What Is a Reverse Mortgage?


A reverse mortgage is a loan for senior homeowners that uses a portion of the home’s equity as collateral.  The loan generally does not have to be repaid until the last surviving homeowner permanently moves out of the property or passes away. At that time, the estate has approximately 6 months to repay the balance of the reverse mortgage or sell the home to pay off the balance.

All remaining equity is inherited by the estate. The estate is not personally liable if the home sells for less than the balance of the reverse mortgage. When you ask the question,  what is a reverse mortgage, the following is the type of answer you should expect.

Calculate Your Eligibility

Eligibility For a Reverse Mortgage

To be eligible for a HECM reverse mortgage, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) requires that all homeowners be at least age 62.  If the home is not owned free and clear, then any existing mortgage must be paid off using the proceeds from the reverse mortgage loan at the closing. In addition, you must meet financial eligibility criteria as established by HUD.

When Does a Reverse Mortgage Come Due

A reverse mortgage typically does not become due as long as you meet the loan obligations.  For example, you must live in the home as your primary residence, continue to pay required property taxes, homeowners insurance and maintain the home according to Federal Housing Administration requirements.

Estate Inheritance

In the event of death or in the event that the home ceases to be the primary residence for more than 12 months, the homeowner’s estate can choose to repay the reverse mortgage or put the home up for sale.

If the equity in the home is higher than the balance of the loan, the remaining equity belongs to the estate.

If the sale of the home is not enough to pay off the reverse mortgage, the lender must take a loss and request reimbursement from the FHA. No other assets are affected by a reverse mortgage. For example, investments, second homes, cars, and other valuable possessions cannot be taken from the estate to pay off the reverse mortgage.

Loan Limits

The amount that is available generally depends on four factors: age, current interest rate, appraised value of the home and government imposed lending limits. Use the calculator to estimate how much you could receive. Please note that you may need to set aside additional funds from loan proceeds to pay for taxes and insurance.

Distribution of Money From a Reverse Mortgage

There are several ways to receive the proceeds from a reverse mortgage:

  • Lump sum – a lump sum of cash at closing.
  • Tenure – equal monthly payments as long as the homeowner lives in the home.
  • Term – equal monthly payments for a fixed period of time.
  • Line of Credit – draw any amount at any time until the line of credit is exhausted.
  • Any combination of those listed above

Difference Between a Reverse Mortgage and a Home Equity Loan

Unlike a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC), the HECM does not require the borrower to make monthly mortgage payments and any existing mortgage or mandatory obligations must be paid off using the proceeds from the reverse mortgage loan.  Many seniors use the remaining proceeds to fund medical expenses, make home repairs or just keep the extra cash in case of an emergency.  In addition, a HECM reverse mortgage line of credit cannot be reduced by the lender.

With a reverse mortgage the amount that can be borrowed is determined by an FHA formula that considers age, the current interest rate, and the appraised value of the home.

As stated previously, with traditional loans the homeowner is still required to make monthly payments, but with a reverse mortgage the loan is typically not due as long as the homeowner lives in the home as their primary residence, continues to pay required property taxes, homeowners insurance and maintains the home according to FHA requirements.

Next Step: Take 3 minutes now to calculate your eligibility for a reverse mortgage loan, click here to begin.