What is a Reverse Mortgage and how does it work?

Reverse mortgages are a financial tool designed to help senior homeowners convert a portion of their home equity into cash, providing them with additional income during retirement.

This blog post aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of reverse mortgages, including how they work, their advantages and disadvantages, and the process of applying for one.

Definition of Reverse Mortgage?

A reverse mortgage is a loan that allows homeowners aged 62 or older to borrow against their home equity without having to make monthly mortgage payments.

Instead, the lender makes payments to the borrower, and the loan is repaid when the homeowner sells the home, moves out, or passes away.

To qualify for a reverse mortgage, the borrower must:

  • Be at least 62 years old.
  • Live in the home as their primary residence.
  • Have sufficient home equity.
  • Be able to pay property taxes, insurance, and maintenance costs.

Unlike a traditional mortgage, where the borrower makes monthly payments to the lender, a reverse mortgage allows the borrower to receive payments from the lender.

This eliminates the need for monthly mortgage payments and provides a source of income for seniors.

How Does a Reverse Mortgage Work?

The reverse mortgage process begins with the homeowner applying for a loan.

Once approved, the borrower can choose to receive payments in a lump sum, monthly installments, a line of credit, or a combination of these options.

The amount the borrower can receive depends on several factors, including the borrower’s age, current interest rates, and the appraised value of the home.

Interest accumulates on the loan balance over time, increasing the amount owed.

The loan balance grows as the borrower receives payments and interest accrues.

The loan becomes due and payable when the borrower sells the home, permanently moves out, or passes away.

At this point, the loan must be repaid, typically using the proceeds from the sale of the home.

Example of a Reverse Mortgage

Imagine a 70-year-old homeowner with a home worth $300,000 and no existing mortgage. They want to apply for a reverse mortgage to supplement their retirement income.

Based on their age, the appraised value of the home, and current interest rates, the homeowner qualifies for a reverse mortgage of $150,000.

The homeowner chooses to receive monthly payments of $1,000. They will continue to receive these payments for as long as they live in the home.

When the homeowner eventually sells the home or passes away, the loan balance, including accrued interest, must be repaid.

If the home sells for more than the loan balance, the remaining proceeds go to the homeowner or their heirs.

Types of Reverse Mortgages

1. Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs)

HECMs are federally insured reverse mortgages backed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). They are the most common type of reverse mortgage and have specific rules and requirements.

2. Proprietary reverse mortgages

These are private loans offered by financial institutions. They typically have higher loan limits than HECMs, making them suitable for homeowners with high-value properties.

3. Single-purpose reverse mortgages

Offered by some state and local government agencies and nonprofit organizations, single-purpose reverse mortgages are designed for a specific purpose, such as home repairs or property taxes.

When choosing a reverse mortgage, it’s essential to consider factors like loan limits, fees, interest rates, and the intended use of the funds.

HECMs are the most popular and widely available option, but proprietary reverse mortgages may be suitable for those with high-value properties.

Single-purpose reverse mortgages are the least flexible but can be a cost-effective solution for specific needs.

Pros and Cons of a Reverse Mortgage


1. Financial flexibility

Reverse mortgages provide financial flexibility by allowing seniors to access a portion of their home equity without selling their home.

2. No monthly mortgage payments

Borrowers are not required to make monthly mortgage payments, reducing their financial burden.

3. Tax-free proceeds

The proceeds from a reverse mortgage are typically tax-free, providing additional income without impacting Social Security or Medicare benefits.

4. Ownership retention

Homeowners retain ownership of their home and can continue living in it as long as they meet the loan requirements.


1. High fees and costs

Reverse mortgages often have high upfront fees and closing costs, which can outweigh the benefits for some borrowers.

2. Decreased home equity

As the loan balance increases, the available home equity decreases, potentially leaving fewer assets for the homeowner or their heirs.

3. Impact on beneficiaries

Heirs may need to sell the home to repay the loan, potentially leaving them without an inheritance.

4. Possibility of foreclosure

If the borrower fails to meet loan requirements, such as paying property taxes and insurance, the lender may foreclose on the home.

How To Apply for a Reverse Mortgage

1. Research and choose a lender

It’s crucial to compare different lenders and their offerings, including interest rates, fees, and loan limits, before deciding on a reverse mortgage provider.

2. Consult with a HUD-approved counselor

Before applying for a HECM, borrowers must meet with a HUD-approved counselor to discuss the loan’s financial implications and alternatives.

3. Complete the application process

The borrower must submit an application, provide required documentation, and undergo a financial assessment to determine eligibility.

4. Attend a closing appointment

Once approved, the borrower attends a closing appointment to sign the loan documents and finalize the reverse mortgage.

What is the Downside to a Reverse Mortgage?

As discussed earlier, the downsides to a reverse mortgage include high fees and costs, decreased home equity, potential negative impact on heirs, and the possibility of foreclosure.

Reverse mortgages may not be suitable for everyone. It’s essential to weigh the benefits against the drawbacks and consider the long-term implications before deciding to proceed with a reverse mortgage.

How Do You Pay Back a Reverse Mortgage?

A reverse mortgage becomes due and payable when the borrower sells the home, permanently moves out, or passes away.

Typically, the loan is repaid using the proceeds from the sale of the home. If the home’s sale price exceeds the loan balance, the remaining funds go to the homeowner or their heirs.

Heirs have the option to repay the reverse mortgage and keep the home or sell the home and use the proceeds to pay off the loan.

If the home’s value is less than the loan balance, heirs are not responsible for the difference.


Reverse mortgages can provide financial flexibility for seniors by allowing them to access their home equity without selling their home.

However, they also come with drawbacks, such as high fees, decreased home equity, and potential negative impacts on heirs.