What is a reverse mortgage, and what are the risks?

What is a reverse mortgage, and what are the risks?

A reverse mortgage is a financial product that allows retirees to unlock the value of their family home. Sometimes called an equity release loan, a reverse mortgage lets you access a lump sum, line of credit or income stream to support your lifestyle in retirement. But just like any other financial product, there are risks involved with reverse mortgages, which you should be aware of before you apply.

Who can get a reverse mortgage?

To be eligible for a reverse mortgage, you typically need to be aged 60 or older, and own your home outright, so your property does not have a mortgage owing on it.

How much can I borrow in a reverse mortgage?

The value of your property will help determine how much money you can borrow against it. According to MoneySmart:

If you're age 60, the most you can borrow is likely to be 15–20% of the value of your home. As a guide, add 1% for each year over 60. So, at 65, the most you can borrow will be about 20–25%. The minimum you can borrow varies, but is typically about $10,000.

You may be able to borrow this money in one lump sum, or draw down from a maximum credit limit, a bit like using a credit card. You may also be able to receive a regular income stream to help your everyday living costs, supplementing the aged pension and superannuation.

How much does a reverse mortgage cost?

Reverse mortgages charge interest at fixed or variable rates that are generally higher than most typical home loans. There may also be other fees and charges to consider.

Unlike many other credit products, a reverse mortgage has no minimum repayments or fixed repayment date – you could theoretically borrow the money and never make a payment. You can still make voluntary repayments to pay down your debt.

But before you get too excited, remember that you’ll still be charged interest on the money you borrow. These interest charges will be capitalised back into the loan, adding their costs to your debt. Compound interest means you’ll  be charged interest on your interest, further increasing the size of your loan.

Because you aren’t required to make minimum repayments on a reverse mortgage, your debt can keep building up until it’s much more than you can easily afford to repay. In the past, reverse mortgage made it possible to end up in negative equity, where your debt grows larger than the value of your home. However, legislation introduced in 2012 now limits the maximum debt of a reverse mortgage to the value of your property.

How long does a reverse mortgage last?

A reverse mortgage can run until you sell your property, move into aged care, or pass away.  The value of your home is then used to repay the outstanding loan in full, including the interest charges and fees.

What are the risks of a reverse mortgage?

The biggest risk of a reverse mortgage is the accumulation of compound interest charges. If you’re not careful, these can quickly add up, until the majority of your home’s value is tied up in the reverse mortgage. This can limit what else you can use your home equity for, such as applying for other credit products, or guaranteeing a relative’s home loan application.

When your home is eventually sold, the more of its value that goes towards servicing your reverse mortgage, the less you can use for other purposes, such as paying for aged care, medical treatments, or just a comfortable retirement lifestyle. Your heirs may also miss out a percentage of their inheritance if the value of your home must cover the cost of your reverse mortgage.

Using a reverse mortgage to access extra income from your home equity may affect your ability to access the age pension. Depending on your superannuation situation, this could make managing your retirement lifestyle more challenging.

While you have a reverse mortgage, your lender will have a financial interest in your home. This could mean you’ll need to consult with the lender before making changes to the property that could affect its value, such as renovating. The lender may also require that you keep your home well-maintained in order to preserve its value, at your own expense.

Where can I get a reverse mortgage?

Several of Australia’s major banks offer reverse mortgages, along with some non-bank lenders.

The Australian Federal Government also has its own reverse mortgage program, in the form of the Pension Loans Scheme.

Before you sign on any dotted lines, it’s important to compare different reverse mortgage options and consider their terms and conditions. Consider contacting a financial adviser for more help working out if a reverse mortgage is the right choice for your financial situation.

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Fact Checked -

This article was reviewed by Personal Finance Editor Georgia Brown before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.

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What do people do with a Macquarie Bank reverse?

There are a number of ways people use a Macquarie Bank reverse mortgage. Below are some reasons borrowers tend to release their home’s equity via a reverse mortgage:

  • To top up superannuation or pension income to pay for monthly bills;
  • To consolidate and repay high-interest debt like credit cards or personal loans;
  • To fund renovations, repairs or upgrades to their home
  • To help your children or grandkids through financial difficulties. 

While there are no limitations on how you can use a Macquarie reverse mortgage loan, a reverse mortgage is not right for all borrowers. Reverse mortgages compound the interest, which means you end up paying interest on your interest. They can also affect your entitlement to things like the pension It’s important to think carefully, read up and speak with your family before you apply for a reverse mortgage.

What are the benefits of a reverse mortgage from P&B Bank?

A reverse mortgage allows senior homeowners to unlock the equity in their homes. There is no repayment schedule, and the loan is repaid at the time of selling, if you move out or when the homeowner passes away. The interest accumulates on the outstanding amount and is added to what was initially borrowed.

Here are some benefits of applying for a P&B Bank reverse mortgage:

  • Flexibility to use the funds as desired; you can travel, pay for medical bills or undertake home improvements or use it for your regular living costs
  • A negative equity guarantee ensures the amount you have to repay never exceeds the value of your home
  • A reverse mortgage does not have a regular monthly instalment, and you can repay any amount you wish at any point during the loan tenure
  • You can choose to withdraw the loan amount as per your requirements

The P&B Bank reverse mortgage amount is based on factors like your age, location of the property, and the loan-to-value ratio (LVR).

Why does Westpac charge an early termination fee for home loans?

The Westpac home loan early termination fee or break cost is applicable if you have a fixed rate home loan and repay part of or the whole outstanding amount before the fixed period ends. If you’re switching between products before the fixed period ends, you’ll pay a switching break cost and an administrative fee. 

The Westpac home loan early termination fee may not apply if you repay an amount below the prepayment threshold. The prepayment threshold is the amount Westpac allows you to repay during the fixed period outside your regular repayments.

Westpac charges this fee because when you take out a home loan, the bank borrows the funds with wholesale rates available to banks and lenders. Westpac will then work out your interest rate based on you making regular repayments for a fixed period. If you repay before this period ends, the lender may incur a loss if there is any change in the wholesale rate of interest.

When does Commonwealth Bank charge an early exit fee?

When you take out a fixed interest home loan with the Commonwealth Bank, you’re able to lock the interest for a particular period. If the rates change during this period, your repayments remain unchanged. If you break the loan during the fixed interest period, you’ll have to pay the Commonwealth Bank home loan early exit fee and an administrative fee.

The Early Repayment Adjustment (ERA) and Administrative fees are applicable in the following instances:

  • If you switch your loan from fixed interest to variable rate
  • When you apply for a top-up home loan
  • If you repay over and above the annual threshold limit, which is $10,000 per year during the fixed interest period
  • When you prepay the entire outstanding loan balance before the end of the fixed interest duration.

The fee calculation depends on the interest rates, the amount you’ve repaid and the loan size. You can contact the lender to understand more about what you may have to pay. 

What is a line of credit?

A line of credit, also known as a home equity loan, is a type of mortgage that allows you to borrow money using the equity in your property.

Equity is the value of your property, less any outstanding debt against it. For example, if you have a $500,000 property and a $300,000 mortgage against the property, then you have $200,000 equity. This is the portion of the property that you actually own.

This type of loan is a flexible mortgage that allows you to draw on funds when you need them, similar to a credit card.

How does a mortgage calculator work?

A mortgage calculator is an extremely helpful tool when planning to take out a home loan and working out the costs. Although each mortgage calculator you come across may be slightly different, most will help you estimate how much your repayments will be. The calculator will often also show you the difference in repayments if you repay weekly, monthly or fortnightly. 

To calculate these figures, you’ll be asked to enter a few details. These include the amount you plan to borrow, whether you’re an owner-occupier or an investor, the proposed interest rate and the home loan term. It will also often show you the total interest you’ll be charged and the total amount you’ll repay over the life of the loan.  

Understanding how the mortgage calculator works, helps you to use it to see how different loan amounts, interest rates and terms affect your repayments. This can then help you choose a home loan that you can repay comfortably and save on interest costs. The mortgage calculator lets you compare the benefits and costs of home loans from different lenders to help you make a more informed choice. Use a mortgage calculator to help identify which home loan is most suitable for your requirements and financial situation.

Can I borrow extra on my mortgage for furniture?

Yes, you may be able to borrow extra on your mortgage for furniture. This may be done by considering a home equity loan. A home equity loan may allow you to access the equity in your mortgage for furniture via:

  • A line of credit – A pre-approved credit limit based on your equity.
  • A lump sum payment – Like a persona loan, with equity in your home loan used as security.

If you want to avoid borrowing more money, consider accessing cash deposited into your offset account or drawing down on extra repayments with a redraw facility to fund furniture purchases.

What are the responsibilities of a mortgage broker?

Mortgage brokers act as the go-between for borrowers looking for a home loan and the lenders offering the loan. They offer personalised advice to help borrowers choose the right home loan for their needs.

In Australia, mortgage brokers are required by law to carry an Australian Credit License (ACL) if they offer credit assistance services. Which is the legal term for guidance regarding the different kinds of credit offered by lenders, including home loan mortgages. They may not need this license if they are working for an aggregator, for instance, as a franchisee. In both these situations, they need to comply with the regulations laid down by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

These regulations, which are stipulated by Australian legislation, require mortgage brokers to comply with what are called “responsible lending” and “best interest” obligations. Responsible lending obligations mean brokers have to suggest “suitable” home loans. This means loans that you can easily qualify for,  actually meet your needs, and don’t prove unnecessarily challenging for you.

Starting 1 January 2021, mortgage brokers must comply with best interest obligations in addition to responsible lending obligations. These require mortgage brokers to act in the best interest of their customers and also requires them to prioritise their customers’ interests over their own. For instance, a mortgage broker may not recommend a lender who gives them a commission if that lender’s home loan offer does not benefit that particular customer.

What happens to your mortgage when you die?

There is no hard and fast answer to what will happen to your mortgage when you die as it is largely dependent on what you have set out in your mortgage agreement, your will (if you have one), other assets you may have and if you have insurance. If you have co-signed the mortgage with another person that person will become responsible for the remaining debt when you die.

If the mortgage is in your name only the house will be sold by the bank to cover the remaining debt and your nominated air will receive the remaining sum if there is a difference. If there is a turn in the market and the sale of your house won’t cover the remaining debt the case may go to court and the difference may have to be covered by the sale of other assets.  

If you have a life insurance policy your family may be able to use some of the lump sum payment from this to pay down the remaining mortgage debt. Alternatively, your lender may provide some form of mortgage protection that could assist your family in making repayments following your passing.

Which mortgage is the best for me?

The best mortgage to suit your needs will vary depending on your individual circumstances. If you want to be mortgage free as soon as possible, consider taking out a mortgage with a shorter term, such as 25 years as opposed to 30 years, and make the highest possible mortgage repayments. You might also want to consider a loan with an offset facility to help reduce costs. Investors, on the other hand, might have different objectives so the choice of loan will differ.

Whether you decide on a fixed or variable interest rate will depend on your own preference for stability in repayment amounts, and flexibility when it comes to features.

If you do not have a deposit or will not be in a financial position to make large repayments right away you may wish to consider asking a parent to be a guarantor or looking at interest only loans. Again, which one of these options suits you best is reliant on many factors and you should seek professional advice if you are unsure which mortgage will suit you best.

Can I get a home renovation loan with bad credit?

If you're looking for funds to pay for repairs or renovations to your home, but you have a low credit score, you need to carefully consider your options. If you already have a mortgage, a good starting point is to check whether you can redraw money from that. You could also consider applying for a new home loan. 

Before taking out a new loan, it’s good to note that lenders are likely to charge higher interest rates on home repair loans for bad credit customers. Alternatively, they may be willing to lend you a smaller amount than a standard loan. You may also face some challenges with getting your home renovation loan application approved. If you do run into trouble, you can speak to your lender and ask whether they would be willing to approve your application if you have a guarantor or co-signer. You should also explain the reasons behind your bad credit rating and the steps that you’re taking to improve it. 

Consulting a financial advisor or mortgage broker can help you understand your options and make the right choice.

What is mortgage stress?

Mortgage stress is when you don’t have enough income to comfortably meet your monthly mortgage repayments and maintain your lifestyle. Many experts believe that mortgage stress starts when you are spending 30 per cent or more of your pre-tax income on mortgage repayments.

Mortgage stress can lead to people defaulting on their loans which can have serious long term repercussions.

The best way to avoid mortgage stress is to include at least a 2 – 3 per cent buffer in your estimated monthly repayments. If you could still make your monthly repayments comfortably at a rate of up to 8 or 9 per cent then you should be in good position to meet your obligations. If you think that a rate rise would leave you at a risk of defaulting on your loan, consider borrowing less money.

If you do find yourself in mortgage stress, talk to your bank about ways to potentially reduce your mortgage burden. Contacting a financial counsellor can also be a good idea. You can locate a free counselling service in your state by calling the national hotline: 1800 007 007 or visiting www.financialcounsellingaustralia.org.au.

How do I calculate monthly mortgage repayments?

Work out your mortgage repayments using a home loan calculator that takes into account your deposit size, property value and interest rate. This is divided by the loan term you choose (for example, there are 360 months in a 30-year mortgage) to determine the monthly repayments over this time frame.

Over the course of your loan, your monthly repayment amount will be affected by changes to your interest rate, plus any circumstances where you opt to pay interest-only for a period of time, instead of principal and interest.

How to break up with your mortgage broker

If you find a mortgage broker giving you generic advice or trying to sell you a competitive offer from an unsuitable lender, you might be better off  breaking up with the mortgage broker and consulting someone else. Breaking up with a mortgage broker can be done over the phone, or via email. You can also raise a complaint, either with the broker’s aggregator or with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority as necessary.

As licensed industry professionals, mortgage brokers have the responsibility of giving you accurate advice so that you know what to expect when you apply for a home loan. You may have approached the mortgage broker, for instance, because you have questions about the terms of a home loan a lender offered you. 

You should remember that mortgage brokers are obliged by law to act in your best interests and as part of complying with The Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s (ASIC) regulations. If you feel you didn’t get the right advice from the mortgage broker, or that you lost money as a result of accepting the broker’s suggestions regarding a lender or home loan offer, you can file a complaint with the ASIC and seek compensation. 

When you first speak to a mortgage broker, consider asking them about their Lender Panel, which is the list of lenders they usually recommend and who may pay them a commission. This information can help you decide if the advice they give you has anything to do with the remuneration they may receive from one or more lenders.