Finra’s Stance on Reverse Mortgages
RETIREMENT RESEARCHER. FINRA is the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. It is a self-regulatory body for financial brokers and brokerage firms. As a part of its efforts to protect consumers, it issues alerts and reports on a variety of financial issues, including reverse mortgages. FINRA’s stance on them is described in a report entitled, “Reverse Mortgages: Avoiding a Reversal of Fortune.” This is a cute and clever title that clearly casts negative connotations on these mortgages, leading many financial advisors and financial broker-dealer firms who receive guidance from FINRA to conclude that reverse mortgages are a bad idea and do not allow their affiliated financial advisors to discuss reverse mortgages with their customers.
However, while its title has not changed, the report itself has evolved over the years. It used to tell investors to consider reverse mortgages only as a last-resort option, but after Barry Sacks published his research, he convinced FINRA to remove that language.
The current version of the report provides three reasons to be cautious about reverse mortgages. First, FINRA warns that reverse mortgages may “seem like ‘free money’ but in fact, they can be quite expensive.” The report mentions the up-front costs and ongoing interest on the loan balance.
Second, the report mentions that reverse mortgages must be the primary mortgage on the home. This is not really a reason to be cautious, but the report points out that after paying off an existing mortgage from the initial principal limit, borrowers may have less access to cash than they had anticipated.
Next, the report reminds investors that they are still responsible for property taxes, insurance, and home-maintenance costs. Finally, the report reminds borrowers that the loan will become due should they decide to move out of the home. With accumulated interest, borrowers might be surprised about the amount of home equity that they have left after repaying the loan.
The report then reminds borrowers to use the loan wisely rather than for frivolous expenses. As I have focused on using home equity as part of a responsible retirement-income plan, hopefully, this point is clear already. Nonetheless, it is worth providing a quotation from the report that drives home this point: “Those same homeowners may need their home equity some day for something far more pressing than a vacation, only to find that it has already been spent.”
The report ends with some tips when considering reverse mortgages. First, weigh all your options. Besides a reverse mortgage, other options include selling one’s house to downsize or rent, using a home-equity line of credit, or seeking local-government assistance to help cover property taxes and home maintenance. Next, understand the costs and fees of the loan. Third, recognize the full impact of the reverse mortgage, such as the impact of loan proceeds on state and federal benefits such as Medicaid.
This section continues with the sentence, “Finally, a reverse mortgage is generally not the right choice for those who want to leave their homes to their heirs.” However, this language probably should also have been removed following the implications of Barry Sacks’ research. Since money is fungible, the report’s statement is wrong when coordinated strategies can create synergies for the investment portfolio to manage sequence risk that leads to a larger overall legacy after repaying any loan balance.
The next FINRA tip is to obtain independent advice through loan counseling, particularly if one is considering a proprietary reverse mortgage that is not part of the HECM program. Finally, its last two points are about being skeptical about using reverse mortgages to fund an investment or insurance product. I hope I have been clear that this is not a valid use of a reverse mortgage. I have discussed coordinating the reverse mortgage with an existing portfolio or using a reverse mortgage to continue to pay premiums on an existing long-term care policy, but I have not suggested that a reverse mortgage be used to fund new investment or insurance products.
This is an excerpt from Wade Pfau’s book, Reverse Mortgages: How to Use Reverse Mortgages to Secure Your Retirement (The Retirement Researcher’s Guide Series), available now on Amazon.
Wade Pfau: Professor at The American College and Principal at McLean Asset Management. His website: www.RetirementResearcher.com. Brought to you by Scott Underwood; Alabama’s Reverse Mortgage expert- handling only Reverse Mortgages since 2007. Scott call be reached at (205) 908-2993, emailed at Scott@ReverseMortgageAlabama.com, website is www.ReverseMortgageAlabama.