An underutilized retirement strategy

(BPT) - Across the nation, thousands of seniors have used a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), commonly called a reverse mortgage loan, as a savvy way to access the equity in their homes as part of their retirement strategy.

Those who are interested in a reverse mortgage loan should know that there are six main phases to the process: 1) educating and qualifying, 2) counseling, 3) approval, 4) funding, 5) using and 6) settling.

1. Educating and qualifying

The HECM process begins by contacting an FHA-approved lender who will review the borrower’s situation, educate them on the HECM program, and determine if they would likely qualify for a reverse mortgage loan.

“Once the lender has determined that the borrower is eligible, they work closely with them to shape the loan so it fits their needs,” says Paul Fiore, Chief Sales Officer for American Advisors Group, the leading reverse mortgage lender in the nation. “At AAG, this is a highly personalized process designed to give the borrower the best outcome for their financial situation.”

2. Counseling

Once qualified, borrowers are referred to reverse mortgage counseling, an important consumer safeguard mandated by the government. During counseling, a HUD-approved HECM counselor reviews the borrower’s needs and circumstances. They consider how the funds might best be distributed, the financial and tax implications, and whether a HECM is right for them. If so, an application is submitted to the lender.

3. Approval

Next, the property will be appraised, and after that the approval process will begin. Before closing on the loan, borrowers will choose between several loan disbursement options, from taking it all out in a lump sum, receiving fixed monthly payments, opening a line of credit or any combination.

4. Funding

After the closing papers are signed, the homeowner has three business days to change their mind and cancel the loan (except if the loan is being used to purchase a new home). After the rescission period has passed, the funds are ready to be paid out through the payment option selected, subject to an initial disbursement limit that is determined by HUD.

5. Using your loan

The loan servicer will generally disburse funds via direct deposit or mail on the first business day of the month, following the funding of the loan. The borrower can live in the home as long as they like without making monthly mortgage payments, as long as they continue to pay property taxes and insurance on the home, maintain it in good condition and comply with any other loan terms.

6. Settling your loan

If the last surviving borrower sells or transfers the property, passes away, or does not use the property as a principal residence for more than 12 months, the loan has reached a “maturity event,” meaning that the loan comes due and no further funds can be disbursed. Borrowers also have the option of paying off their loan in full at any time without penalty.

Following a maturity event, an appraisal will be ordered by the loan servicer to determine the property’s current market value. The heirs can sell the property to repay the loan, or purchase the property for 95 percent of its appraised value. Since HECMs are non-recourse loans, the proceeds from the sale of the home are the only asset that can be taken to pay the loan’s balance, even if the loan amount exceeds the value of the home.

A home equity conversion mortgage can be shaped to fit an individual’s needs. With new consumer safeguards in place, many seniors are discovering that it is an important part of their retirement strategy.

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