Reverse Mortgages’ Red-Carpet Oscar Moment

This year’s contenders for the Best Picture Oscar include a lighthearted musical, a biopic about the hidden heroes of America’s space program, a World War II drama — and, surprisingly, a crime thriller with reverse mortgages at its center.

“Hell or High Water,” directed by David Mackenzie and starring Chris Pine and Ben Foster, tells the tale of two Texas brothers who set out on a bank-robbing spree to cover the reverse mortgage lien on their late mother’s property, all while trying to evade a lawman played by Jeff Bridges.

As RMD reported last fall, the film probably won’t help repair reverse mortgages’ less-than-stellar image in the general public’s imagination; the brothers are told they need to pay $43,000 for both the loan and back taxes or face foreclosure. Still, we noted that the term “reverse mortgage” doesn’t appear until about midway through the film, and the brothers’ anger remains directed at the fictional Texas Midlands Bank, not the concept of home equity conversion mortgages in general. And in case you were wondering: No, the film doesn’t specify whether the deceased mother had taken out a lump-sum HECM or a line of credit.

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The movie’s Oscar turn also prompted a balanced look at reverse mortgages from Money magazine, which explained both the pros and cons of HECM loans. While the piece does mention recent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fines against lenders and states that reverse mortgages “can be problematic,” Money points out that Federal Housing Administration rules have significantly reduced consumer risks, and links to an October 2016 Money piece featuring extensive retirement advice from HECM advocate Wade Pfau. 

The Money story also refers to an interview that “Hell or High Water” screenwriter Taylor Sheridan gave to the Washington Post, in which he says the film isn’t meant to be an indictment of reverse mortgages or any other specific type of loan.

“It’s probably more damning of these specific bankers who chose to sell this loan to someone who is very desperate,” Sheridan said.

Players in the reverse mortgage industry probably don’t have to worry about a film about HECM foreclosure winning the Academy’s top prize: British tabloid The Sun gave the film 150-to-1 odds of capturing the Best Picture trophy, tied with “Arrival” for the longest shot in the category. 

Written by Alex Spanko

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