Paying off a Reverse Mortgage

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ByChristopher Boston
Edited byCasie McCoskey
ByChristopher Boston
Edited byCasie McCoskey

Updated: October 18, 2023

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A reverse mortgage allows homeowners aged 62 or older to convert their home equity into cash while still living in the house. Unlike a traditional mortgage, where you make payments to a lender, it doesn't require you to make monthly payments. Instead, you get funds through a line of credit, a lump sum or monthly installments. However, you'll eventually need to pay it off when it becomes due.

Understanding how to pay off a reverse mortgage is a fundamental part of the process, even before you decide to get one. Failing to repay when the time comes can lead to losing your home or burdening your heirs with the debt, which should play a part in your decision-making. Luckily, there are many methods for paying off a reverse mortgage, and we'll explore those in detail.

Basics of Reverse Mortgages

A reverse mortgage can be a financial lifesaver for many homeowners. It allows you to convert some of your home equity — the value of your home minus any mortgage debt — into cash. You can use it for various expenses; maybe you need to supplement your retirement income, cover medical costs or even take that dream vacation. The money is yours to spend as you wish. However, not everyone qualifies for a reverse mortgage. Generally, you must be 62 or older and have at least 50% home equity. Your home should also be your primary residence.

Now, let's talk about reverse mortgage types. There are three main kinds, each with its own set of rules and benefits:

  • Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs): These are the most common among borrowers since they allow you to use the funds for any purpose. While private lenders offer them, the federal government backs them. HECMs usually allow for higher loan amounts and require a financial assessment to ensure you can meet ongoing costs like property taxes and maintenance.

  • Proprietary Reverse Mortgages: These loans have private backers and are not federally insured. They're ideal for higher-value homes and offer more significant loan amounts. With fewer restrictions on using the funds, proprietary reverse mortgages can be more flexible but come with their own terms, fees and interest rates.

  • Single-Purpose Reverse Mortgages: These aim to fill a specific financial need, such as home repairs or property taxes. Offered by local or state government agencies and some nonprofits, they generally have lower costs but have restricted use. Eligibility often includes income thresholds and specific conditions.

Your loan amount depends on factors such as your home's value, your age and current interest rates for reverse mortgages. Typically, you'll get a bigger loan if you're older with a high-valued home. Owning a reverse mortgage means you still have responsibilities, such as paying property taxes, keeping up with home maintenance and maintaining home insurance. Neglecting these can put you in hot water, and you might risk losing your home.

When to Pay Back a Reverse Mortgage

You might wonder when to start the payback process since you're not making monthly payments on a reverse mortgage. The need for a reverse mortgage payoff usually kicks in when certain events occur. These include the death of the borrower, selling the home or moving out. Once any of these happen, it's time to settle the loan. Generally, you or your heirs have a grace period (often about six months) to start the repayment process.

Let's say you decide to move to a different primary residence, perhaps to be closer to family or to downsize. Once you make that move, the clock starts ticking for repaying the loan. During this time, your loan servicer plays an integral role. They'll provide you with the payoff amount and guide you through the settlement process.

Don't panic if you find yourself struggling to repay. There are options to make the process more manageable, such as working out a repayment plan with your loan servicer. Being proactive and communicating with them can make a big difference in successfully navigating your loan repayment.

Reasons to Get Out of a Reverse Mortgage

While a reverse mortgage can offer financial relief, there might come a time when you think about ending the agreement before any of the typical trigger events occur. There are several reasons you might want to start paying off your reverse mortgage early:

  • You Don't Need the Money Anymore: Maybe you received an inheritance, or your financial situation has improved. When you don't need the extra income from the reverse mortgage, it might make sense to start the reverse mortgage early payoff process to reduce debt.

  • The Money Isn't Enough: Homeowners usually secure a reverse mortgage to supplement their income, help cover living costs, or meet other financial goals. However, expenses like medical bills or home repairs can surge without warning. If the funds you're receiving aren't sufficient to cover these unexpected costs, you might feel the loan no longer serves its purpose. In such cases, you might consider paying off the reverse mortgage early as part of a new financial strategy to better meet your needs.

  • You Want or Have to Move: Maybe you want to be closer to family, or you need to transition into assisted living. Carrying a reverse mortgage can complicate things when a move is on the horizon. Selling the home requires paying off the loan, often from the sales proceeds. By starting the payoff process early, you'll have a more straightforward path for the move, allowing you to focus on your next life chapter without financial strings attached to your old home.

  • You Want to Leave Your Home to Your Heirs: You've worked hard to own your home, and leaving it to your heirs might be a crucial part of your legacy. A reverse mortgage reduces the equity you have in the house, which could leave your heirs with a financial burden or less inheritance than you intended. Early payoff of the reverse mortgage ensures you preserve the home's full value for the next generation.

  • You Don't Want Housemates Displaced: If you have friends or family living with you who aren't co-borrowers on the reverse mortgage, they would need to leave the property when the loan comes due. An early payoff can safeguard their living situation, allowing you to maintain your living arrangement without disrupting those who share your home.

Thinking about the broader financial implications of ending your reverse mortgage will benefit you in the long run. For instance, a large lump sum to pay off the loan could bump you into a higher tax bracket for the year, leading to more taxes owed. Additionally, drawing from your retirement accounts to settle the mortgage might result in early withdrawal penalties or could deplete resources you were counting on for the future. It's always best to consult with financial and tax advisors to weigh the pros and cons and to strategize the best way forward.

How to Pay Back a Reverse Mortgage

Knowing how to pay off a reverse mortgage before getting one is a solid game plan — you'll know your exit strategies before entering the field. It can help you tailor the mortgage to fit your life plans and give you peace of mind. Understanding your options can also provide flexibility, letting you adapt if your financial situation changes. Let's explore how you can settle a reverse mortgage, whether you're planning ahead or already have one.

Sell Your Home

When you decide to sell your home to pay a reverse mortgage, the process is similar to a traditional home sale. The major difference lies in where the proceeds go. The first chunk of your home's selling price will pay off the loan balance, including any accrued interest and fees.

Finding a real estate agent who understands the nuances of reverse mortgages can be a game-changer. Their specialized knowledge helps you navigate the process efficiently, ensuring you get the best deal possible for your property.

After you finalize the sale and pay off the reverse mortgage, any remaining money — your home equity — goes back to you or your heirs. It's where you can see the benefit of your thoughtful planning and informed choices. To maximize the amount that comes back to you, consider these tips:

  • Fresh paint can brighten your space and make it more appealing to potential buyers.
  • Consider hiring a professional to stage your home, making it easier for buyers to envision themselves living there.
  • Minor repairs (such as fixing leaky faucets or broken tiles) can improve your home's value.
  • Competitively pricing your home can attract more buyers and even spark a bidding war.
  • High-quality listing photos can make a world of difference in online listings, drawing more attention to your property.

Selling your home is a solid strategy to pay off a reverse mortgage. The key to maximizing it lies in your approach to the sale. Careful planning, working with an experienced agent and knowing how to up your home's value can leave you with more money once you finalize the deal.

Refinance the Mortgage

Refinancing is another way to pay off your reverse mortgage. It involves taking out a new loan to pay off the old one. You could get better terms or a lower interest rate, making it a potentially wise financial move.

Current refinance mortgage rates can play a significant role in this decision. If these are low, you can save money by refinancing. If refinance rates are high, you could pay more interest over the life of the new loan compared to sticking with your existing reverse mortgage. High rates might also mean higher monthly payments, making it less affordable for you in the short term. Exploring other options to pay off your reverse mortgage might be more financially beneficial in such situations.

Like any loan, you'll need to meet specific criteria to refinance. Lenders will look at your credit score, income and property value to decide if you're a good candidate. Make sure you have all your financial ducks in a row before you apply. Another consideration is that refinancing isn't free. There are costs like application fees, appraisal fees and closing costs that you must pay upfront. Factor these into your decision to make sure refinancing will actually save you money. Before you sign any papers, read the fine print. Some reverse mortgages have penalties or specific clauses that make refinancing expensive or complicated. If you're aware of these, you won't get any nasty surprises later on.

If the conditions are right, refinancing can be an excellent strategy to pay off your reverse mortgage. Just ensure you understand all the costs and criteria before jumping in.

Take Out A New Mortgage

Taking out a new mortgage is another way to pay off your reverse mortgage. You'd have to apply for an entirely new home loan and use the funds to cover your existing reverse mortgage balance. Current mortgage rates are a big factor — if they're favorable, you could have lower interest than what you have on your reverse mortgage, saving you money in the long run. Your credit score matters, too. Good credit can get you better rates, making the new mortgage more affordable.

Consider how the new mortgage will affect your budget. Unlike a reverse mortgage, a traditional one requires monthly payments, so be sure to plan for that. That said, a new mortgage can offer some tax benefits, like mortgage interest deductions, but consult a tax advisor about your specific situation. Securing a new home loan can be beneficial, but don't forget to weigh all the pros and cons before deciding.

Provide a Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure

When you opt for a deed in lieu, you're essentially giving your home's ownership back to the lender. It satisfies the loan balance on your reverse mortgage, eliminating the need for the lender to go through the foreclosure process to reclaim the property. It's a mutual agreement where both parties can save time and resources. However, this decision isn't without its drawbacks. Your credit score will take a hit, though typically less than it would if you went through foreclosure.

Remember, a deed in lieu isn't an option for everyone. You'll need to meet certain eligibility criteria the lender sets, and the property should be in reasonable condition and free from other liens. We recommend consulting with a tax advisor, as relinquishing your home could have tax implications.

Timeline for Heirs to Pay off a Reverse Mortgage

If you're an heir or estate executor dealing with a reverse mortgage, the typical timeline to settle it is about six months after the borrower's death. During this period, a home appraisal is conducted to gauge the property's value. If the home is worth less than the loan amount, you usually won't owe more than the value, thanks to federal protections in place.

If the home appraisal shows a value greater than the reverse mortgage balance, that's good news. The excess is equity and belongs to the estate or the heirs. In this case, you have several options. You can sell the home, use the proceeds to pay off the reverse mortgage and keep the remaining equity. Alternatively, you can refinance into a new mortgage to pay off the reverse mortgage, keeping the home in the family.

Either way, the extra value gives you more flexibility. It could also mean you might get a little extra to invest, save or use as you see fit. Remember, every situation is unique, so it's always a good idea to consult financial advisors or legal experts to make the best decision for your circumstances.

Frequently Asked Questions About Reverse Mortgage Payoff

You're not alone if you have questions about paying off a reverse mortgage. We addressed some of the most commonly asked queries, giving you the clarity to make informed choices.

How do you pay off a reverse mortgage?
When is it time to pay back a reverse mortgage?
Can you pay off a reverse mortgage early?
What happens if you don't pay off your reverse mortgage?
What happens at the end of a reverse mortgage?
How long do heirs have to pay off a reverse mortgage?
What are the financial implications of paying off a reverse mortgage?
How many times can you do a reverse mortgage?
Is refinancing an option for paying off a reverse mortgage?

About Christopher Boston

Christopher Boston headshot

Christopher (Croix) Boston was the Head of Loans content at MoneyGeek, with over five years of experience researching higher education, mortgage and personal loans.

Boston has a bachelor's degree from the Seattle Pacific University. They pride themselves in using their skills and experience to create quality content that helps people save and spend efficiently.