When Ill-Conceived Rules Go Bad

Laurie MacNaughton ©2016

For nearly thirty years FHA’s reverse mortgage program has enjoyed tremendous success in making a way forward for aging homeowners to remain in their own homes. But just like any other loan program, over time guidelines needed to change to reflect evolving realties. In the case of reverse mortgages this included cutting back on available funds to accommodate ever-lengthening life expectancies.

After the housing crisis additional major changes were made to the program, including requiring that every reverse mortgage applicant pass a federal “financial assessment.” This was done to protect the FHA mortgage insurance fund, and to ensure the program’s long-term viability.

Nationally, numbers reflect the fact that some borrowers have indeed failed to qualify under the assessment guidelines – and that may have been necessary.

But now another round of changes is being considered. In addition to raising the bar yet higher, the proposed rules appear plain ill-conceived.

The most problematic of the proposed new rules may be including utilities in the financial assessment, “if failure to pay…utilities would result in a lien on the property.”

A couple things here.

First, what unpaid bill doesn’t run the risk of becoming a lien? I have seen hospital liens. I have seen homeowner association liens. I have seen eye-doctor liens. Why doesn’t FHA just say, “If you’re an aging homeowner and could potentially fall behind on future bills, start packing now”?

Second, there are many, many housing-assistance programs. A quick Google search returns references to hundreds of programs, some federal, some state-run, some private, and many which combine several funding sources.

But most of them have maximum income restrictions, and many, including some of HUD’s own affordable housing programs, don’t kick in until income is 60% below the regional average.

By contrast, as guidelines currently stand, to qualify for a reverse mortgage that enables homeowners to remain in their own home, combined homeowner’s insurance and property taxes are not supposed to exceed 10% of the homeowners’ income (HECM Financial Assessment and Property Charge Guide, §3.98).

So what happens if utilities are now included in that 10%?

Here’s what could happen: fewer homeowners could qualify. And here’s the thing: there is a really big gap between 10% of one’s income going to property taxes and insurance, and financially being in the bottom 30% of one’s region. So where are our aging who fall into the donut hole supposed to go?

I honestly don’t think HUD is trying to turn homeownership into a perk available just to the “welderly,” the wealthiest of our aging homeowners.

But advertently or inadvertently, that certainly looks like what they’re proposing.

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The Breathtaking Irony

Laurie MacNaughton ©2016

It wasn’t yet noon, but already I had had the same conversation with two separate homeowners:

“It’s not that you have insufficient income; it’s that the first fruits of your income are going right back out the door to pay your home mortgage.”

“It’s like you know me,” the caller said.

Know you? No.

Intimately know your situation? Absolutely. I see it every day.

It boils down to this: retirement + mortgage payment = not a good combo for many older homeowners.

Nationally, most homeowners of retirement age owe nothing on their home by the time they retire. In the greater Washington, D.C. area, however, that is less likely to be true because many homeowners moved to the area as consultants after spending much of their successful career elsewhere. This means many homeowners go into retirement with years yet to go on their mortgage. An alternative – but common – scenario is that homeowners paid cash for their home, and now have much of their net worth tied up in a pricy, illiquid asset.

And the breathtaking irony is this: the same gifts and skill packages that enable homeowners to work into later life can also set them up to falter financially if health fails abruptly and catastrophically, or if any one of life’s many other vagaries ensue.

Back to this morning’s conversation: this homeowner, indeed a consultant, has a home conservatively valued at $1,000,000. He and his wife are in their mid-70’s, but still have 15 years to go on their mortgage. His health is still robust, but his wife was recently diagnosed with cancer. Their fear is they will encounter uncovered medical costs that will consume their investments. It was their financial advisor who suggested they look into a reverse mortgage in order to free themselves of their monthly mortgage payment.

Is a reverse mortgage a fit for everyone? Of course not. No financial product is.

Is a reverse mortgage going to play a part in the long-term financial wellbeing of many retiring – or retired – homeowners? Absolutely.

If you have a family member, client, or colleague who would benefit from knowing more about an FHA-insured reverse mortgage, give me a call.

I always love hearing from you.


Check out my various YouTube videos. Just click the link, or google Laurie MacNaughton YouTube.

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Yes, you CAN buy a home with a Reverse Mortgage

Laurie MacNaughton © 2019

I got a call from a darling client who, a number of months back, purchased a home using a Reverse for Purchase mortgage.

I’ll call my client Marie  – and I need to mention she long ago immigrated to the U.S. and speaks in lightly accented English.

Here’s what Marie told me: When she tells people she bought her home using a Reverse for Purchase mortgage and that she’ll never have a monthly mortgage payment, they tell her she didn’t really understand the transaction. Never mind that Marie’s adult daughter, American born and raised – and a highly successful realtor in Northern Virginia – walked through every step of the transaction with Marie. Never mind that Marie has a PhD in applied physics. Because Marie’s friends don’t know about Reverse for Purchase, Marie must be wrong.

Well, Marie isn’t wrong. But it is true that many people don’t know Reverse for Purchase even exists.

If you are 62 or older and have questions on how Reverse for Purchase may help with your home purchase needs, give me a call. I always love hearing from you!



Laurie MacNaughton [506562] is a freelance writer and a Reverse Mortgage Consultant at Atlantic Coast Mortgage. She can be reached at: 703-477-1183 Direct, or Laurie@MiddleburgReverse.com

Sasquatch, Martians, and…”The Bank Gets the House”

The law office fills the building’s entire top floor, and lining the reception room walls are newspaper and magazine articles enumerating the firm’s many accomplishments. I knew going into the meeting the attorney was movie-star handsome – I had seen his social media page.

What I didn’t know was his sentiment toward reverse mortgages.

After a brief introduction he got right to the point: “I think I should let you know I don’t like reverse mortgages. I think they’re obscenely expensive, I don’t like the fact the bank gets the house, and I don’t like the fact my client can’t move from the property if she needs managed care later in life.”

Wowzers. This was like a scripted encounter: if he had tried, the attorney couldn’t have come up with three more classic misconceptions about reverse mortgages.

But rather than jumping into an apologetic, I asked the attorney why he thought reverse mortgages were “obscenely” expensive, why he thought the bank got the house, and why he thought his client couldn’t move. He sat silent for fully 20 seconds, and then said, “Are you implying this isn’t true?”

Yup – pretty much.

So for the record, here are some facts about reverse mortgage:

  1. The home still belongs to the homeowner. Title doesn’t change, and ownership doesn’t change.
  2. A new FHA fee structure means homeowners with a small existing mortgage will see much lower fees than they would have just a couple years ago.
  3. The homeowner can move whenever he or she wants. There is no early termination fee, and there are no restrictions placed on how long one must live in the home after doing a reverse mortgage. However, the home must be the primary residence of at least one title holder. If homeowners are absent from the home for more than one full year, for the purposes of the reverse mortgage the home is no longer a primary residence and the loan becomes due.

But back to the attorney: despite initially being an outspoken critic, he was far from being either closed-minded or unteachable, and after we reviewed his client’s numbers he did indeed counsel her to proceed with a reverse mortgage.

But I was left with this thought: I cannot think of any other federally-insured loan that has swirling around it persistent misconceptions. You don’t hear weird things about VA loans or USDA loans. But here’s a loan that literally can change long-term financial survivability in retirement, and some still view it as suspect.

And that’s too bad, because a reverse mortgage can be a financial lifesaver.

So if you have doubts, fears, or just plain-old questions about reverse mortgage, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.


Laurie MacNaughton [NMLS# 506562] is a freelance writer and a Reverse Mortgage Consultant at Southern Trust Mortgage. She can be reached at: 703-477-1183, or Laurie@MiddleburgReverse.com

Southern Trust Mortgage, LLC is proud to be an equal housing lender [NMLS 2921]

By A Country Mile

I spoke with two homeowners yesterday, and both had the same question.

This made me realize it’s not even close: by a country mile the most common question I’m asked regarding Reverse Mortgage is, “When the homeowner dies, how does the Reverse Mortgage get repaid?”

How does any loan get repaid?

For the moment, let’s forget we’re talking about a Reverse Mortgage. How does any home loan get repaid when the last person on title dies?

Let’s make up a bank – we’ll call it First Community Bank – and let’s say it holds the mortgage. When the executor sells the home, First Community Bank gets repaid and the family or heirs get the rest. This is a concept we all grew up with. If we put it into an equation, it would be:

Sales price of the home – Amount due on the mortgage = What you pocket

If the family wants to keep the home, they would either pay off First Community Bank, or refinance the home by getting a new loan.

Same thing with Reverse Mortgage

The same holds true with a Reverse Mortgage: when the last homeowner permanently leaves the home, the family can sell the home. The lender gets repaid at closing, and the family gets the rest. The same equation holds, namely:

Sales price of the home – Amount due on the mortgage = What you pocket

If the family wants to keep the home, they repay what’s due on the loan and keep the house, or they refinance the home by getting a new loan.

Rocket Science

My dad was a rocket scientist – literally. He worked on some of the Cold War era’s biggest defense projects, and I grew up in a home where pocket protectors and slide rules, mechanical pencils and graph paper were part of the landscape.

Reverse Mortgages are not rocket science. They are a home equity loan for the years when having a monthly mortgage payment can be a back-breaker. They can be a miracle for adult children struggling to bankroll their parents’ longevity. They can 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.

If you would like to explore how an FHA-insured Reverse Mortgage might help during retirement, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.


Laurie MacNaughton [NMLS# 506562] is a freelance writer and a Reverse Mortgage Consultant at Southern Trust Mortgage. She can be reached at: 703-477-1183, or Laurie@MiddleburgReverse.com

Don’t panic – but be prepared: changes a’comin’

Don’t panic – but do be prepared.

Changes, the biggest in its history, are just around the corner for FHA’s reverse mortgage program.

Starting April 27 all homeowners applying for an FHA reverse mortgage should anticipate providing more documentation than has been required previously.

FHA’s new Financial Assessment mandate requires lenders to analyze homeowners’ financial resources and credit history. Under the new rules, homeowners must meet a certain “residual income” level. This means homeowners must have a certain monthly dollar amount left over after typical living expenses have been paid.

If the residual income level is met, no further documentation is required. However, if the residual income level falls short, more information will be necessary. All income sources can be counted, including Social Security, IRAs, pensions, 401-Ks, bank accounts, spousal support, and others.

Though many older homeowners are still expected to qualify, those with blemished credit histories or very low income and asset levels may not.

A second big program change is in the form of tax and insurance set-asides. If the lender determines paying property taxes and homeowners insurance may prove a challenge for the homeowner in the future, there will be a mandatory set-aside for this purpose. The amount set aside will come out of the available line-of-credit funds. This will result in a smaller available line of credit for those who meet the mandatory set-aside requirement.

Some homeowners may actually opt to set aside tax and insurance funds. This is perfectly acceptable, though one cannot later opt out – if you start off with a set aside, it’s a permanent feature of your loan.

The intent of the changes is to identify those homeowners who may fall into tax or insurance default down the road.

Time will tell if the new guidelines are too stringent. However, one thing is certain: if you have, or someone you know has, been thinking about a reverse mortgage, now may be the time you want to move forward.

If you have questions, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.


Laurie MacNaughton [506562] is a freelance writer and Reverse Mortgage Consultant with Southern Trust Mortgage.

She can be reached at 703-477-1183 Direct or LMacNaughton@SouthernTrust.com

The Twelve-Month Rule

He’s not young. He’s not well. He needs a financial buffer. But for another six months he cannot move forward with a reverse mortgage.

And why not?

Because in a move that hit everyone by surprise, in December FHA enacted guidelines stating homeowners must now wait a full calendar year from the date of their most recent property lien before doing a reverse mortgage, if more than $500 was received from the transaction. This waiting period is called “seasoning.”

What does this mean?

In many cases it means that if homeowners have refinanced, or have established a home equity line of credit, they must wait a full 12 months before applying for a HECM.

The gentleman mentioned above is a perfect example of why it’s enormously important to know this. Six months ago, as his wife lay dying of Alzheimer’s, he refinanced his home in order to lower his interest rate and to reduce his monthly payment. In the process he took out $2,700 to pay down medical debt.

But here’s the thing: he doesn’t need a lower monthly payment. He needs NO monthly payment – and access to liquidity to cover unexpected expenses. A reverse mortgage is the only mainstream financial product available that accomplishes both. And now he’s in the unfortunate position of having to tread water until he can qualify.

Nearly every one of us is working to help family, friends, neighbors, or clients age with independence and dignity. And a reverse mortgage is going to play an important financial role for many.

Some new guidelines have already kicked in. More are on the way. And some changes, like the twelve-month Seasoning rule, are big.

Give me a call and let’s get caught up – I always love hearing from you.


Laurie MacNaughton [506562] is a freelance writer and Reverse Mortgage Consultant with Southern Trust Mortgage.

She can be reached at 703-477-1183 Direct or LMacNaughton@SouthernTrust.com