Over this period, the average increase in seniors’ debt was $50,000, of which fully 67% was mortgage debt. At the same time, however, the average increase in seniors’ assets was just over $500,000, of which 51.7% is attributable to real estate assets—meaning that seniors’ increased (mortgage) debt is, on average, moderated by their increased (real estate) assets.
HomeEquity Bank says their average customer is a 72-year-old who borrows $170,000 to pay down their debt and supplement their income. Reverse-mortgage funds could also be used to fund renovations that let you stay in your house longer, to help your child or grandchild with an “early inheritance,” to provide “bridge” financing if you wait to take Canada Pension Plan or Old Age Security benefits, or to pay for long-term care or long-term care insurance. And because the funds aren’t taxable when you get them, there’s no impact on government benefits that can be clawed back based on your taxable income, such as Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.
The future of reverse mortgages
The conventional wisdom on how to treat housing wealth in retirement has been to preserve it as a last-resort option, with reverse-mortgage lenders thus viewed as “lenders of last resort.” If housing wealth is not needed to help fund retirement, this view goes, the home can be left as part of the legacy for the next generation. As a result, it’s easy to find reverse-mortgage naysayers: former Minister of National Revenue Garth Turner famously quipped that reverse mortgages are “an ideal strategy, if you hate your children.”
The criticisms of reverse mortgages tend to focus on the rates, which are more than double comparable five-year mortgage rates (which might be as low as 2.5% today) and several percentage points higher than HELOC rates (which can be 3.75% and up).
Another focus of criticism is the overall indebtedness of seniors who may have few, if any, other options. This lack of options, however, is what puts reverse mortgages on the table in the first place: With lowered incomes in retirement, mortgages and HELOCs may be unavailable to many Canadians.
Simply selling the home to create the desired cash flow can present other problems, as the principal residence provides a source of tax-free compounding that is decreased by downsizing or eliminated by renting. As a result, a senior who wants to “age in place,” perhaps with the support of a reverse mortgage to cover home renovation or care costs, may find the reverse mortgage the best of their available options.
Looking backwards, the rise in reverse mortgages can be understood as Canadians’ collective response to lower costs of borrowing, gains in home equity, and reduced income security in retirement with the decrease in defined-benefit pensions.
Looking forward, whether you love ’em or hate ’em, with Canadians facing the need to cover the costs of retirement that may last well into our nineties and beyond, reverse mortgages may, in fact, be here to stay.