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The Mortgage Professor: Why the HECM reverse mortgage market is stunted – and what can be done about it

Jack Guttentag, The Mortgage Professor on

Published in Home and Consumer News

-- Defining future financial status, including sources of retirement income, financial assets and their earnings, and planned lifestyle expenses.

-- Fitting a HECM into the retirement plan in the most advantageous way possible, taking advantage of the multiple HECM options that are available, and the flexibility the program offers to change options in response to changing needs.

-- Finding the lender offering the best terms on the HECM option that is needed.

Here is an over-simplified illustration. John is 62, intends to work until he reaches 67, and has a deferred annuity that he purchased some time back that will begin payments when he reaches 75. During the 8 years after he retires until the annuity kicks in, he will be short of spendable funds. John will use a HECM to supplement his income during that period. To do that, he will take a credit line at 62, allow it to grow for 5 years, at which point he will use some or all of it to purchase a term payment for 8 years. Whatever part of the line he does not need for the term payment he will retain as a reserve for future contingencies or special occasions.

Having identified the HECM he needs, John can now shop lenders for the best deal. He will be interested in the largest possible 8-year term payment beginning in 5 years. If he has concerns about his estate value, he will also be interested in how much he will owe on that HECM at some future time. The lenders John solicits will be obliged to generate the projections specific to his needs.

In sum, a central objective of a HECM counseling system should be to identify the HECM option that best meets the senior's expected future needs. The existing counseling system is so permeated by HUD's fear that seniors will be led astray that it discourages this type of analysis. In its instructions to applicants who are preparing to be counseled, HUD says "The job of the counselor is not to 'steer' or direct you toward a specific solution, a specific product, or a specific lender."


Disclosure requirements are far more extensive than those applicable to forward mortgage borrowers. The packages are prepared by a lender or a counselor, depending on which one the senior contacts first; usually it is a lender. Since the borrower has not been counseled on the HECM option that best meets her needs, the documents must cover a range of possibilities, which is one reason the packages are so large. A recent document package I looked at had 97 pages covering a wide range of possible options that might or might not have had any bearing on the needs of the senior receiving it. She is expected to educate herself from an information fire hose.


Whether on balance these documents do more good than harm is debatable. Some seniors find the package so forbidding that they drop out of the market altogether.


The key to developing a HECM market structure that will work for seniors is a counseling system that focuses on identifying the specific HECM option that best complements the individual senior's financial situation. This is critical because a loan market will not work effectively if borrowers don't know what they want. The system must be independent of lenders yet have access to current HECM pricing. Since no one else seems inclined to do this, my colleagues and I have decided to do it ourselves. Stay tuned.

About The Writer

Jack Guttentag is professor emeritus of finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Comments and questions can be left at

(c)2017 Jack Guttentag

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