On January 30th, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued Mortgagee Letter 2013-01, which announced that beginning April 1, 2013, reverse mortgage borrowers will no longer be able to obtain a fixed rate on HECM Standard reverse mortgages; instead, only the HECM Saver loans, with smaller loan limits, will be available with a fixed rate option. Those who wish to borrow a lump sum using a HECM Standard reverse mortgage in the future will be required to select an adjustable rate structure, just as they must do now under either the monthly income or line-of-credit payment options.
While the change is significant to the reverse mortgage industry, given that a large and rising percentage of reverse mortgages in recent years have been established under the fixed-rate structure, from the planning perspective the impact is likely to be more limited, as many planners have only recently begun to consider reverse mortgages for clients when the less expensive HECM Saver loan became available (and which can still be done with a fixed-rate structure). In addition, many reverse mortgage strategies – including some highlighted in recent years in the Journal of Financial Planning and The Kitces Report – are based upon the monthly income or line-of-credit payment options, which require an adjustable interest rate loan structure anyway.
Perhaps the greatest irony of the HUD change, though, is its reported reasoning: a rise in defaults by fixed-rate borrowers who extracted the maximum equity from their home, found it wasn’t enough, and subsequently began to fail making their property tax and homeowner’s insurance payments, triggering a reverse mortgage default. In other words, HUD is finding that it’s very problematic when consumers use reverse mortgages as an income-of-last-resort solution, instead of engaging in the reverse mortgage earlier as an income source coordinated as a part of the individual’s overall financial plan – guidance that would perhaps be more useful to both consumers, and financial planners too!