We receive advertising fees from the brands we review that affect the ranking and scoring of such brands.
Advertiser Disclosure

What is a Reverse Mortgage?

Matthew Levy Updated: August 13, 2023 • 11 min read
senior man applying for mortgage

A reverse mortgage is a type of loan that allows homeowners who are 62 years of age or older to borrow money against the equity in their home. Benefits of a reverse mortgage include the ability to supplement retirement income and the ability to stay in one's home. This type of loan does not require monthly payments and the loan balance does not have to be repaid until the homeowner moves, sells the home, or passes away, so many consider it a comfortable source of supplemental retirement income.

Keep reading to understand the benefits and drawbacks of a reverse mortgage.

Who would benefit from a reverse mortgage?

A reverse mortgage can be a valuable financial tool for specific groups of homeowners, particularly for those who meet the following criteria:

  • Age 62 or older: Reverse mortgages are primarily designed for seniors with significant home equity. To qualify for a reverse mortgage, borrowers must be at least 62.
  • Homeowners with substantial equity: A reverse mortgage allows homeowners to tap into their home equity without selling their house or making monthly payments. It can be an attractive option for those who have paid off their mortgage or have a small remaining balance.
  • Limited income or retirement funds: Seniors with insufficient retirement savings or a steady income can benefit from a reverse mortgage. The loan proceeds can help supplement Social Security, cover medical expenses, or finance home improvements, providing additional financial security during retirement.
  • Desire to age in place: For homeowners who want to continue living in their homes throughout their retirement, a reverse mortgage can help them achieve this goal by providing the necessary funds to cover ongoing expenses and maintain their current lifestyle.

Keep in mind that a reverse mortgage is not suitable for everyone, as it can be more expensive than a traditional mortgage when considering closing costs, fees and interest charges. It's essential to carefully consider your financial situation, needs, and long-term goals before deciding whether a reverse mortgage is right for you.

How Do Reverse Mortgages Work and Who Qualifies for One?

A reverse mortgage, also known as a "home equity conversion mortgage," allows eligible homeowners to convert a portion of their home equity into cash without selling their property or making monthly payments.

Here's a brief overview of reverse mortgage basics and the qualification criteria:

  • Loan proceeds: If you successfully take on a reverse mortgage, you'll receive your funds in the form of a lump sum, monthly payments, a line of credit, or a combination of these options. The amount depends on your home's value, your age, and current interest rates.
  • Repayment: Unlike a traditional mortgage, a reverse mortgage does not require you as a borrower to make monthly payments. The loan becomes due when the borrower passes away, sells the home, or moves out for over 12 consecutive months. At that time, the loan balance, including interest and fees, must be repaid, usually through selling the home.
  • Qualification criteria: To qualify for a reverse mortgage, borrowers must meet the requirements for reverse mortgage eligibility:
    • Be at least 62 years old
    • Own and live in the property as their primary residence
    • Have substantial home equity (typically, the home should be fully paid off or have a low remaining balance)
    • Be current on property taxes, homeowner's insurance, and any homeowner's association fees
    • Complete a financial assessment and attend a HUD-approved reverse mortgage counseling session

Remember, reverse mortgages can be complex, and it's essential to thoroughly understand the terms, costs, and implications before considering one.

The Pros and Cons of Taking out a Reverse Mortgage

A reverse mortgage can be a valuable tool for some seniors, providing additional income and financial flexibility during retirement. However, it also comes with potential downsides. When considering a reverse mortgage, it's crucial to weigh this financial product's potential benefits and drawbacks:

Pros Cons
1) Additional income stream: A reverse mortgage can provide seniors with supplemental income to cover expenses during retirement, such as medical bills, home improvements, or daily living expenses. 1) High fees and closing costs: Reverse mortgages often come with higher fees and closing costs than traditional mortgages. These costs can include origination fees, mortgage insurance premiums, and other service fees.
2) No monthly payments: Unlike a traditional mortgage, borrowers are not required to make monthly payments on a reverse mortgage. This can significantly ease financial pressure during retirement. 2) Reduced home equity: Taking out a reverse mortgage means using up a portion of your home equity, which may leave less for your heirs when the loan is repaid.
3) Non-recourse loan: Reverse mortgages are non-recourse loans, meaning the borrower or their heirs will never owe more than the home's value when the loan becomes due. This protects borrowers and their families from being burdened with debt beyond the value of their property. 3) Loan becomes due under certain conditions: The reverse mortgage loan must be repaid if the borrower passes away, sells the home, or moves out. This may create financial stress for the borrower or their heirs, who must repay the loan or risk losing the property.
4) Tax-free proceeds: The loan proceeds from a reverse mortgage, also known as a home equity conversion mortgage, are typically tax-free, as they are considered loan advances rather than income. 4) Mandatory counseling: Borrowers are normally required to attend a HUD-approved reverse mortgage counseling session.

What are the Risks Associated With a Reverse Mortgage?

While a reverse mortgage can provide financial relief for some seniors, it's essential to understand the potential risks associated with this type of loan. Here are some of the risks you should consider:

  • High fees and costs: As mentioned earlier, reverse mortgages often come with higher fees and closing costs than traditional mortgages. These costs can include origination fees, mortgage insurance premiums, and other service fees, which may reduce the overall benefits of the loan.
  • Reduced home equity: Since a reverse mortgage allows you to tap into your home equity, it will gradually decrease over time. This can affect the inheritance you leave for your heirs and limit your options if you decide to sell your home or need additional funds.
  • Loan repayment: The reverse mortgage becomes due if the borrower passes away, sells the home, or moves out for more than 12 consecutive months.
  • Potential scams: Unfortunately, the reverse mortgage industry has been targeted by scammers looking to take advantage of seniors. Researching potential lenders and working with reputable companies is crucial to avoid falling victim.
  • Impact on government benefits: The proceeds from a reverse mortgage, also known as a home equity conversion mortgage, could potentially affect your eligibility for certain government benefits, such as Medicaid.

By understanding the risks associated with a reverse mortgage, you can better assess whether this financial product aligns with your needs and long-term financial goals.

Can You Buy or Sell a House With a Reverse Mortgage?

Buying: A lesser-known option in the realm of reverse mortgages is the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage for Purchase (HECM for Purchase). This program allows seniors to buy a new primary residence and obtain a reverse mortgage simultaneously. Here's how it works:

  • The buyer provides a down payment, typically sourced from the sale of their previous home or personal savings.
  • The reverse mortgage funds cover the remainder of the purchase price.
  • There are no monthly mortgage payments, but homeowners are responsible for property taxes, insurance, and maintenance.

Selling: Selling a home with a reverse mortgage is similar to selling any other property. However, there are specific steps to follow:

  • Once the home is sold, the proceeds pay off the reverse mortgage balance first.
  • Any remaining funds after settling the loan are for the homeowner or their heirs.
  • If the sale proceeds are less than the loan amount, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) insurance covers the difference, ensuring that neither the homeowner nor their heirs are responsible for the deficit.

Who Owns the House in a Reverse Mortgage?

The common misconception about reverse mortgages is that the bank or lender takes ownership of the home. In reality, the homeowner retains the title and ownership throughout the life of the loan. But there are still some essential points to take note of:

  • The lender places a lien on the property, protecting their interest.
  • The homeowner's responsibility includes paying property taxes and insurance, and ensuring the home's upkeep.
  • Failure to meet these obligations can lead to the loan becoming due and potentially result in foreclosure. Once the homeowner passes away or moves out, the loan becomes due. The heirs can choose to repay the loan and keep the property or sell the home to settle the debt.

Properties that Cannot Avail of Reverse Mortgage Loans

Eligibility for reverse mortgages is not universal. Certain properties don't qualify:

  • Non-FHA-approved condominiums: The FHA has specific requirements for condos. If the condominium complex isn't approved, it's not eligible for a reverse mortgage.
  • Manufactured homes: These homes can qualify, but they must meet strict FHA guidelines, including having a permanent foundation and being built after June 15, 1976.
  • Cooperative housing (co-ops): Co-ops are unique in that residents own shares of a corporation that owns the property, rather than owning the property directly. This structure makes them ineligible for reverse mortgages.
  • Commercial properties: If a property is primarily commercial or if more than 25% of its total floor area is used for business purposes, it won't qualify.
  • Vacation or secondary homes: The home must be the borrower's primary residence. This means vacation homes or secondary residences are off the table.

Comparing Different Types of Reverse Mortgages

Several types of reverse mortgages are available, each designed to meet specific needs and financial goals. Understanding these various options can help you decide the best fit for your situation. Here, we'll discuss the main types of reverse mortgages and provide a short example.

  1. Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM): HECMs are the most common type of reverse mortgage and are insured by the federal government. They come with certain requirements, including mandatory counseling with a HUD-approved counselor. HECMs allow borrowers to access a portion of their home equity, which can be received as a lump sum, monthly payments, or a line of credit. Example: A 70-year-old homeowner with a $400,000 home could qualify for a HECM that provides them with a monthly income or a line of credit for emergencies.
  2. Proprietary Reverse Mortgage: These are private loans offered by individual lenders and are not insured by the federal government. Proprietary reverse mortgages may provide larger loan amounts for homeowners with higher-valued properties. Example: A homeowner with a $1 million home might opt for a proprietary reverse mortgage to access a larger portion of their equity compared to a HECM.
  3. Single-Purpose Reverse Mortgage: Offered by some state and local government agencies, as well as nonprofit organizations, single-purpose reverse mortgages have a specific, lender-approved use for the funds, such as home repairs or property taxes. These loans often come with lower fees and interest rates but are not available everywhere. Example: A senior with a low income might qualify for a single-purpose reverse mortgage to cover necessary home repairs or improvements.

By comparing the different types of reverse mortgages, you can better understand which option aligns with your financial needs and goals.


How to Calculate Your Maximum Loan Amount with a Reverse Mortgage

Calculating the maximum loan amount for a reverse mortgage involves considering several factors, including your age, the appraised value of your home, and the current interest rates. Lenders use a calculation called the Principal Limit Factor (PLF) to determine the portion of your home's value you're eligible to borrow.

While there isn't a specific formula you can use to calculate the PLF yourself, as it is based on actuarial tables and complex calculations developed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), understanding the factors contributing to determining your maximum loan amount can be helpful.

  1. Determine the age of the youngest borrower: The age of the youngest borrower (or non-borrowing spouse, if applicable) is a critical factor in calculating the PLF. Generally, older borrowers qualify for higher loan amounts.
  2. Find the appraised value of your home: An appraisal will establish the current market value of your property, which will be used to determine the loan amount.
  3. Check the current interest rates: Reverse mortgage interest rates can be either fixed or adjustable, and they play a significant role in calculating the maximum loan amount. Lower interest rates usually result in higher loan amounts.

To find the PLF for your specific situation, consult a reverse mortgage lender or use an online reverse mortgage calculator provided by a lender or other financial organization.

Example: Let's say the youngest borrower is 65 years old, the appraised value of the home is $500,000, and the current interest rate is 3%, and the PLF factor is 0.50. By inputting this information into an online reverse mortgage calculator, you may find the maximum loan amount you're eligible for is $250,000.

Remember that the actual loan amount you receive may be lower than the calculated maximum due to factors like closing costs and fees.

Alternatives to a Reverse Mortgage

If you're considering a reverse mortgage but aren't sure it's the right fit for your financial situation, there are several alternatives you might explore:

  • Home Equity Loan: A home equity loan allows you to borrow a lump sum using your home as collateral. You'll need to make monthly payments, including principal and interest, over a fixed term. Check out Top Home Equity Loans of 2023.
  • Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC): A HELOC is a revolving credit line that uses your home as collateral. You can borrow money as needed, up to a specified limit, and make payments based on the outstanding balance and interest rate.
  • Refinance Your Mortgage: If you have a traditional mortgage, you might consider refinancing to lower your monthly payments or shorten the loan term. This could free up cash for other financial needs.
  • Downsize: Selling your current home and moving to a smaller, more affordable property can help you access the home's equity and reduce living expenses.
  • Government Assistance Programs: Depending on your situation, you might qualify for state or federal assistance programs designed to help seniors with housing costs, medical expenses, and other needs. Read more on Government Programs for Personal and Business Aid.

Each alternative has its pros and cons, so it's essential to assess your options carefully.


Understanding the basics of reverse mortgages is crucial for homeowners who want to tap into their home's equity without making monthly payments. A reverse mortgage can be a useful financial tool for some seniors, but weighing the benefits and risks associated with this type of loan is essential.

Remember, reverse mortgages are not suitable for everyone. It's crucial to consider factors such as your age, home value, and financial needs before deciding if a reverse mortgage is right for you. Alternatives like home equity loans, HELOCs, refinancing, downsizing, or government assistance programs may be more appropriate for your situation.

As with any financial decision, consulting with a trusted financial advisor is always a good idea. By exploring all your options, you can make an informed choice that best suits your needs and helps secure your financial future.

Article Topics

Written by Matthew Levy

Matthew is a freelance financial copywriter with 14+ years in financial services. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics with business and finance options and is a CFA Charterholder. He is from Vancouver, Canada, but writes from all over the world.