly Social Security check. It’s going to take more than a well-funded 401(k). In fact, it’s likely to take more than a pension, an annuity, an IRA, or a bank account – or a reverse mortgage – can provide. But when added together, these can combine to create a long-term means of maintaining financial wellbeing in retirement.

If you would like to discuss how a reverse mortgage might help your retirement plans, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

 

Home for the holidays – mistletoe and red flags

Laurie MacNaughton © 2018

During the holiday season many of us will spend more face-to-face time with aging parents than we typically do. Consequently, in addition to the turkey, gifts, and mistletoe, this season can be a chance to spot common red flags that may indicate it’s time to talk with your parents about financial matters.

Deferred home maintenance, including items seemingly as small as dripping faucets or yard maintenance, may be an easily-spotted sign you may want to talk with your parents about their finances, because unaddressed upkeep is often a money issue.

Another sign of a looming financial issue can be a stack of unopened bills, especially if a parent has been ill. For many of us an avalanche of doctors’ bills can be scary, but if you’re living on a fixed income it can be paralyzing.

A third sign is evidence of new credit – either an equity line or new credit cards. This often serves as an indication there are ongoing cash flow problems.

Other, potentially more advanced red flags include a rash of strange phone calls, junk mail from debt-restructuring services, and late notices. Any one of these signs could indicate it’s time to have the “money talk” with parents – and like the other talk, it can be awkward. A good starting point for this conversation can be found on FINRA’s website at http://www.finra.org/investors/highlights/talk-aging-parents-about-money

As with most things in life, our parents’ financial matters can be handled in one of two ways: before there’s a crisis, or after a crisis has already occurred. If you would like to discuss how a reverse mortgage might help your parents with their financing needs in retirement, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

For a printable list of red flags, click here: Printable checklist of red flags

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Don’t tell – our national aversion to discussing personal finance

Laurie MacNaughton © 2018

As I write this I’m visiting long-time friends in Germany. Over dinner the past few evenings our conversation has turned to retirement, as within the next decade both they and I will be approaching retirement age in our respective countries.

During our discussions a couple data points have piqued my interest, including the fact that though average Germans save more than average Americans do, a 2018 survey indicates they do not have appreciably more in retirement savings. According to the survey this is largely due to the fact median incomes in Germany are somewhat lower, and the cost of living higher, than in the States. When I asked my friends about their retirement funding they pointed to their daughter and said, half-jokingly, “She’s a big part of the plan.”

But here’s a personal observation: we Americans tend to speak of retirement finances with much more judgmentalism and a much greater degree of shame and secrecy. Did your 401(k) take a big hit after the financial crisis? Tsk-tsk. Have you not saved the recommended $1.5 million for retirement? For shame. Are you considering a reverse mortgage? Don’t tell friends or family – not now, not ever.

I see the impact of this attitude played out time and time again. A homeowner encounters an unexpected event – illness, loss of a spouse, loss of employment shortly before retirement, a later-in-life divorce – and suddenly needs access to a significant amount of funds. Because we Americans do not feel comfortable openly discussing finances, for many the only option is to look to their bank for a traditional home equity loan.

But here’s the thing: let’s say the homeowner qualifies for a traditional home equity loan. For the first 29 days after closing everything seems fine – cash need solved.

However, day 30 is the kicker because now there’s a mortgage payment due. And, for some homeowners this new loan payment is on top of an existing mortgage. Even if the homeowner can juggle payments over the near term, over the long term the situation can be a recipe for disaster.

So what are some potential alternatives? First, awkward as it may be, the homeowner needs to talk to family. They’re going to know sooner or later, and these conversations do not get easier over time – nor do financial situations typically get better over time. Over the years many adult children have told me they wish their parents had been more open in discussing financial matters.

Second, the homeowner should speak with a qualified financial planner, wealth manager, or elder law attorney who can help put together a long-range financial plan.

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.

Money is not a moral issue, though it can feel like one. Running short on money is not a sin, though we can be made to feel it’s one. And asking for help is not a weakness, though our culture may imply it’s one.

If you have questions about how a reverse mortgage may benefit your loved one, or if you would like contact information for elder law attorneys, financial planners, or wealth managers – or just about anyone associated with aging-related issues – give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

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