Over the past several years, several television commercials with spokespeople have pitched reverse mortgages. However, it is still not a term that most people understand for an excellent reason.

Mortgages come from lenders and are what people use to purchase homes, not earn money. However, the reverse mortgage is a unique arrangement that allows people who own their homes to acquire money while using their property as collateral.

In a simple explanation, a reverse mortgage is a loan that is secured by your property and designed to defer the mortgage interest. Reverse mortgages are not free money from the government, trading your home ownership for cash, or just for those desperate for money.

Reverse mortgages can be a simple, practical way to get more money for your needs.

How reverse mortgages work

History of reverse mortgages

There are different types of reverse mortgages, but the most common is the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HCEM). Created in 1989 by the Federal Housing Administration, the HCEM takes a traditional mortgage and flips it on its head.

For example, a traditional mortgage requires the owner to pay monthly payments over a pre-specified period, such as 15 to 30 years. However, the interest is not due with the reverse mortgage until the loan reaches its full maturity.

All that is required is for the homeowner to reside on the property and pay the property taxes and the insurance. By complying with the rules, they can take advantage of not having to make regular payments on the borrowed money.

This means your life does not change because you still own your home and pay the property taxes and insurance. As with any mortgage, you will receive a proper monthly statement that details all the interest changes and the information on your balance. The only difference is that there is no coupon or notice for sending a monthly payment since it is unnecessary.

Who qualifies for a reverse mortgage?

If you are a US citizen and permanent resident, you qualify for a reverse mortgage if you are 62 or older and have built up substantial equity in your home. The overall loan amount you can qualify for depends on a few factors.

  • Your Age
  • Home Value
  • Current Rates

Example Calculation:

For example, using our free calculator, a homeowner aged 76 with a lending limit of $1,149,825 could receive up to 51.5% of their home value in a line of credit or lump sum payout.

Since the reverse mortgage is based on your home, there are no requirements regarding your income or credit score. All that is required is that your home is considered a primary residence, and you continue to pay the property taxes and home insurance.

Why choose a reverse mortgage?

You should choose a reverse mortgage for several reasons if you need additional money to pay bills, purchase new things, or have a more excellent supply of cash to rely upon for the unexpected.

Repayment of Loan: You can repay the loan voluntarily. However, the balance is not due until the last borrower passes away or makes another home their primary residence.

Your heirs will be given up to a full year to sell or repay the loan. If either event does not occur, the lender will foreclose on the home. However, if you should sell the home for less than what was borrowed, the government mortgage insurance that is part of the reverse mortgage will make up the difference.

No Penalty for Payment: One of the niftiest advantages is that you can make voluntary payments on the mortgage interest, in part or whole, without penalty. In addition, you can also deduct the mortgage interest just as you would with a traditional home loan or even pay off the entire loan at any time.

Avoid Potential Debt for Heirs: Some believe that a reverse mortgage will allow the bank to swallow up all the home’s equity and leave your heirs with a mountain of debt. That is not the case. While no one can predict the rate that your home will appreciate, your heir will still have options even with the reverse mortgage.

Tax Paid: Because the money that is received from a reverse mortgage is not considered income, it will not be taxed like income.

This is because you are borrowing against the money you have already put into the home, which would be double taxation.

Downsides of a reverse mortgage

One potential downside is that while reverse mortgages do not affect your ability to obtain public benefits such as Social Security or Medicare, having excess funds to your income may change your qualifications with needs-based programs such as SSI and Medicaid.

So, be sure you fully understand the ramifications of what a reverse mortgage can do before taking one out.

Who reverse mortgages work for the best

A reverse mortgage is really for anyone who owns a home with substantial equity and needs money to meet their current needs. A reverse mortgage is a better option than traditional borrowing because you will never be in danger of losing your home if it is your primary residence.

A reverse mortgage may be suitable if you need the money for a particular event, such as medical expenses, or want more cash.

However, a reverse mortgage is not recommended for those who plan on moving soon or in the foreseeable future, as that will break the contract, and the money borrowed must be paid back.

Before taking one out for you and your family, you must fully understand all the ramifications of a reverse mortgage. If you are not planning on moving anytime soon, this is an excellent way to get extra money with far fewer downsides than traditional borrowing.

However, you must have the reverse mortgage reviewed by a trusted third party to get what you expect. In addition, you will want to look at the HECM reverse mortgage, as that is the one with federal safeguards for your protection.


When researching a reverse mortgage, it’s important to speak to your family and trusted financial advisor to weigh the pros and cons.

Learn more about how a HECM loan might be right for you by contacting one of our top reverse mortgage lenders or checking your eligibility with our free reverse mortgage calculator.