Reverse Mortgage Drawbacks

photo by www.aag.com

US News and World Report quoted me in 6 Drawbacks of Reverse Mortgages. It opens,

For some seniors, reverse mortgages represent a financial lifeline. They are a way to tap into home equity and pay the bills when meager savings won’t do the job. Others view this financial product with suspicion and point to stories of seniors losing their homes because of the fine print in the paperwork.

Amy Ford, senior director of home equity initiatives and social accountability for the National Council on Aging, says regulatory changes were made in recent years to eliminate many of the horror stories associated with reverse mortgages gone wrong. Home equity conversion mortgages – as reverse mortgages through the Federal Housing Administration are known – now incorporate many consumer protections. These help seniors ensure they can afford the loan and are aware of its potential consequences.

“It’s a magic credit line,” says Jane Bryant Quinn, AARP Bulletin personal finance expert, when asked why people would want a reverse mortgage. “It increases every year at the same rate as the interest you pay.” She recommends that seniors consider taking out a HECM line of credit and then borrowing against it sparingly. That way, retirees have protection against inflation and a source of income in the event of a down market.

Despite their appealing benefits, some financial experts urge caution. “I wouldn’t say there is no place for reverse mortgages,” says Ian Atkins, financial analyst for Fit Small Business. “But that doesn’t make a reverse mortgage a good option for everyone.”

Here are six drawbacks to reverse mortgage products.

1. Not every reverse mortgage has the protections of a HECM. While HECMs are the dominant player in the reverfederally insured

consumer proptection

se mortgage market, seniors could end up with a different product. Atkins says single purpose reverse mortgages are backed by a state or non-profit to allow seniors to tap home equity for a specific purpose, such as making home repairs or paying taxes. There are also proprietary reverse mortgages, sometimes called jumbo reverse mortgages, available to those who want a loan that exceeds the HECM limits.

These proprietary reverse mortgages make up a small portion of the market, but come with the most risk. They aren’t federally insured and don’t have the same consumer protections as a HECM.

A reverse mortgage can be a lifesaver for people with lots of home equity, but not much else.

“Another common issue with [proprietary] reverse mortgages is cross-selling,” Atkins says. “Even though it may not be legal, some companies will want to push investments, annuities, life insurance, home improvements and any other number of products on their borrowers.”

2. Other people in the house may lose their home if you move. HECMs are structured in such a way that once a borrower passes away or moves out, the balance on the loan becomes due. In the past, some reverse mortgages were taken out in one person’s name and the non-borrowing spouse’s name was removed from the title. When the borrowing spouse died or moved to a nursing home, the remaining husband or wife often needed to sell the house to pay off the loan.

“There are now some protections for those who were removed from titles,” Ford says. However, the protections extended to non-borrowing spouses do not apply to others who may be living in the house.

A disabled child, roommate or other relative could wind up without a place to live if you take out a reverse mortgage, can no longer remain in the home and don’t have cash to pay off the balance. “If it’s a tenant, you might not care,” says David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School and author at REFinBlog.com. “But if it’s your nephew, you may care.”

3. Your kids might be forced to sell the family home. If you’re hoping to pass your home on to your children, a reverse mortgage can make that difficult. Unless they have cash available to pay off the loan, families may find they have no choice but to sell once you’re gone.

That isn’t necessarily a reason to rule out a reverse mortgage, but Ford encourages parents to discuss their plans with family members. Everyone with a stake in the home – either emotional or financial – should understand what happens to the property once the borrower can no longer live there.

4. The mortgage balance might be due early if you have trouble paying your property taxes, insurance or homeowners association fees. Reiss says the marketing for some reverse mortgages can make seniors feel like the product is a cure-all for money problems. “There’s this promise that reverse mortgages will take care of your finances,” he says. “What they don’t mention is that your mortgage doesn’t cover your property taxes.”

If a borrower fails to pay taxes, maintain insurance or keep current with homeowners association dues, the lender can step in. Ford says many companies will try to work with a borrower to address the situation. However, repeated missed payments could result in the loan being revoked.

Financial counseling requirements for HECMs are designed to prevent these scenarios. Quinn says some companies will take additional precautions if warranted. “If the lender thinks there’s a risk you’ll run out of cash, it will set aside part of the loan for future taxes and insurance,” she says.

5. Fees can be high. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau notes reverse mortgages are often more expensive than other home loans. “Don’t just assume that because it’s marketed to seniors without a lot of money, that it is the most cost-efficient way of solving your [financial] problem,” Reiss says. Depending on your needs, a traditional line of credit or other loan product may be a cheaper option.

Saving On Homeowners Insurance

Insurance Policy

Trulia quoted me in 5 Ways To Save On Homeowners Insurance. It opens,

Some basic decisions in life shouldn’t demand much debate in your mind. Behind car and life insurance, homeowners insurance is one of the biggest no-brainers. When golf ball–sized hail rips your Boca Raton, FL, roof to shreds, your dog bites a clueless runner, or someone breaks in and steals your vintage Larry Bird jersey and Grandmother’s pearl earrings, a basic homeowners insurance policy should have you covered. But as with any other form of shopping, it’s always best to look around, sniff out a good deal, and compare home insurance options. Luckily, deep discounts can be found. Here are five ways to save on your policy.

1. Shop around, then enlist help

Finding the biggest discount isn’t just for cars and airline tickets. In fact, a few phone calls and internet searches can land you some serious deals on homeowners insurance. “Start by looking to see if there are any companies that offer discounts,” says Cory Gagnon, associate financial adviser, The Beacon Group at Assante Wealth Management Ltd. in Calgary, Canada. “An insurance broker or financial planner can be very helpful in these situations as they have access to databases that allow them to source a wide variety of companies.”Then think about memberships you have — are you a veteran or AARP member? If you’ve used membership discounts for say, buying a car or booking a vacation, see if the association has discounts for homeowners insurance. Think hard about groups you’re part of: Check if your college alumni association offers discounts, or even the wholesale club you belong to (like Costco, BJ’s, or Sam’s Club).

2. Improve your home

Sometimes, Gagnon adds, little changes and improvements to your home can lead to lower premiums. “Some insurance companies offer lower rates for a variety of factors having to do with the structure and build of your home, including the type of wiring, plumbing, and structure material,” he says. “If you are in an older home, making an investment in upgrades to some of these core elements will make your home safer — for example, less threat of pipe bursts, electrical fires — and thus lower your insurance premiums with certain companies, saving you money in the long run.”

3. Know the difference between replacement cost and actual cash value

Homeowners insurance comes with options, and the best way to navigate those options is to know what they are. “One of the most important things that a homeowner should know about when shopping for [a] new or existing homeowners policy is the difference between replacement cost versus actual cash value [ACV],” explains Craig Ciotti, an insurance agent/broker with Fidishun Insurance & Financial Inc. in Yardley, PA. “Replacement cost will insure you for the cost that it would take to replace your home and all of the other personal property in it,” he says. “The other option is actual cash value. ACV is the actual value of your home and does not take into consideration zoning permits or removal of damaged property. ACV is more often used by investors and not homeowners.” If, for instance, a laptop you bought for $1,000 is stolen, with replacement cost insurance, you will get $1,000 for a new laptop. With ACV, you’ll get the current market value for the laptop — which will most likely be far less, since it has probably depreciated over time. ACV premiums generally cost less, but you’ll likely pay more out of pocket after a loss.

4. Agree to a higher deductible

As with other forms of insurance (ahem, car), you can save big on your policy if you simply increase your deductible. “This can shave a significant amount off of your annual premium, which is the good thing,” says David Reiss, professor of law and research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. “The bad thing about it is, if you have a casualty, you will be responsible for it until it reaches the higher deductible limit. Thus, you should be able to handle that additional amount before agreeing to the higher deductible. Given that your premium typically goes up when you make a claim, a silver lining of the higher deductible is that you will file fewer claims.”

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

Seniors Selling Their Homes

hands-578917_1920

AARP Magazine quoted me in Selling Your Home. It reads, in part,

Judy and Joe Powell recently faced a decision most of us will eventually have to make: Should we sell our home and downsize to save money and effort, or hang on to the homestead because it’s familiar and full of fond memories?

After mulling the choice for a couple of years, the Texas couple decided to sell their 20-acre cattle ranch to move to a nearby college town.

“We are the sole caretakers of this property. It’s 24/7,” says Judy, 69, who mows the pastures with a John Deere tractor while her husband, 71, tends the cattle. “Basically, we don’t want to have to work this hard. We want time to play.”

The Powells now have their sights set on a single-story house in nearby College Station, where, for a monthly fee, someone else will maintain the yard. What’s more, they will be 30 minutes to an hour closer to their friends and doctors. The savings on gas alone will be more than a thousand dollars a year, Judy says.

Most of us aren’t dealing with the rigors of running a ranch. But, like the Powells, many of us will discover at some point that our homes, though we love them, no longer suit our lifestyles, or that they are becoming labor-intensive money pits.

A recent Merrill Lynch survey of people’s home choices in retirement found that a little more than half downsized and, like the Powells, were motivated by the reduction in monthly living costs and by shedding the burden of maintaining a larger home and property. Still, moving is not a decision easily made.

“The tie to one’s home is the hardest thing to understand from the outside. It’s a very personal decision,” says Rodney Harrell, a housing expert with the AARP Public Policy Institute.

Some people may be reluctant to move from a house where they raised children and created decades of memories, he says. On the other hand, the cul-de-sac that provided a safe place for kids may be isolating if driving becomes a challenge.

A good way to begin the process of figuring out what’s best for you is to “recognize the trade-offs,” Harrell says. First, consider the house itself. Is it suitable for your needs, and will it allow you to age in place? Most homes can be easily modified to address safety and access issues, but location is also critical.

“How close are health facilities?” asks Geoff Sanzenbacher, a research economist with the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. “Are things nearby, or do you have to drive?”

Even if your current home meets these age-friendly criteria, you need to consider whether it is eating up money that could be spent in better ways to meet your changing needs.

For example, the financial cushion provided by not having a mortgage can be quickly erased by rising utility costs, property taxes and homeowner’s insurance. There is also the looming uncertainty of major repairs, which can cost thousands of dollars, such as a new roof and gutters, furnace or central air conditioner. A useful budgeting guide is to avoid spending more than 30 percent of your gross income on housing costs, says David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School who specializes in real estate finance.

“This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but it does give a sense of how much money you need for other necessities of life, such as food, clothing and medical care, as well as for the aspects of life that give it pleasure and meaning — entertainment, travel and hobbies,” Reiss says.

So if your housing expenses are higher than a third of your income or you’re pouring your retirement income into your house with little money left to enjoy life, consider selling and moving to a smaller, less costly place.

Just as important, once you’ve made the decision, don’t dawdle, Sanzenbacher says. The quicker you move, the faster you can invest the proceeds of the sale and start saving money on maintenance, insurance and taxes.

Take this example from BC’s Center for Retirement Research: A homeowner sells her $250,000 house and buys a smaller one for $150,000. Annual expenses, such as utilities, taxes and insurance, typically amount to 3.25 percent of a home’s value, so the move to the smaller home saves $3,250 a year right off the bat.

Moving and other associated costs would eat up an estimated $25,000 of profit from the sale, leaving $75,000 to be invested and tapped for income each year.

If all of this sounds good, your next decision is where to move. Your new location depends on any number of personal factors: climate; proximity to family and friends; preference for an urban, suburban or rural setting; tax rates; and access to medical care, among other considerations.

“You want to take an inventory of your desires and start to think, ‘Do I have the resources to make that happen?’ ” Reiss says.