5 Reasons to Avoid a Reverse Mortgage

Watch out for these drawbacks of using a reverse mortgage to fund retirement.

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One of the retirement planning resources that has gained interest in recent years is the reverse mortgage. For many retirees, it seems like a solid idea. You get access to the equity in your home, and the bank makes a mortgage payment to you. It turns your home into a source of income.

It’s a nice thought, but the truth about reverse mortgages is far from ideal. In fact, there are a few reasons to avoid getting a reverse mortgage as part of your retirement plan. Most of these reasons revolve around the fact that this type of income stream is actually a loan against your home’s equity that has to be paid back.

Here are five reasons to think twice about getting a reverse mortgage:

1. The fees are often high. Since a reverse mortgage is a loan, you are going to have loan-related fees. Origination fees and other fees on a reverse mortgage are typically rather high. A reverse mortgage is a home equity loan that isn’t decided based on your income or your credit score. As a result, there are unique risks to the lender, and some of those risks are offset by charging higher fees at the outset.

2. High interest rate. The interest rate on a reverse mortgage is often higher than the rate for a more traditional home equity loan. Between the up-front fees on the reverse mortgage and the high interest charges, you might be surprised at how little money you actually end up getting. It’s your equity, but the bank gets an awful lot of it.

3. Your heirs might not get the house. When you get a reverse mortgage, you aren’t expected to make payments on the loan. Instead, the loan is paid off when you sell your home. So, if you die, the home is supposed to be sold so that it can cover the loan amount. This means your heirs can’t have the house. It is possible for your heirs to keep the house if they pay off the reverse mortgage after you die. However, this usually means that the money has to come out of the estate, reducing the total that your children and grandchildren end up with. For someone hoping to leave a legacy, this can be a real drawback.

4. You have to repay the loan when you move out. Dying isn’t the only way that repayment on a reverse mortgage is triggered. In order to avoid making payments on the loan, you have to be living most of the time in your primary residence. You are considered “moved out” if you haven’t lived in the home for a year. This includes if you enter a long-term care facility. So, if you are no longer able to stay in your home, but you haven’t died, you have to start repaying your reverse mortgage—at a time when money is likely already tight. This can put a real strain on your budget.

5. You’re still responsible for home costs. Throughout all of this, you are still responsible for your home costs. You have to pay property taxes, keep up with the homeowners insurance, and pay for regular maintenance on the home. If you have enough equity, you can get a reverse mortgage big enough to cover all these expenses, but it can be a difficult situation nonetheless.

Before deciding to get a reverse mortgage, carefully think through the situation. The high costs, combined with the difficulties that can arise if you want to move out of the house or leave property to your heirs, can make a reverse mortgage more trouble than it’s worth. A better solution if you’re strapped for funds is to set your retirement number and then look for creative solutions to help you retire without the negative baggage of a reverse mortgage.

FMF writes at Free Money Finance, a personal finance site that helps readers grow their net worths. He shares practical tips that have helped him accumulate a significant net worth and can do the same for others, including making extra income using the best cash back credit cards and investing wisely in index funds.