Advertiser Disclosure

Mortgage

Guide to Reverse Mortgages: Is the Income Worth the Risk?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Real estate investment. House and coins on table
iStock

Although they have received increased attention in recent years, many consumers still have a hard time fully understanding what reverse mortgages are, how they work and who they benefit.

Continue reading for a thorough explanation on the above topics, plus a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of this complex financial product.

What is a reverse mortgage?

A reverse mortgage is a loan that allows senior homeowners to borrow money against their home’s equity. Instead of making monthly payments to their mortgage lender, the homeowner receives money every month from their lender — or receives a larger amount in a lump sum. The balance owed to the lender grows over time and isn’t due until the homeowner moves out, sells the property or passes away.

Reverse mortgages are the opposite of a “forward,” or traditional, mortgage, which allows a borrower to purchase a home and repay their lender on a monthly basis. With traditional mortgages, the balance owed reduces over time until it’s completely paid off.

In both forward and reverse mortgages, the property is used as collateral for the loan. Only homeowners who are at least 62 years old can take out a reverse mortgage.

Reverse mortgage types

There are three types of reverse mortgages available to homeowners depending on their situation.

Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM)

This is the most common reverse mortgage and is backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). A HECM offers more flexibility in terms of how payments are disbursed to borrowers. Payment options include:

  • A single, lump-sum disbursement.
  • Fixed monthly advances over a specified period of time.
  • Fixed monthly advances as long as you live in your home.
  • A line of credit.
  • A combination of a credit line and monthly payments.

Single-purpose reverse mortgage

As the name suggests, this type of loan is used for a single purpose, such as covering home repairs or property taxes. Loan proceeds are typically distributed in a lump sum to cover the homeowner’s financial need. Single-purpose reverse mortgages are offered by nonprofit agencies and some local and state governments.

Proprietary reverse mortgage

This loan is offered by private lenders and usually benefits borrowers with high-value homes because they may receive bigger advances.

How a reverse mortgage works

A reverse mortgage is a loan that takes a portion of your equity and converts it into payments made to you. The money you receive is typically tax-free, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Unlike a traditional home equity loan, you are not required to pay back a reverse mortgage on a set schedule.

Let’s look at an example of how a reverse mortgage works:

John is retired, has paid off his mortgage and owns his home outright. He wants to stay in his home, but needs to supplement the monthly income he receives from Social Security and his pension.

The total amount John can borrow using a reverse mortgage is based on his age and that of his spouse, current mortgage rates and the home’s value; these limits are imposed by HUD. Here’s how the numbers could possibly work out for him, based on LendingTree’s reverse mortgage calculator:

Value of the home $300,000
Title holder’s age 70
Mortgage balance $0
Lump sum estimate $145,902

Based on the calculator, John might qualify for as much as $145,902 if he decides to go the single disbursement route. An advantage of getting a lump-sum payment from your lender is that the interest rate will be fixed, unlike the other options which have an adjustable interest rate.

The reverse mortgage loan limit is $726,525 for 2019, which is 150% of the conforming loan limit of $484,350 for forward mortgages. Still, even if the amount of equity you have is lower than the loan limit, you won’t be allowed to borrow the full amount.

The amount you’re allowed to borrow for a reverse mortgage is determined by the age of the youngest borrower, the home’s appraised value and the anticipated interest rate. Generally, the older you are, the more you can borrow.

Costs and fees

The most common fees associated with a reverse mortgage include:

  • A loan origination fee, which could cost up to 2% of the loan amount.
  • An initial mortgage insurance premium, which is a flat 2% fee.
  • An annual mortgage insurance premium, which is 0.5%.
  • Housing counseling, which usually costs about $125.

There are also additional closing costs and interest fees.

Reverse mortgage requirements

Senior homeowners who are interested in borrowing a reverse mortgage must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least age 62 or older.
  • Own your home outright or have a small remaining mortgage balance. If you still have a loan, a good rule of thumb is to have at least 50% equity in your home, because you’ll first need to use the reverse mortgage funds to pay off the outstanding balance on your forward mortgage.
  • Must be seeking a loan backed by your primary residence.
  • Have no federal debt delinquencies, including student loans and taxes.
  • Proof of sufficient income to cover your property taxes, homeowners insurance and other housing-related expenses.
  • Demonstrate your creditworthiness as a potential borrower. While there isn’t a minimum credit score requirement, it helps your case to be responsible with your credit usage by maintaining on-time payments, keeping your balances low, etc.
  • Participate in an information session with a HUD-approved reverse mortgage counselor.

Most reverse mortgages have what’s called a “non-recourse feature,” which means if the lender takes legal action against you due to default, the lender can only use the home to satisfy the defaulted debt and can’t come after you for any difference between how much you owe and the home’s value. This also applies to your heirs in the event you pass away and the home is sold to repay the debt.

4 things to watch for when taking out a reverse mortgage

Just like all other financial products, a reverse mortgage comes with its share of risks, which typically include the following:

Higher financing costs

Compared with a forward mortgage, the fees associated with a reverse mortgage are more costly. As an example, a HECM lender can charge an origination fee equal to $2,500 or 2% of the first $200,000 of your home’s value, whichever is greater, plus another 1% for any home value amount above $200,000. The maximum allowable origination fee is $6,000. By contrast, the average origination fee for a traditional mortgage is just under $1,000, according to data from Value Penguin, a LendingTree company.

Increase in debt

You receive income from a reverse mortgage, but it’s still a loan that you or your estate will be responsible for repaying. Since you’re borrowing from your home’s available equity, your loan balance increases over time, which adds to your outstanding debt load.

No tax deductibility

The IRS treats the income received from reverse mortgages as loan advances, and for that reason any interest paid on a reverse mortgage isn’t tax-deductible.

Rising interest rates

The majority of reverse mortgage products have an adjustable interest rate, which is subject to market fluctuations. Your rate will be at a high risk of increasing very quickly.

Reverse mortgage pros and cons

Consider the following benefits and drawbacks before applying for a reverse mortgage:

Pros

  • Increase in your monthly income. If you opt for monthly payments from your lender, a reverse mortgage gives you additional income every month on top of any retirement income you already receive.
  • Flexibility to use the funds how you see fit. If you take out a HECM or proprietary reverse mortgage, there aren’t restrictions imposed on what the money is used for.
  • Ability to stay in your home. Not only do you get to keep your home, but you can keep it in your family after you pass away if your estate is able to fully repay the reverse mortgage.
  • Free from underwater mortgage stress. If your loan balance becomes greater than your home’s value, you likely won’t be on the hook for the difference between the two.

Cons

  • High upfront costs. There are origination fees, mortgage insurance expenses and closing costs in a reverse mortgage transaction. If you choose to cover these costs with your loan, you’ll receive a smaller payout.
  • Decrease in your home equity. With a reverse mortgage, your loan balance grows and your available equity shrinks over time.
  • Loan becomes due if you have a change of heart. If you decide you want to move out of or sell your home, the outstanding balance on your reverse mortgage becomes due immediately.
  • Adjustable-rate mortgage. Most reverse mortgages have adjustable interest rates that will likely increase over time. As of January 2019, the latest month for which data are available, reverse mortgage rates range from 3.583% to 7.019%, according to FHA statistics.

Shopping for a reverse mortgage

The first few steps you should take when you decide you want to apply for a reverse mortgage are to educate yourself on how reverse mortgage programs work, and to determine which loan type works best for your financial situation.

Once you have those details figured out, gather multiple quotes from reverse mortgage lenders and compare the costs and fees to find the best deal available. Ask questions about any and everything that seems unclear, and don’t forget to consult a HUD-approved reverse mortgage counselor for extra help.

Consider the interest rate each lender charges, as well as the origination fee and other closing costs. Additionally, work with each lender to determine how folding the financing costs into your loan will affect the amount you ultimately receive and whether it makes sense to pay those costs out-of-pocket instead.

After you’ve closed on a reverse mortgage and — for some unforeseen reason — decide you no longer need it, you have a “right to rescission,” which means you’re allowed to cancel the deal without penalty. You have a minimum of three business days after the loan closes to notify your lender in writing, and the lender has 20 days to refund any money you’ve paid toward the financing of that loan.

FAQs about reverse mortgages

The timeline varies by lender, but the lending process could take two months or longer. Be sure to ask your loan officer for a rough idea.

No, interest paid on reverse mortgage balances is not tax-deductible.

When you pass away, your reverse mortgage becomes due and payable. If you have a surviving spouse or heirs, they will be responsible for paying back the loan, which might involve selling your house.

For HECM loans, you can find an FHA-approved lender through HUD’s website. For other types of reverse mortgages, a quick online search will reveal public and private lenders in your area.

Reverse mortgage alternatives

A reverse mortgage isn’t the best option for every senior homeowner. If you need money to fund renovations, repairs or other expenses, here are some alternative options.

Borrow a home equity loan or line of credit

If you have a sizeable amount of equity in your home, you might qualify to take out a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC). You borrow a lump sum of cash with a home equity loan and you’re granted a line of credit, similar to a credit card, with a HELOC. Either of these products might work better if you’re still employed, as they require you to make monthly payments after borrowing the funds.

Refinance your existing mortgage

For those borrowers who still have a mortgage balance, you could refinance your loan by extending the term and lowering your monthly payment amount, which frees up some cash in your budget. You could take advantage of a cash-out refinance, which allows you to borrow a new mortgage that’s larger than what you actually need for your house and pocket the difference.

Rent out a room

Empty-nesters with more home space than they actually need might benefit from renting out one of their bedrooms either through short- or long-term rentals. This generates extra income that can be used for remodeling, traveling or other expenses.

Don’t forget your retirement accounts

As long as you’re old enough to tap your 401(k), IRA or other retirement account without any early withdrawal penalties, going this route is a less costly way to supplement your income. Generally speaking, you can withdraw from your retirement accounts without penalty starting at age 59 ½.

The bottom line

Reverse mortgages come with additional considerations that may not always be a concern for forward mortgages, but they may provide relief for some older homeowners who want to supplement their income and also age in place.

If you can comfortably manage your insurance, tax and other obligations related to homeownership, maintain your property and keep it in good condition, and are confident that your heirs will take care of your home after your passing, a reverse mortgage could work well for you.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

Compare Mortgage Loan Offers for Free

Home Purchase Quotes

Home Refinance Quotes

(It only takes 3 minutes!)

NMLS #1136 Terms & Conditions Apply

Advertiser Disclosure

Featured, Mortgage

How to Refinance Your Mortgage to Save Money and Consolidate Debt

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Disclosure : By clicking “See Offers” you’ll be directed to our parent company, LendingTree. Based on your creditworthiness you may be matched with up to five different lenders.

Happy black couple standing outside their house

Refinancing your mortgage, which is the process of paying off your existing home loan and replacing it with a new loan, can save homeowners money. But before you consider a mortgage refinance, you should understand how much it costs and what the process entails.

In this guide, we’ll explore how to refinance a mortgage, how much it costs to refinance and how to decide whether you should refinance at all. We’ll also discuss the refinancing process and offer comparison-shopping tips.

How to refinance your mortgage

Before we cover the steps you need to take to refinance a mortgage, we first need to understand the different refinance options available. Below is a table of the types of refinances and the process involved for each in refinancing your mortgage.

Types of mortgage refinances

Refinance Type

How Does It Work?

Cash-out A way to borrow against your available equity. You take out a new mortgage with a larger balance than your existing loan and pocket the difference in cash.
Limited cash-out The refi closing costs and fees are financed into the new loan, and you may receive a small amount of cash — not to exceed 2% of the loan amount or $2,000, whichever is lower — when the closing documents are reconciled.
No cash-out Also called “rate-and-term” refinance. You refinance your existing loan balance to improve your loan terms by securing a lower mortgage rate or switching mortgage types, for example. You can either pay your closing costs and fees out of pocket or finance them into your new loan.
Streamline A refinance with limited documentation and underwriting requirements. The goal is to lower your monthly mortgage payment. Streamline refinances are available on government-backed mortgages through the FHA, USDA and VA.

Step-by-step guide to shopping for a mortgage refinance

Before you start shopping for a new mortgage, arm yourself with knowledge. First, check mortgage refinance rates in your area online.

What Mortgage Amount Do you Need?
Calculate Payment Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

It’s good to know what the best rates are, but it’s even better to know if you’ll qualify for them. About six months before you plan on applying for a refinance, pull a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Review your reports for accuracy and dispute any errors you find. You’ll also want to access your credit scores to see where you stand.

Aim for a score of 740 or higher to qualify for the lowest mortgage rates. You can still qualify with a lower credit score, but the lower your score, the higher your interest rate will be. We offer separate tips on how to refinance a mortgage with bad credit.

Choose your rate type
Decide which rate type works for you. For example, do you have an adjustable-rate mortgage and want to switch to a fixed-rate mortgage? Mortgage rates might be lower now, but eventually they’ll increase. If you have a 5/1 ARM, your mortgage rate is fixed for the first five years, but will adjust annually thereafter. Unless you know with certainty you can afford your monthly payments when your rate starts rising, or you aren’t planning to stay in the home for long, an ARM is risky.

If you don’t want to gamble with your monthly mortgage payment, stick with a fixed-rate mortgage. Your rate will be locked in for the life of your loan.

Gather multiple quotes

As with most shopping endeavors, the best way to find the best price is to get quotes from multiple mortgage lenders in your area.

There are two primary criteria for you to consider. The first, of course, is interest rates. The second is fees, which can eat into your savings.

It’s easy to take the path of least resistance and refinance with your current lender, which may offer you lower fees than their competitors. But the interest rates offered by your current lender may be higher than what’s available with other lenders. Get outside quotes to use as leverage for negotiations.

Or maybe your lender is offering you lower fees and interest rates than the competition, but the rate is still higher than you’d like it to be because of a less-than-perfect credit score. While doing so doesn’t have a high success rate, you can try negotiating for a lower rate based on customer loyalty.

Prepare your documents

Gather these commonly required documents before approaching your lender to ensure the application process goes as smoothly as possible:

  • Personal information: Be prepared with your Social Security number, driver’s license or other state-issued ID, and the addresses you have lived at for at least the past three years. Lenders are required to verify your identity before lending you any money or allowing you to open any type of financial account.
  • Accounting of debts: Statements for any outstanding credit card balances or loans you may have, including your current mortgage.
  • Proof of employment and income: Last two to three months’ worth of pay stubs, employer contact information, including anyone you’ve worked for in the past two years, W-2s and income tax documents for the past two years and/or additional documentation of income for the past two years for self-employed individuals, including schedules and profit/loss statements.
  • Proof of assets: A list of all the properties you own, life insurance statements, retirement account statements and bank account statements going back at least three months.
  • Proof of insurance: This generally refers to homeowners insurance and title insurance.
  • Additional documents: If you receive income from disability, Social Security, child support, alimony, rental property, regular overtime pay, consistent bonuses or a pension, be sure to provide documentation for these income sources as well.

There may be additional documents required depending on your lender, but checking off this list is a great start.

Apply for the refinance

Once you’ve done your homework and gathered all your information, apply for the refinance with the lender you’ve selected.

How long does it take to refinance a mortgage?

The full process of being approved for a mortgage refinance typically takes between 20 and 45 days if you submit your paperwork in a timely manner. It will require hard pulls of your credit reports and scores, along with the submission of personal documentation.

Approval
A loan officer will look over your paperwork, which will hopefully end in approval. You’ll then be sent documents to review. It would be wise to do so with a lawyer, which is an additional fee you’ll want to consider as part of your refinancing costs.

Closing
If everything checks out and you agree to your new loan terms, then it’s time to finalize the deal with your mortgage closing. If you didn’t finance your closing costs and fees as part of your new loan, you’ll pay for them at closing time. Depending on the lender, you’ll sign your documents in person, through postal mail or online. After the paperwork is processed, your current mortgage will be paid off and your refinanced mortgage will take effect.

Should you refinance your mortgage?

There are many reasons you might consider refinancing your mortgage. For example, interest rates could have dropped significantly since you first bought your house. You may also have a growing list of home repairs that need to be addressed, or high-interest credit card or student loan debt to consolidate, and a refinance can help you achieve those goals.

But are any of these good reasons to refi? To decide, you need to factor in the cost of refinancing a mortgage, along with some other considerations. We’ll weigh the pros and cons of refinancing for various goals below.

Refinancing to lock in a lower mortgage rate

Mortgage interest rates have been historically low for a while. As of mid-September 2019, the average interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 3.56%, according to Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey. During the same week in 2018, the average rate was 4.6%. If your original mortgage rate is higher than 4%, it might make sense to explore your refinance options, since a lower interest rate can save you money over time.
See the table below for an illustration of how a lower interest rate can reduce the overall cost of your mortgage.

 Existing mortgage New mortgage

Loan amount

$290,921.36 $290,921.36

Years remaining on term

28 years 30 years

Interest rate

5%4%

Monthly payment
(principal and interest)


$1,610.46 $1,388.90

Total interest paid
(over 30 years)


$279,767.35 $209,083.75

Let’s say you’re refinancing a 30-year mortgage you undertook two years ago, and you now qualify for a mortgage rate that’s a full percentage point lower than your current rate — you’re going from 5% to 4%. Although a refinance will mean it will take longer to pay off your loan, the trade-off is the money you’ll save. Based on the table above, your new mortgage rate would lower your monthly payment by $221.56 and cut down your interest payments by more than $70,000 over the life of the loan.

How much does it cost to refinance a mortgage?

The savings sound promising, but hold your enthusiasm. Don’t forget to answer this key question before moving forward: How much are the closing costs to refinance a mortgage?

A refinance comes with closing costs and fees that could range from 3-6% of the new loan amount. Charges usually include escrow and title fees, document preparation fees, title search and insurance, loan origination fees, flood certification and recording fees. On a nearly $291,000 mortgage, these expenses could add up to more than $8,000 or more.

In order to truly save money through refinancing, you’ll need to determine your break-even point, which is the amount of time it will take for your monthly payment savings to cover the costs you paid for the refinance. Using the numbers above, we would need to divide the estimated closing costs — let’s just use $8,000 in this example — by the $221.56 monthly payment savings. The math tells us it would take about 36 months — or three years — to break even. If you don’t plan on staying in your home for at least three years or longer, you should probably keep your existing mortgage.

Refinancing to lower your mortgage payments

If you’re thinking about refinancing to lower your monthly mortgage payments, you should understand that while you’ll pay slightly less every month, the amount you pay over the life of your loan will increase.

Refinancing simply to lower your monthly payment can be dangerous during the first five to seven years of paying off your current mortgage. That’s because interest charges are not spread out evenly over the course of your loan — they are front-loaded. That means for those first several years, you’re paying more toward interest than your principal loan balance. In the meantime, you’re building very little equity. If you refinance during this time frame, you’re starting the clock over and delaying the opportunity to establish equity.

Revisiting our previous example, let’s say instead of refinancing your 30-year, $300,000 mortgage after a couple of years, you waited until you were 10 years into the loan to refinance. Your goal is to lower your monthly mortgage payment, but in order to get the payment as low as you want, you extend your loan term by 10 years and start over with a new 30-year mortgage.

On your existing mortgage, nearly $600 of your monthly payment goes toward paying down your principal by year 10. If you were to start over, the amount you’d pay toward principal drops down to less than $400 for the first few years.

Refinancing to make home improvements

Some homeowners choose to pay for home improvements by refinancing a mortgage, especially if they don’t already have the cash on hand.

Cash-out refinance

One way to do that is through a cash-out refinance, which is when you borrow a new mortgage with larger balance than your existing mortgage. The difference between the two loans is given to you in cash. That available cash comes from the equity you’ve built from paying down your existing mortgage.

A cash-out refinance could work for you if you have built a significant amount of equity in your home. Most lenders limit the maximum loan-to-value ratio — the percentage of your home’s value that is financed through your mortgage — for cash-out refinances to 80%.

Choosing a cash-out refinance could make more financial sense than borrowing a personal loan or putting repairs on a credit card, since refinance interest rates are typically lower than those alternatives.

HELOC

Another option is to borrow a home equity line of credit (HELOC). This functions similarly to a credit card; you have a line of credit up to a set amount and only pay for what you borrow, plus interest. However, because a HELOC is secured by your home, interest rates are typically much lower than on credit cards. However, rates are generally variable and not fixed, which could cause problems later if you’re carrying a large balance on your HELOC and interest rates go up.

HELOCs usually have a draw period, when you’re allowed to borrow against the credit line, and a repayment period, when you can no longer borrow and are only repaying what you owe. During the draw period, the required minimum payments usually just cover the interest, but during the repayment period, you’ll have to make principal and interest payments that will likely be much higher than your interest-only payments — especially if your outstanding balance is high.

Either way, you should be cautious. Making an upgrade for the sake of functionality is one thing, but making an upgrade for the sake of luxury is another. If you’re thinking about tapping your equity to pay for a major project that may not boost your home’s value, it might not be wise to do so. If the luxury is something you really want, don’t finance it — save up for it.

Refinancing to consolidate debt

You might be tempted to use a cash-out refinance to pay off credit card balances or other high-interest debt. With mortgage interest rates hovering near historic lows, taking this route may seem like a good idea. After all, rolling your debt into a mortgage with a 4% interest rate is better than paying it off at 15% interest or higher, isn’t it?

Credit cards

There are some instances where rolling your credit card debt into a mortgage refinance can be advantageous. For example, if you’re in a dual-income household and you lose a spouse without adequate life insurance, you may find yourself in a financial bind.

In this scenario, if you have credit card debt in your own name and suddenly can’t afford to pay the monthly bills, refinancing your mortgage and cashing out a portion to pay off your debt may be one of the few feasible options.

Let’s say you owe $20,000 in credit card debt at a 15% interest rate. If you pay off that balance over the next five years, you’ll pay more than $8,500 in interest. However, if you add that same balance to a mortgage with a 4% interest rate, although you’re increasing your loan amount, you’ll likely pay less interest than if you kept the debt on your card.

Outside of scenarios similar to the one mentioned above, refinancing your mortgage to consolidate credit card debt often doesn’t get to the root cause of the issue. If you had a spending or cash flow problem prior to your mortgage refinance, you’re likely to end up in debt again. But this time, you’ll have a bigger mortgage to handle on top of the extra debt.

Instead of borrowing a bigger mortgage to get rid of your credit card debt, consider applying for a balance transfer credit card. Though these cards come with balance transfer fees, they can be as low as 3%, and you only have to pay them once. Many cards include an initial 0% interest offer on balance transfers for the first 15 months or longer. Because there is a deadline on the 0% interest period, you’ll likely find the motivation to pay the debt off quickly and build better financial habits along the way.

Student loans 

If you have student loan debt that could take decades to repay, refinancing your mortgage to access the cash you need to pay off that debt could potentially be a smart idea.

Fannie Mae, one of the two mortgage agencies that buy and sell mortgages from lenders that conform to their guidelines (the other agency is Freddie Mac), has a “student loan cash-out refinance” option that allows borrowers to refinance their mortgage and cash out a portion of the new mortgage to pay off student loans.

Let’s say you owed $30,000 on your home and had $20,000 in outstanding student loan debt. You would take out a new $50,000 mortgage, with $20,000 of it paying off your debt.

Going this route could make sense if the interest rate on the refinance is less than the interest rate on your student loans. Additionally, if you sell your home, the proceeds should take care of the portion of your mortgage that was dedicated to paying off your loans.

The drawback of refinancing to consolidate or pay off debt is that not only do you increase your mortgage balance — you lose your available equity. Be sure to weigh the pros and cons before tapping your equity.

The bottom line

A mortgage refinance can save you money, cut down on your interest payments or give you access to cash, but be sure you’re clear on why you’re refinancing and whether it makes sense.

If you’re refinancing to extend your loan term by several years and dramatically lower your mortgage payments, or remodel your kitchen to something of a chef’s dream, reconsider. But if you’re looking to snag a lower mortgage rate on a loan for which you’ve built significant equity, refinancing may be beneficial.

Before signing on any dotted lines, reach out to your loan officer, ask questions and run the numbers.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

Compare Mortgage Loan Offers for Free

Home Purchase Quotes

Home Refinance Quotes

(It only takes 3 minutes!)

NMLS #1136 Terms & Conditions Apply

Advertiser Disclosure

Mortgage

How to Rebuild Equity on an Underwater Mortgage

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Getty Images

There are some things you can’t control as a homeowner, such as natural disasters, neighbors or the direction of home values. If these happen to take a nosedive, you could watch the equity you’ve built in your home disappear.

In fact, more than 5 million homeowners are “seriously underwater” on their mortgages — meaning the amount of debt attached to their home is at least 25% higher than the home’s value, according to the latest data from ATTOM Data Solutions, a property research firm. If you’re one of these homeowners, don’t despair. There are ways to rebuild the equity on an underwater mortgage. In this guide, we’ll explain what it means to have a mortgage underwater and how to rebuild the equity you’ve lost.

What is an underwater mortgage?

An underwater mortgage is a loan with an outstanding balance that exceeds the value of the home it secures. This is also referred to as having negative equity or being upside down on your mortgage.
There are a few ways that a mortgage can become underwater:

  • Significant drop in home values
  • Multiple loans taken out against a home, and the total balance is higher than the home’s value
  • Monthly payments not covering the interest due on a mortgage (negative amortization), and the balance owed grows instead of shrinks

If you tried to sell your home while it’s underwater, the sales proceeds likely wouldn’t be enough to pay off your mortgage, which would leave you on the hook for the remaining balance. You’d also have a hard time refinancing your mortgage, since you need to have some equity available for a refinance in many cases.

How to tell when my mortgage is underwater

If your current mortgage balance is higher than your home’s current market value, then your mortgage is underwater.

For example, let’s say your home was worth $250,000 when you first bought it, and you took out a $200,000 mortgage with a 4% interest rate. Five years later, the economy takes an unfortunate tumble and home values drop by an average 40%, giving your home an approximate $150,000 value.

Based on your loan’s amortization schedule, the outstanding balance you’d owe in year five would be about $180,000. That leaves you with $30,000 in negative equity.

Negative Equity in Your Home

Estimated Home Value in Year 5

$150,000

Estimated Mortgage Balance in Year 5

$180,000

Available Equity

-$30,000

If you find yourself in a situation similar to the one described above, there are options available to help you rebuild your home equity, which we’ll discuss in the next section.

How do I rebuild equity?

Just because your mortgage is underwater doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. There are ways to start rebuilding the equity you might need to fund other financial goals.

Pay down your mortgage as usual

The most straightforward option is to continue to pay down your mortgage as you normally would. Perhaps the housing market will recover, leading to an eventual rise in home prices. Either way, as long as you’re submitting your mortgage payments in full and on time, you’ll pay it off on schedule.

You can help speed things along by paying extra toward your principal balance. There are several ways to tackle this, which might include adding a couple hundred dollars — or whatever amount is comfortable for you — to your mortgage payment each month.

Another option is to make biweekly payments instead of monthly payments. This can add up to one extra payment each year. That’s because there are 52 weeks in a year and you’d make 26 half payments, which equals 13 full payments.

Be sure to ask your mortgage lender or servicer to direct any extra money you pay on your loan toward your principal balance (not interest).

Modify your mortgage

If you’re experiencing a temporary hardship on top of your underwater mortgage and are struggling to keep up with your mortgage payments, you could benefit from a mortgage modification.

A modification is when your lender changes the original terms of your mortgage to make it more affordable for you. Changes might include:

  • Extending the number of years you have left to repay your mortgage
  • Lowering your mortgage interest rate
  • Reducing your outstanding principal balance
  • Switching your mortgage rate type from adjustable to fixed

Eligibility requirements vary, so it’s best to contact your lender for more information about how to modify your loan.

Recast your mortgage

Another way your lender can make tweaks to your existing mortgage is by recasting your mortgage — especially if you’ve recently come into a financial windfall.

A mortgage recast involves paying a lump sum of money toward your outstanding principal balance. Your lender then recalculates your monthly mortgage payments based on the lower principal balance, but your mortgage rate and term length stay the same.

You’ll need to pay at least $5,000 — sometimes more — to recast your mortgage, and you might also be charged a recasting fee, up to $500. Check with your lender for more details and requirements.
Conventional loans typically qualify for mortgage recasting, but not government-backed loans, such as those insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA loans) or Department of Veterans Affairs (VA loans).

Refinance your mortgage

Although the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) — a government-sponsored initiative that helped nearly 3.5 million homeowners refinance their mortgages — has expired, there are other programs available that provide similar assistance.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two major agencies that buy and sell mortgages to and from lenders that follow their guidelines, created new initiatives as HARP was ending to address those homeowners who were underwater on their conventional mortgages or have high loan-to-value (LTV) ratios. An LTV ratio is calculated by dividing your loan amount by your home’s value. Revisiting the underwater mortgage example above of a home worth $150,000 with a $180,000 mortgage balance, the LTV ratio is 120%.

Fannie Mae’s high LTV refinance option offers homeowners with an LTV ratio above 97% the opportunity to refinance their mortgage. Homeowners must be current on their mortgage payments and benefit from at least one of these options:

  • A reduction in the principal and interest portion of their monthly payment
  • A lower interest rate
  • A shorter loan term
  • A more stable mortgage, such as a switch from an adjustable-rate to a fixed-rate loan

There is no maximum LTV ratio for fixed-rate mortgages, but adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) have a 105% LTV maximum. The existing mortgage must be Fannie Mae-owned.

The Enhanced Relief Refinance mortgage offered by Freddie Mac also requires homeowners to be current on their mortgage payments and have an LTV ratio that is higher than allowed for a standard refinance. The maximum LTV ratio allowed for ARMs is 105%; there’s no maximum for fixed-rate loans.

Homeowners must benefit from a shorter loan term, lower principal and interest payment, lower mortgage rate and/or a move from an ARM to a fixed-rate mortgage.

If you have a government-insured mortgage — FHA, USDA or VA loan — you may be able to take advantage of a streamlined refinance, which typically has a limited credit documentation and underwriting process. Additionally, you may not need an appraisal to verify your home’s value.

  • FHA: FHA borrowers applying for a streamlined refinance must be current on their mortgage payments and benefit from at least a 5% reduction in their monthly payment amount. You may also qualify if you’re switching from an ARM to a fixed-rate mortgage or shortening your loan term.
  • USDA: Borrowers with USDA loans may qualify for the streamlined assist refinance option if they have little to no equity and are current on their payments. The benefit must come from a monthly mortgage payment that’s at least $50 lower than the existing amount.
  • VA IRRRL: The VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan program helps homeowners with VA loans by lowering their mortgage payment through a reduced interest rate. Guidelines require a minimum 0.5% rate reduction.

Other options for underwater homeowners

If you’re ready to walk away from your home or simply can’t afford it anymore, consider one of the avenues below:

Home sale

You could attempt to sell your home, with the understanding that you likely won’t make enough profit to pay off your mortgage. If you have a hefty savings account, you can use some of those funds to pay the difference between the amount your home sale covers and your outstanding loan balance.

Short sale

Another option is a short sale, which allows you to sell your home for a price that is less than the outstanding balance on your mortgage. Additionally, your mortgage lender may forgive your remaining mortgage debt. Keep in mind that your credit score will take a hit with this option — it could drop by 100 points, according to FICO.

Deed in lieu of foreclosure

A deed in lieu of foreclosure, also known as a mortgage release, is the process of voluntarily transferring the ownership of your home to your lender. In exchange, you may be released from your mortgage payments and debt. This option also prevents you from going into foreclosure.

Similar to short sales, a deed in lieu of foreclosure negatively impacts credit scores.

The bottom line

You may feel helpless if you’re dealing with an underwater mortgage, but you have options. If you’re able to manage your monthly payments as they are, it may be best to continue paying down your loan as usual, making extra payments whenever possible. But if you’re struggling or simply want to reduce your payment amount, consider a loan modification or a refinance.

Be sure to discuss your available options with your mortgage lender or servicer, and remember that maintaining on-time payments will help your case.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

Compare Mortgage Loan Offers for Free

Home Purchase Quotes

Home Refinance Quotes

(It only takes 3 minutes!)

NMLS #1136 Terms & Conditions Apply