Can a reverse mortgage create a financial safety net?

Laurie MacNaughton © 2018

Can a reverse mortgage create a financial safety net in retirement?

In a word, yes.

This morning I received a call from a wealth manager who led off by saying he wasn’t “that familiar with reverse mortgages.” He specifically wanted to know whether a reverse mortgage could offer retirement-aged clients a measure of security during market fluctuations.

Here was my answer: the most familiar “flavor” of reverse mortgage is the line of credit. It’s an equity line that is repaid when the last person on title permanently vacates the home. Once the home is no longer the primary residence, typically it is sold and the loan is repaid; the homeowner, heirs, or estate get the remaining equity. End of story. No mystery here, nothing “too good to be true.”

Many wealth managers routinely recommend traditional equity lines. However, with a traditional line of credit, once homeowners draw funds they then have a monthly mortgage payment due. Because the retirement years can be a time when access to liquidity is crucially important, a monthly mortgage payment can create an increasingly unstable financial environment.

A reverse mortgage line of credit does not have a monthly repayment obligation. This means that if homeowners need a cash infusion, they do not pick up a monthly mortgage payment. Furthermore, the unused portion of a reverse mortgage line of credit grows larger over time, making more funds available for future use.

As is the case with other homeownership, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and home repairs must be kept current, and if there are condo dues or a homeowner’s association, fees must be paid on time.

The FHA-insured reverse mortgage is not exotic, mysterious, nor even particularly complex. It can be, however, a helpful financial safety net when life becomes unpredictable.

For more information on reverse mortgage, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

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No crystal ball

Laurie MacNaughton © 2018

“My mother’s home was paid off, and at the time we thought a home equity line was going to be the best way for her to pay medical bills. But at this point the payment is crushing her – and she has new medical bills coming in. Looking back, what we really needed was a crystal ball.”

Truth is, a crystal ball would come in handy in much of life. It’s just that more is at stake when we’re dealing with our aging parents.

No honest lender is ever going to tell you a reverse mortgage is a universally good fit: there are older homeowners for whom the time has come to sell their home and transition into other housing. Some are better served by doing a traditional home equity line of credit (also called a “forward” line of credit). And there are those who benefit from drawing down monies under management.

But for homeowners who wish to stay at home and need to leave managed retirement accounts untouched as long as possible, or for those with Medicaid considerations, a reverse mortgage may be the perfect fit.

If you would like more information on how a reverse mortgage might help you or your loved one with retirement plans, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

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In defense of equity consumption

By Laurie MacNaughton [NMLS ID #506562], as first published in Reverse Review, Oct 2017 edition. Reprinted with permission.

To be honest, the seminar topic was probate. But the two opening questions took my thoughts far afield.

“How many here want to leave their kids an inheritance?” Nearly every hand went up.

“How many here are likely to have an inheritance to leave?” Not as many hands went up. In fact, not many hands went up, period.

I sat through the Circuit Court judge’s talk scribbling down my churning thoughts, the foremost of which was this: not leaving kids an inheritance is one thing; having your kids bankroll you as you age is another thing altogether. If you’re the adult child of aging parents, zero inheritance can look great vis-à-vis the potential alternatives.

According to a Pew Research study, more than forty percent of adult children with a parent aged 65 or older helped that parent financially within the past year. If percentages remain constant, the number of adult children bankrolling parents is likely to get worse, a lot worse, because in little more than a decade one in five Americans will be 65 or older.

For many people, the go-to objection to a reverse mortgage is that the homeowner might not have equity left to leave the kids. But this is flawed reasoning.

If a homeowner with a reverse mortgage used all available funds, it is likely there were not other assets to draw from. This means each tax-free dollar the parent used did not come out of the kids’ post-tax income.

An alternate scenario is that the parent did indeed have other assets but did not want to consume those assets, which presumably will go to the kids. Under either scenario the kids are the big beneficiaries – every dollar of her own money Mom used was a dollar either the kids or the taxpayer did not pay out.

Of course, little or no remaining equity is by no means a foregone conclusion, particularly in light of FHA’s most recent changes to the product. But is it true there might not be equity left for the kids? Absolutely. The pertinent issue here is that the parent relieved the adult children from draining their own financial reserves – or at very least, delayed the time when the kids had to step in to help financially. And as boomers’ kids eventually edge toward their own retirement and the reduction in Social Security benefits impacts Millennials’ long-term financial plans, parents’ decisions are bound to become ever more conspicuous.

On a related note, for years I’ve thought it frankly odd how slow some financial professionals have been to amend their mindset about tapping into home equity, even as evidence mounts that homeowners with reverse mortgages tend to enjoy greater odds of financial survivability in retirement. If the popular press is to be believed, the needle does seem to be edging in the right direction, however.

Case in point: recently I met with a wealth manager who said to me, “Our holistic retirement planning includes reverse mortgages.” Moments later he went on to say, “Most of our clients want to leave their investments for their kids.”

Bingo. He has seen how a reverse mortgage can fit into the goal of leaving something for the kids.

This growing awareness is heartening news all around: as aging homeowners get more informed input on reverse mortgages, their adult children, the taxpayer, and the homeowner all stand to remain financially healthier in retirement.

Good news couldn’t come at a better time.

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How is a Reverse Mortgage different from an Equity Line of Credit?

Laurie MacNaughton 2017

Answer? In several important ways…

Silver Divorce – How Reverse Mortgage Can Make a Way Forward

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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What to do about Mom?

Laurie Denker MacNaughton [506562]

The respirator’s soft “chhhh…pffff” sounded in the background as Susan and I sat at the kitchen table. “Years ago,” Susan told me, “I promised Mom, come hell or high-water, I would let her die at home – and I plan to do whatever it takes to keep my promise.”

It’s one thing to say that. But what do you do when you’re overseeing care and medical needs outpace your ability to foot the bill?

Susan’s parents had not gone into retirement financially unprepared: they retired with federal pensions, Social Security and Medicare, substantial savings, little debt and no mortgage. But four years back, on Thanksgiving, Susan’s mother had a massive hemorrhagic stroke. She spent 3 weeks in the hospital, and another 30 days in rehab. But when she failed to progress in her recovery, she was discharged – and Susan, true to her word, brought her mother home.

First they utilized their long-term care benefits until the benefits ran out. Then they used their savings. When those were gone, Susan began tapping her own retirement savings to help cover her mother’s in-home medical care. This was clearly unsustainable, so Susan made an appointment with an elder law attorney, who suggested she look into a reverse mortgage for her mother.

In this case, due to the value of the home and the homeowners’ ages, the reverse mortgage will provide funds enough to cover another 4½ years of care, and the attorney is working to put in place additional benefits that will further stretch the reverse mortgage funds.

Increasingly, boomers face this same challenge: helping mom and dad finance care, even as they themselves labor to save for retirement. Reverse mortgage can play a significant role in helping balance this equation.

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

But as we Americans age, nearly all of us will need every financial tool available, either as we fund our own retirement, or help mom and dad fund theirs.

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

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