Beyond the benefits – reverse mortgages have risks

houseYou’ve seen the commercials promoting the benefits of the FHA reverse mortgage for seniors. If you’re 62 years of age or older and have equity in your home, it may seem attractive to get a mortgage that converts your home’s equity into cash and eliminates existing mortgage payments. However, the ads don’t tell you the entire story. In fact, the FHA reverse mortgage, also known as the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), is probably the most misunderstood mortgage program available today.


To educate borrowers of their obligations and how the program works, HUD requires reverse mortgage applicants to go through counseling. Nonetheless, many are still unsure about their responsibilities, as well as the impact on their spouses and how the loan is repaid. Additionally, the equity conversion to annuity payments along with repayment responsibilities has been highly criticized because of the effect on estates and surviving spouses.

On February 9th, the CFPB released highlights of collected complaints about reverse mortgages. Many of the complaints stemmed from misunderstanding the mortgage terms and issues with loan servicing. Many of the issues seem to describe confusion about borrower requirements and difficulty in loan repayment.

Current reverse mortgages ads can be very engaging about the benefits, to be sure. However, what the commercials don’t tell you is that you have some very specific obligations as part of the loan terms, and that you can be at risk of default if you fail to meet those obligations. Because of how the reverse mortgage is structured, you retain the responsibility to: pay property taxes and homeowners insurance, pay HOA and condo fees, and maintain the property. The financed home must also be your primary residence.

And of course, they don’t tell you about the “widow foreclosures” either. Widow foreclosures may be one of the least reported on issues facing seniors who have a reverse mortgage. Ken Stein, writing for HousingWire (Is HUD hiding embarrassing data on widow foreclosures?;, October 6, 2015), described the growing problem of surviving spouses who are at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure because they are not the reverse mortgage borrower. Mr. Stein described a FOIA battle between the California Reinvestment Coalition (with which Mr. Stein is affiliated) and HUD, about disclosing the number of current and impending widow foreclosures.

Joseph Otting, President and CEO of OneWest Bank, stated during a February 26th joint public meeting held by the Federal Reserve and Office of the Comptroller of Currency (about the proposed acquisition and merger of CIT Group and Onewest Bank) that the criticism of their reverse mortgage servicing practices are a “really the criticisms of the regulations” that they are required follow. And that they urge and support a moratorium on foreclosure of non-borrowing spouses of reverse mortgages (

As a result of the recent focus on widow foreclosures, HUD issued new guidelines in January and then again in June to assist non-borrowing surviving spouses who are at risk of losing their homes because of a reverse mortgage. Mr. Stein, in his HousingWire piece, concedes that the new guidelines have potential to help; however, he points out that the new guidelines are optional for lenders.

Additionally, the CFPB issued a Consumer Advisory on June 4th pointing out details about reverse mortgages that the ads omit. The CFPB ( and HUD ( websites provide detailed information and considerations about the FHA reverse mortgage.

Copyright © Dan Krell

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