Should One Refinance Their Reverse Mortgage?

Receiving Letters to Refinance Reverse MortgageCurrent reverse mortgage borrowers are receiving letters encouraging them to refinance.  Even their monthly statements are encouraging them to look at refinancing.  While refinancing a reverse mortgage is an option, let’s explore whether it should be considered.

Just like refinancing a conventional, or what we call a forward, mortgage borrowers consider refinancing a reverse mortgage when they need more money.  But just like a forward mortgage, one needs to make sure they are going to receive a benefit when they refinance.  And just like a forward mortgage, when refinancing the closing costs are part of the transaction.

When I receive the calls from my borrowers who have received the letters or encouragement on their statements I start with these questions:

  • How long ago did you take out your reverse mortgage?
  • What was the value of your home at that time?
  • What is the value of your home now?
  • What is your current loan balance on your reverse mortgage?
  • Are you receiving monthly payments?
  • Do you have funds in a Line of Credit?

These questions are pertinent in helping one decide if it makes sense to consider refinancing.

Keep in mind the factors used to determine the amount a senior can receive from their reverse mortgage include:  the interest rate of the program chosen, the age of the borrower (the older one is the more funds one can receive), and the home value based on an FHA appraisal or the FHA Lending Limit.

The first three questions are important in determining if they will be able receive more money when refinancing.  As one aged during the time home vales were increasing refinancing made more sense because borrowers were more likely to be able to receive additional funds.

Now generally one’s home value has decreased so we find that the they will not receive additional funds from refinancing their reverse mortgage.  If, however, the initial reverse mortgage was taken when there was a lower lending limit, i.e. $251,750 and their current home value is, say $400,000, then refinancing may be considered.

For many years the FHA Lending Limit was based on the county in which one lived.  In 2008 the Lending Limit was changed to a national limit of $417,000.  For 2009 and 2010 the national limit has been increased to $625,500.  Because the limit will be going down to the $417,000 January 1, 2011 there is a push with marketing letters and statements encouraging borrowers to take advantage of the higher lending limit.  Is refinancing a good idea here?  Not necessarily, especially if one’s home value isn’t in the higher valued range.

The current loan balance is important because when refinancing the reverse mortgage, the current reverse mortgage needs to be repaid.  If there aren’t enough proceeds to pay off the current mortgage and to receive additional money then refinancing doesn’t make sense.

The final two questions, whether they are receiving monthly payments or have funds in a line of credit, are important because it doesn’t make sense to refinance a reverse mortgage if they still have funds available to them.

With a forward mortgage sometimes refinancing is done to reduce the interest rate.  With the reverse mortgage it doesn’t make sense to refinance for the interest rate.  Remember one isn’t making payments with a reverse mortgage so the interest rate doesn’t impact their monthly cash flow, it only impacts the amount that will be repaid when the loan becomes due and payable.

It is important to note that the reverse mortgage is non-recourse which means there is no personal liability to the borrower if the loan balance is higher than what the home can be sold for as long as the borrower or their heirs are not retaining ownership.

Until 2008 all reverse mortgages were adjustable rate mortgages.  Now, don’t panic, this isn’t a bad thing with a reverse mortgage.   Additionally, the interest rates are remaining low, certainly under 4% and likely under 2% or 3%.  The interest rate is made up of an index and a margin and the current margin is higher than the earlier years meaning that the current interest rates will be slightly higher than what borrowers currently have on their reverse mortgage.

In 2008 a fixed rate was introduced.  Even though the current fixed rate is a little lower than when it was initially introduced one is not going to gain a benefit of more funds available by refinancing for a lower interest rate – enough time hasn’t passed to offset the costs of refinancing.

Even if the interest rate increases or is higher than what is available now, costs of refinancing will not offset the lower interest rate.  Consequently at this time it doesn’t make sense to refinance for a lower interest rate.Reverse Mortgage Borrower Contemplating Options

The Streamline Refinance of the FHA Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Home Equity Conversion Mortgage or HECM reverse mortgage requires a calculation demonstrating borrowers receive at least 5% more or they must go through the counseling session to review their situation.  Some lenders require the counseling for any borrower refinancing their reverse mortgage.  This is a strong protection to help borrowers from falling for a lender’s marketing letters and thinking refinancing may be a good idea when it really isn’t.  Unfortunately it can cost seniors to find out this information as counselors are allowed to charge up to $125 for the counseling session.

While options should always be considered, after reviewing the above questions and their answers at this time refinancing generally doesn’t make sense for reverse mortgage borrowers.  Hopefully seniors don’t get sucked in with marketing letters & statements by completing an application so that the lender can just take an application when refinancing doesn’t make sense for them.

© 2010 Beth Paterson, Beth’s Reverse Mortgage Blog, 651-762-9648

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