WaPo Columnist: Reverse Mortgage Complexities Present Risks

High-profile personal finance writer Michelle Singletary weighed in on the government’s recent reverse mortgage report Tuesday, penning a syndicated Washington Post column with advice for consumers.

A big takeaway from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report is that many seniors are confused by reverse mortgages, judging by the 1,200 complaints that the agency received between 2011 and last year, Singletary wrote. 

“There are some pros to a reverse mortgage,” wrote Singletary. “But the complexity of the product means you better be just as aware of the cons.”

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The CFPB report was released Monday. It analyzed reverse mortgage complaints the agency has received and offered tips to potential borrowers. Singletary summed these up in her column. 

In addition to double-checking that loan records accurately reflect who is on the mortgage, seniors need to know the risks of not including a spouse, Singletary wrote. She pointed out that older homeowners can borrow against a higher percentage of home equity; however, if the mortgage holder dies, the surviving spouse might face foreclosure if left off the mortgage.

Similarly, adult children or other heirs — particularly those living in the house — need to be aware of potential consequences if the reverse mortgage becomes due, Singletary advised.

She criticized deceptive television ads that make reverse mortgages seem simple. But she also noted that for many seniors, home equity is the only potential source of “big money.” A reverse mortgage is an appealing option to let them tap into that money without selling their residence, she acknowledged. 

Click here to read Singletary’s column. In addition to writing the Post’s “Color of Money” column, Singletary authored the book The 21-Day Financial Fast.

Written by Tim Mullaney

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  • While many in the industry love attacking Michelle, she was very fair with how she summarized the CFPB’s advisory on reverse mortgages and even took reasoned aim on the complexity of HECMs and our shallow TV ads.

    Why MIchelle deserves much of the criticism she gets is due to her apparent reluctance to fully familiarize herself with the financial mechanics of HECMs or interview those who actually understand how HECMs work; yet she writes scalding attacks on HECMs as if she actually understood the product and the protections it provides. Nothing is perfect but certainly HECMs have far more consumer protections than any other mortgage available on the market.

    So while Michelle should get high marks for her summary and the criticisms she makes in this article, those high marks should be offset by what she could have said in an even handed manner about HECMs in this article. In most other reverse mortgage articles she writes there are no high marks to offset the worthless criticisms she makes about HECMs.

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