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HECM Reverse Mortgages: A Strategy For Seniors

September 11, 2016, Revised March 13, 2017

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 3-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 web site, which was recently redesigned for this purpose.

The Three-Step Strategy

Step 1:  Identify your financial needs that might be met by a HECM.

Step 2:  Determine whether the amounts you can draw with a HECM, immediately or in the future, justify the decline in your home equity.

Step3:  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.

Step 1: Identifying the HECM Draw That Meets Your Financial Needs

In counseling seniors about HECM reverse mortgages, I have found that they fall into 5 groups that have different financial objectives. 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.

Financial Needs HECM Draw That Meets Need
1. Need a reserve for contingencies, including the possibility of outliving your money by living too long Draw the largest possible initial or future credit line, with or without a cash draw.
2. Inadequate income, now and in the forseeable future Draw the largest possible monthly payment for as long as you live in the house.
3, Have an immediate need for cash for any purpose except buying a house. Draw as much cash as possible, at closing or after 12 month
4. Need a reserve for contingencies and more current income Draw a smaller monthly payment plus the largest possible credit line.
5. Purchase a house with the smallest possible cash outlay. Draw as much cash as possible, at closing.


Steps 2 and 3 For a Borrower Looking For the Largest Credit Line  

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 web site 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.

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 September 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 $1161 that would generate a debt of $364,000 over 15 years. It is for Jones to decide whether an additional $222 a month was worth an additional $111,000 of future debt.

Bottom Line

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. 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.

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