Becoming a homeowner is often seen as one of the most universal signs of personal financial achievement, no matter what your age. While, technically, there is no age limit for getting a traditional mortgage, there are some age-related homebuying guidelines you should keep in mind.
How old is too old to get a mortgage?
Because a mortgage is a legally binding contract that allows you to finance the cost of a home over a long period of time, some people might wonder if there are age limits involved. For example, if you’re 75, could a lender refuse to let you take out a 30-year mortgage? After all, the average life expectancy in the United States is 78.6, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The good news for seniors who are looking to buy a house is that it is against the law for a mortgage lender to discriminate against you based on age. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), which came out of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, says lenders cannot deny you credit based on age, as well as other criteria like race, color, religion, national origin, sex or marital status. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 adds even further protections, specifically stating that it’s against the law to discriminate in any residential real estate transaction.
However, there are some instances in which a lender could consider a lendee’s age indirectly. A lender may look at whether you are close to retirement age and make a decision based on your having enough income to handle the loan, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But again, in this instance, the disqualifying factor is not your age but rather your ability to manage loan payments.
How young is too young to get a mortgage?
Can age be a discouraging factor when it comes to getting a mortgage if you’re closer to high school graduation age than retirement?
Lenders can’t deny a mortgage application solely because of your age, but states do have laws that determine the age at which a contract can be negotiated. For example, in Virginia, you must be 18 to enter into a legally binding contract, which would include a mortgage.
Your age may also affect your ability to meet other requirements for being approved for a mortgage loan.
- Lenders evaluate your income to see that you have enough to make the mortgage payments. If you’re under 18 or even in your early 20s, it’s unlikely that you’ll have a job in which you make enough to take on a mortgage.
- Lenders also typically require you to have a certain credit score. For example, the minimum credit score needed to take out a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan is 500. Yet 62 million Americans have what’s known as a thin credit file, meaning they don’t have enough of a credit history to generate a credit score. Young people who haven’t had time to build a credit history by using credit cards or taking out loans are likely to fall in this category. If you don’t have a credit score, it may be very difficult to get approved for a mortgage.
- Finally, homebuyers typically need to make a down payment. For example, FHA loans require a minimum 3.5% down payment. For a $200,000 house, that’s $7,000. Many young people might find it challenging to come up with that amount or more.
Some people who wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a mortgage look to a cosigner to help them get approved. A cosigner basically agrees to pay the debt if you are unable to pay. Having a cosigner with good credit could increase a young person’s chances of getting a mortgage loan if he or she is old enough to enter into a legally binding contract.
The risks of taking out a mortgage at an older age
Just because you can legally take out a mortgage at any age, doesn’t mean it’s always be the wisest move. A mortgage is a long-term commitment, and you want to make sure you’re ready for it. If you’re a senior and thinking about taking out a mortgage, consider the following risks.
- Mortgage debt can hamper your day-to-day finances. When people retire, they typically live on a fixed income. There are no more promotions to look forward to, or year-end bonuses to give your finances a boost. Some seniors may find it challenging to make those mortgage payments month after month, along with their other expenses on a fixed income. If a financial crisis hits, they could experience a financial disaster. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau points out that this did, in fact, happen during the Great Recession of 2007-09. Many older homeowners struggled to pay their mortgages and eventually foreclosed on their homes.
- Unexpected repairs can throw your budget for a loop. Your mortgage payment isn’t the only thing you’d have to worry about. Most homeowners at some point experience the sticker shock that comes with appliance replacements and major repairs. If you’re living on a fixed income, replacing a roof or buying a new furnace may be too much to handle on top of the regular costs of homeownership. Also keep in mind that if you’re handy around the house and have been able to do your own repairs, you might not be able to do as much physical work as you age. In that case, you’d likely have to pay someone to do the jobs you used to be able to do.
- You’ll likely have less time to build equity. One reason people buy real estate is so they will have something to pass down to their heirs. If you buy a house at an older age, there’s a higher chance you won’t live in the house long enough to build a lot of equity. In that case, if you die and your house is left to heirs who want to sell it, there may not be much of an inheritance for them to split.
Which mortgage products have age limits?
While age alone can’t stop you from becoming a homeowner, there is one type of mortgage product where age is a qualifying factor: a reverse mortgage. A reverse mortgage allows you to access the equity in your home. Instead of the borrower making a monthly mortgage payment, the interest is added to the amount you borrow. Over time, the balance you owe on the house rises, while the amount of equity you have decreases. You can learn more about how reverse mortgages work here.
Typically, the loan becomes due when the borrower dies, sells the house or moves out permanently. In some cases, the loan may be due sooner if the borrower fails to pay real estate taxes or insurance, or make necessary repairs.
Why would someone want a mortgage product that creates a larger balance over time? Many seniors use them to pay for retirement expenses.
The most common type of reverse mortgage is called a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM). HECMs are backed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and they are federally insured.
Because reverse mortgages are intended to help seniors use their equity to stay in their homes and live better in retirement, there is an age requirement. In order to qualify for an HECM reverse mortgage, at least one borrower must be 62 or older. Other requirements for reverse mortgages include:
- You must own the house and have equity.
- The house must be your primary residence.
- You must have enough income to pay for taxes and insurance on the house.
If you are not 62 but your spouse is, he or she might qualify for a reverse mortgage, but because of your age, you would not be able to qualify as a co-borrower. If that’s the case, you may have to move out if the borrower dies, unless you qualify as an “eligible non-borrowing spouse.” To qualify, you would have to have been married to the borrower when the loan closed, the home must be your principal residence and you must be named a non-borrowing spouse on the loan’s documents.
The bottom line
Age plays a role in many of our biggest decisions. Whether we’re thinking about marriage, starting a business or retirement, we often consider whether the timing is right to pursue these goals. While age can’t legally deter you from buying a house, you should always weigh the pros and cons of buying a house at a particular time in your life. For seniors who are 62 or older, homeownership can present other opportunities, such as the ability to take out a reverse mortgage. Before making any decision, make sure you have a good understanding of all of your options. If you are considering buying a home, you can check your mortgage rates here.
This article contains links to LendingTree, our parent company.