Congress raises borrowing limits for reverse mortgages

You can now borrow up to $625,500 with a federally insured reverse mortgage – up from $417,000 – as a result of a change made by Congress that will help some seniors.

In a traditional mortgage, you borrow money against your house and pay it back in monthly installments over time. With a reverse mortgage, you borrow money against your house, but you don’t have to pay it back until you die, sell the house, or move, which means you don’t owe anything as long as you stay in your home.

In most cases, to qualify you must be at least 62 years old. Many older people whose savings have been hurt by the recession are turning to reverse mortgages for extra liquidity. Other older people planned to sell their home in retirement, but are having trouble doing so in a slow real estate market. Taking out a reverse mortgage allows them to get cash from their home without having to sell it right away.

You can receive your money as monthly payments for a fixed term, monthly payments for as long as you stay in the home, or a line of credit. You can also combine a line of credit with monthly payments. In some cases, you can receive a lump sum. If you have an existing mortgage, it will typically be paid off by the new loan.

Proceeds from a reverse mortgage are not subject to income tax and generally won’t affect your ability to receive Social Security or Medicare. However, it’s possible that they could affect your eligibility for certain government programs such as Medicaid.

Fees for reverse mortgages can be high. The new law from Congress caps origination fees at 2% of the first $200,000 and 1% of any amount over that, with a maximum of $6,000. But you may also have to pay closing costs and an insurance premium.

But you can shop around. Fees for mortgages with a lump-sum payout are often much lower.

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