The long journey: from end-of-the-line to mainline

Laurie MacNaughton [506562] ©2016

What a change a few years make. In this week’s FinancialPlanning online magazine, a publication for financial professionals, author Dave Lindorff writes in a piece entitled “Reversal of fortune: Home equity makes a comeback for retirees”:

…[A]dvisers…are starting to view reverse mortgages as an important part of the retirement planning process, particularly since a set of reforms were imposed by the Federal Housing Administration and the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2013.

The reforms he refers to are a tightening of guidelines surrounding qualifying for a reverse mortgage. Though many homeowners aged 62 or better still qualify, those with severe property tax default issues may have a harder time – or, in certain circumstances, may not qualify at all.

Lindorff goes on to cite FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, as an example of the financial planning industry’s change of heart toward reverse mortgages:

In the past, [FINRA] warned that reverse mortgages should only be recommended as a “last resort” for clients with no other sources of support besides the equity in their homes.

This past year, though…FINRA changed its recommendation.

The regulator now says only that reverse mortgages should be “used prudently.”

Not to pick on FINRA, but that is a little like saying, “Water can be beneficial to life, but only when used prudently.” I’m pretty sure any bona fide financial planner gets the fact that any financial tool should be used prudently.

Financial planners routinely recommend that their clients establish a line of credit to hedge against life’s unexpected events. But here’s the thing: the later in retirement an unexpected event occurs, the less able most people are to meet the month’s end payment that greets them once they’ve drawn on their line.

A reverse mortgage line of credit is not repaid on a monthly basis. Rather, the amount borrowed is repaid once the last person on title permanently leaves the home. The remaining equity goes to the homeowner or the heirs. And the difference between having a monthly payment and not having a monthly payment? It can mean the difference between staying in the home and having to leave the home.

Few government-insured financial products have ever been subjected to a beating like the FHA-insured reverse mortgage program has been over the 30 years since its creation. Nearly pronounced dead in 2012 when the last mega-bank stopped offering reverse mortgages, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker said to then-HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, “I do not understand why you do not shut the program down.”

And why did HUD not shut down the reverse mortgage program?

Because HUD saw what those us of who don’t share Senator Corker’s $89.7 million in net worth saw: mainstream Americans whose savings simply were not sufficient to meet their financial needs in an ever-lengthening retirement.

Lindorff concludes his piece by quoting Steven Sass, program director at the Boston College Center for Retirement Research:

Reverse mortgages make sense not just for low-income people who want to stay in their homes but also for wealthier retirees who have considerable equity but want to goose their income streams.

You can say reverse mortgages need to be part of the retirement plan discussion.

Indeed. As we Americans age, nearly all of us will need every financial tool available to get through retirement with as much independence and dignity as possible.

Give me a call and let’s talk. I always love hearing from you.

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