A reverse mortgage allows homeowners to borrow against their primary residence, without making any ongoing payments; instead, interest simply accrues on top of the principal, and most commonly is not repaid until the homeowner either moves and sells the home, or when it is sold by heirs after the original owner passes away.
The caveat, however, is that if reverse mortgage interest accrues annually instead of being paid, it cannot be deducted each year under the “normal” rules for deducting mortgage interest. And a similar caveat applies to mortgage insurance premiums, which might be deducted (at least, if Congress reinstates and extends the rules that lapsed at the end of 2017), but only if they’re actually paid – which, again, typically isn’t the case with a no-payment reverse mortgage.
Of course, the reality is that when the loan is ultimately repaid in full – even if all at once – the accrued mortgage interest and mortgage insurance premiums do become deductible at that time when actually paid. The problem, though, is that if compounded for enough years, the size of the deduction may be too large to use… or at least, the liquidating homeowner (or heir) may need to plan to create income in the year the reverse mortgage is paid off, just to ensure there’s enough income to be offset by the deductions.
Furthermore, reverse mortgages can also complicate the tax deductibility of real estate taxes. To the extent real estate taxes are paid directly – even as a cash payment with proceeds from a reverse mortgage – they remain deductible. However, with the HECM reverse mortgage’s new Life Expectancy Set Aside (LESA) rules, it’s not entirely clear whether real estate taxes paid directly from the set aside are fully deductible in the same manner, or whether they might have to be accrued and claimed at liquidation, similar to the reverse mortgage interest deduction and mortgage insurance premium deduction!