By Mary Beth Franklin
Reverse mortgages allow homeowners aged 62 or older who own their home outright or who have a small mortgage balance to convert the equity in their primary residence into a liquid, tax-free asset. Borrowers can take their money in a lump sum or as a monthly payment or set up a line of credit. Interest accrues on borrowed funds. Unused lines of credit continue to grow at the same compounded interest rate as the cost of money.
Financial advisers who dismissed reverse mortgages in the past may want to take a second look. Consumer protections have increased, and set-up fees have been dramatically reduced. Leading researchers believe reverse mortgages could solve some of the income challenges of retirees who saved too little to finance a retirement that could last decades.
1. Pay off an existing mortgage
Using a lump sum from a reverse mortgage to pay off a traditional mortgage balance instantly increases a retiree’s monthly cash flow and reduces portfolio withdrawal needs. “It really improves the odds for retirement success to not carry a mortgage into retirement,” said Wade Pfau, professor of retirement income at The American College of Financial Services.
2. Replace a home equity line of credit
Unlike a HELOC, a reverse mortgage can never be reduced, frozen or cancelled, and there are no monthly loan repayment requirements. A reverse mortgage is not due until the borrowers sell the home, move out permanently or die. The estate or heirs can never owe more than the house is worth, even if it is less than the amount borrowed.
3. Protect your portfolio
“Should your portfolio decline significantly in value, borrow from the line of credit for your needs, then repay the loan when your portfolio recovers,” said John Salter, associate professor of personal financial planning at Texas Tech University. Interest payments are tax-deductible if retirees itemize their deductions on their income tax returns.
4. Fund future long-term care or income needs
A 62-year-old couple with no long-term-care insurance may want to set up a reverse mortgage line of credit. With a home worth $625,000, their initial line of credit at current interest rates would be worth $327,375, according to Tom Dickson, founder of the Financial Experts Network. Left untouched, the equity line would be worth $613,365 in 10 years and $1,149,143 in 20 years, said Mr. Dickson, a co-designer of the reverse mortgage modeling now part of Money Guide Pro. The couple could tap the loan for future long-term care costs, if they remained in their home, or to serve as a deferred annuity if they needed additional income in the future.
5. Create a Social Security bridge
Supplement income with monthly payments from a reverse mortgage either for a set number of years (term) or for as long as you live in your home (tenure). Term payments can provide an income bridge to allow a retiree to delay claiming Social Security until benefits are worth the maximum amount at age 70, said Shelley Giordano, author of “What’s the Deal with Reserve Mortgages?” (People Tested Media, 2015)
6. Manage taxes
Proceeds from a reverse mortgage are tax-free. Tapping a reverse mortgage can decrease withdrawals from taxable retirement accounts, reducing income taxes and the amount of Social Security benefits subject to income taxes. For higher-income retirees, tax-free reverse mortgage payments can reduce their modified adjusted gross income that can trigger higher monthly Medicare premiums.
7. Pay Roth conversion taxes
Sometimes the only thing preventing a retiree from converting a traditional retirement account to a Roth IRA is the amount of income taxes owed on the converted amount. Tax-free proceeds from a reverse mortgage can pay Roth conversion taxes all at once or over several years, reducing future income taxes and possibly reducing future Medicare premiums.
8. Buy a new home
A reverse mortgage can be used to purchase a new home. Rather than using all the proceeds from a home sale, downsizers can use some of the sale profits and take out a reverse mortgage to make up the balance, resulting in a new home without monthly payments and additional cash to add to savings for future needs or to supplement current income.
9. Gray divorce strategy
Older couples can use a reverse mortgage to divide a marital housing asset in a divorce. In one scenario, the spouse remaining in the home can take a lump sum distribution from a reverse mortgage to buy out the other spouse. In a second scenario, the marital home can be sold, and each ex-spouse can use some of the proceeds from the home sale and each of them can get a reverse mortgage to buy their respective new homes, according to Shelley Giordano, chair of the reverse mortgage industry’s Funding Longevity Task Force.