HECM reverse mortgages strategies for seniors

Posted9/17/2016 5:00 AM

Many senior homeowners are attracted to the idea of using a reverse mortgage to draw additional funds, but are so fearful of making a costly mistake involving their house, or being taken advantage of by loan providers, that they are immobilized and do nothing.

The three-step strategy described below is directed to them. It is risk-free because all three steps can be done without contacting a lender, using the HECM calculator on my website, which was recently redesigned for this purpose.


• Identify your financial needs that might be met by a HECM.

• Determine whether the amounts you can draw with a HECM, immediately or in the future, justify the decline in your home equity.

• Narrow the selection by comparing price quotes from different lenders, and different combinations of interest rate and origination fee.

If you take the three steps and decide a HECM is not for you, that is the end of it -- no loan providers will call. If you decide to proceed, you can contact a lender with the confidence that comes from knowing exactly what your options are, and which options you want.

In counseling seniors about HECM reverse mortgages, I have found they fall into five groups that have different financial needs. Each of these groups requires different information to make good decisions. This information includes financial projections of future HECM debt, unused credit lines, and other factors over periods that are relevant to each individual borrower.

Because none of the HECM calculators available on the internet provided this capacity, my colleagues and I decided to build it into ours. The different financial needs are as follows:

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• Draw the largest possible initial or future credit line, with or without a cash draw.

• Draw the maximum possible monthly payment for as long as you live in the house.

• Draw as much cash as possible, at closing or after 12 months.

• Draw a smaller monthly payment plus the largest possible credit line.

• Purchase a house with the smallest possible cash outlay.

I am going to illustrate Steps 2 and 3 for a 65-year old named Smith who has a house worth $400,000, who wants the largest possible credit line and is looking ahead 10 years. The credit lines calculated at Step 2 are based on prices posted on my website by the lender whose HECM generated the lowest debt after 10 years of any of the lenders who price HECMs on my site.

With this HECM, Smith could have obtained an initial credit line of $210,000, which if unused would grow to $330,000 in 10 years at current interest rates, and to $496,000 at the maximum rate on the HECM. The cost, measured by how much Smith would owe after 10 years in the absence of any draws, is $11,000 at current rates, $17,000 at the maximum rate.


Assuming that Smith considers this a good deal, he should proceed to Step 3 and see if there isn't another deal he prefers. One of the other lenders on my site offers a line that grows to $378,000 at current rates but the cost of $18,000 at current rates would also be greater. Whether this is a better deal only Smith can decide.

He can also solicit HECM price quotes from lenders who do not post prices on my site and enter them in my calculator, which will treat them in the same way as the prices that are already there. A tireless shopper with infinite time and patience could canvas the entire market with this tool.

Steps 2 and 3 For a Borrower Looking For the Largest Monthly Payment:

Jones is the same age as Smith and her property value is the same, but Jones wants to use her borrowing power to draw the largest possible monthly stipend starting immediately, and lasting as long as she lives in her house. This is called a "monthly tenure payment." Jones wants to measure the cost of a HECM over 15 years rather than 10.

On Sept. 3, the monthly payment on a HECM that would have resulted in the lowest debt after 15 years was $939. At current rates, she would owe $253,000. Assuming that Jones considers this a good deal, she should proceed to Step 3 and see if there isn't another deal that would be more advantageous. Among the possibilities is a tenure payment of $1,161 that would generate a debt of $364,000 over 15 years. It is for Jones to decide whether an additional $222 a month in payments was worth an additional $111,000 of future debt.

I am not covering the remaining three categories of financial need because I don't have the space, and because it would be heavily repetitious. The important points are, first, no matter what financial need category a senior falls into, a decision whether to take a HECM reverse mortgage should be data-based and include information about what is likely to happen in the future. Second, seniors who elect to go ahead with a HECM have options, and the more lenders from whom they obtain price quotes, the more options they have.

But again, to select wisely from among their options, borrowers need information about what is likely to happen in the future. To my knowledge, such information is available only on my HECM calculator.

• Contact Jack Guttentag via his website at mtgprofessor.com.

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