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Using Your Home Equity for Long Term Care

By Laurie Libby

For many seniors the equity in their home is their largest single asset, yet it is unavailable to use unless they use a home equity loan. But a conventional loan really doesn't free up the equity because the money has to be paid back with interest.

A reverse mortgage is a risk-free way of tapping into home equity without creating

monthly payments and without requiring the money to be paid back during a person's

lifetime. Instead of making payments the cash flow is reversed and the senior receives payments from the bank. Thus the title "reverse mortgage".

Many seniors are finding they can use a reverse mortgage to pay off an existing

conventional mortgage, to create money to pay off debt, make home repairs, or for


For those seniors who are in need of long term care and want to stay in their home, a reverse mortgage can create the money needed to pay for in-home personal and medical care. They can also pay for needed medical equipment and handicap adaptation to their home.

There are no income, asset or credit requirements. It is the easiest loan to qualify for.

A reverse mortgage is similar to a conventional mortgage. As an example:

  • The bank does not own the home but owns a lien on the property just as with any other mortgage

  • You continue to hold title to the property as with any other mortgage

  • The bank has no recourse to demand payment from any family member if there is not enough equity to cover paying off the loan

  • There is no penalty to pay off the mortgage early

  • The proceeds from a reverse mortgage are tax-free and can be used for any legal purpose you wish

False Beliefs Regarding Reverse Mortgages

  • "The lender could take my house." The homeowner retains full ownership. The Reverse Mortgage is just like any other mortgage; you own the title and the bank holds a lien. You can pay it off anytime you like.

  • "I can be thrown out of my own home." Homeowners can stay in the home as long as they live, with no payment requirement.

  • "I could end up owing more than my house is worth." The homeowner can never owe more than the value of the home at the time the loan is due.

  • "My heirs will be against it." Experience demonstrates heirs are in favor of Reverse Mortgages.

Virtually anyone can qualify. You must be at least 62, own and live in, as a primary residence, a home [1-4 family residence, condominium, co-op, permanent mobile home, or manufactured home] in order to qualify for a reverse mortgage.

The amount of reverse mortgage benefit for which you may qualify, will depend on

  • your age at the time you apply for the loan

  • the reverse mortgage program you choose

  • the value of your home

  • current interest rates

  • and for some products, where you live

As a general rule, the older you are and the greater your equity, the larger the reverse mortgage benefit will be (up to certain limits, in some cases). The reverse mortgage must pay off any outstanding liens against your property before you can withdraw additional


The loan is not due and payable until the borrower or borrowers no longer occupy the home as a principal residence (i.e. the borrower sells, moves out permanently or passes away). At that time, the balance of borrowed funds is due and payable, all additional equity in the property belongs to the owners or their beneficiaries.

The most popular reverse mortgages are the so-called HECM loans. HECM loans require that the applicant meet with a government approved counseling agency to be sure the applicant understands the reverse mortgage process.

The Federal Trade Commission states:

“Before applying for a HECM, you must meet with a counselor from an independent

government-approved housing counseling agency. Some lenders offering proprietary

reverse mortgages also require counseling. The counselor is required to explain the loan’s costs and financial implications, and possible alternatives to a HECM, like government and nonprofit programs or a single-purpose or proprietary reverse mortgage. The counselor also should be able to help you compare the costs of different types of reverse mortgages and tell you how different payment options, fees, and other costs affect the total cost of the loan over time. Most counseling agencies charge around $125 for their services. The fee can be paid from the loan proceeds, but you cannot be turned away if you can’t afford the fee.”

A Reverse Mortgage Specialist in your area can answer your questions, calculate the amount of loan you can receive and advise the type of loan for your needs.

The National Care Planning Council (

has a list of Reverse Mortgage Specialists in your area.

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