Don't interrupt performing investments
"For people who have assets, it's a way of leveraging assets," says Jill Gianola, financial planner and author of "The Young Couple's Guide to Growing Rich Together."
"For people who say, 'all I have is my Social Security and I can't make the payments and pay the property tax,' what it means is they're probably living in a house they can't afford," she says.
One pair of clients used a large down payment and a reverse mortgage loan as the first mortgage to buy their retirement home. "It was a good deal for them because they were preserving other assets," Gianola says.
And those assets are earning more than the holders are paying in interest on the reverse mortgage loan, she says.
Carefully calculate the costs both ways. With a reverse mortgage loan, there are "higher fees and higher costs in many cases" than with a conventional mortgage, says Bruce McClary, spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. "And often buyers are insulated from the costs because they're rolled them into the mortgage."
Gianola agrees. "Go into these things with your eyes wide open and understand what you're giving up for what you're getting," she says. Also understand "that there are still responsibilities associated with the house" -- like property taxes, property insurance, occupancy and maintenance.
RATE SEARCH: Shop today for the best mortgage deal at Bankrate.com.
Don't tie up your cash
In this case, it's not the investments the homeowner wants to protect, but the cash itself.
Some key questions: Are you staying in the home permanently? Do you want to keep a potential move in your plans? Do you have a comfortable amount of savings and income, or is tapping your equity just a temporary stopgap?
And weigh the trade-off of current gains for future ones. "If you get stuck and have to move," you'll have no equity left, says Michelle Singletary, author of "Spend Well, Live Rich."
If you do proceed, it's smart to take it slow.
Yellow Dog Productions Inc./Shutterstock.com
Remove monthly mortgage payments
"When you're living on a limited income, taking the mortgage payment out of the mix can have a significant impact," McClary says. "But you have to be comfortable with the terms of the reverse mortgage."
His advice: Go through the reverse mortgage loan counseling with a neutral counselor approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And, don't make any hasty decisions.
Another smart move: Consult an unbiased financial counselor, like an elder law attorney or a certified financial planner, says Lori Trawinski, director of banking and financing for the AARP Public Policy Institute. "Someone who doesn't benefit in any way from what you do."
ADVISER SEARCH: Find a financial adviser near you today.