mortgage

What the reverse mortgage financial assessment means to you

Senior couple in coral shirts with adviser © Caiaimage/Trevor Adeline/Shutterstock.com

© Caiaimage/Trevor Adeline/Shutterstock.com

A recent change added as many as 2 steps to the process of obtaining a reverse mortgage. The goal is to reduce defaults on reverse mortgage by making certain that borrowers can pay property taxes or home insurance.

Steps to determine reverse mortgage eligibility

  1. Step 1 is an assessment of your finances, and specifically your credit history and income.
  2. Step 2 requires you to set aside part of the mortgage proceeds, based on the results of the financial assessment, to help cover estimated tax and insurance payments over the expected life of the youngest borrower.

Decreasing the default rate

These requirements are the latest in a series of changes intended to decrease the default rate on reverse mortgages. In 2014, about 12% of reverse mortgages were in technical default, says Stephanie Moulton, associate professor at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State University. That is, the borrowers hadn't paid taxes or insurance or both. On top of this, these borrowers had no proceeds remaining from their reverse mortgages.

What's more, the percentage in default had actually increased from 2012, when it stood at 9.4%, according to a report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

In comparison, the delinquency rate for single-family residential forward mortgages -- the mortgages most people use to buy homes -- was 10% at the end of 2012 and had fallen to 6.6% 2 years later, according to the Federal Reserve.

A July 2016 study from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College concluded that the new rules could cut the reverse mortgage default rate by as much as half.

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Ensuring financial stability

Not every reverse mortgage in technical default will proceed to foreclosure, Moulton says. Lenders often work with borrowers to "cure" the default. About half are successful, she says.

Even so, the relatively high rate of technical defaults is a concern. Most reverse mortgages are federally insured through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.

"A big question is: Are these reverse mortgage borrowers struggling to maintain financial stability?" Moulton asks. After all, reverse mortgages are intended to improve borrowers' financial stability.

HUD has implemented a number of changes intended to improve and strengthen its reverse mortgage program over the past few years, such as limiting the portion of loan proceeds that could be disbursed at closing and over the first year of the loan.

The changes requiring the financial assessment and set-asides cover reverse mortgages issued on or after April 27, 2015.

The financial assessment

Each financial assessment includes an analysis of the borrower's credit history, with special attention given to any foreclosures, defaults, late mortgage payments and late payments for property charges, such as property taxes, home insurance and homeowners association fees.

Research has shown prospective borrowers' credit scores are "huge predictors" of their likelihood to default on reverse mortgages, Moulton says.

She is a co-author of a study, "An Analysis of Default Risk in the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) Program," which found that having a prior delinquent mortgage or prior tax lien raised the probability of severe default by up to almost 30%. (In the study, "severe default" occurred when a borrower hadn't cured a technical default and owed $2,000 or more.

What is residual income?

In the context of reverse mortgages, the amount of money the homeowner has after paying debts and personal expenses. The lender assesses whether there is enough of this money -- residual income -- to pay for property taxes and insurance.

Part of the assessment is an analysis of a borrower's cash flow and residual income. After all, the borrower still owns the home and will be responsible for paying taxes, insurance and other housing-related expenses. The assessment helps "to ensure someone can maintain the obligations of the loan," says Amy Ford, director of home equity initiatives with the National Council on Aging, which provides counseling to prospective reverse mortgage borrowers.

This analysis looks at income from employment, self-employment, Social Security, alimony, child support, military income, pensions and retirement accounts, among other sources. If the lender determines the borrower isn't willing or able to make tax and insurance payments, then a portion of the mortgage proceeds will be set aside to cover these future costs.

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