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Boosting Parents’ Retirement Income

Many retirees have had their incomes devastated because of low interest rates. Historical returns for five to ten year bonds have been 4.5% to 5.5%. Today 10-year treasury bonds yield a paltry 2.6% and the average money market account is paying less than one percent. One of the primary drivers behind low interest rates is the Federal Reserve who has set and maintained the fed funds rate at near zero percent in an effort to stimulate an anemic economy. This past week, Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, indicated that the Federal Reserve will continue to support low interest rates for the foreseeable future. This leaves many retirees who depend on interest income in a financial tight spot with no relief in sight. Many retirees are finding it necessary to invade their principal just to pay their monthly bills.

In some cases, adult children are in a financial position to help…but what’s the best way to do this? First, let’s examine how a reverse mortgage can turn a non-income producing asset into a cash flow machine.

With a reverse mortgage, instead of making payments to a mortgage lender, the mortgage lender makes payments to the homeowner. And instead of paying down your mortgage over time, as you receive payments, your mortgage balance increases over time. At the point that you no longer live in the house, the home is sold and the loan paid off. Additional options include receiving a lump sum or having a loan that operates like a home equity line of credit. Some of the disadvantages of reverse mortgages are that you have closing costs that can be from three to seven percent of the loan amount; the interest rate attributed to the mortgage is typically two to three percent higher than a conventional mortgage; and you have to be at least age sixty-two to qualify. Lenders will also restrict loans to around 50% or less of market value.

One of the most often comments I get from retirees is that they don’t want to be a financial burden to their children. Translated, this means they would be very reluctant to take a financial handout even if you could easily afford it. However, they would likely consider a financial transaction that is mutually beneficial such as a ‘private’ reverse mortgage. With this strategy, the adult child becomes the mortgage lender but can do so without the closing costs; can use a lower interest rate; and could offer a loan greater than 50% of market value. You would need to formalize the transaction with a written promissory note and federal law requires that a minimum interest rate, called the Applicable Federal Rate, must be charged in order to avoid potential gift taxes. To avoid potential future conflict, be sure to make all siblings aware of the details of the arrangement before implementing.

Ultimately, when the parent is no longer living in the home, it can be sold and the loan, plus interest, repaid. The private reverse mortgage is an excellent way to partner with a parent to provide additional monthly cash flow during what may be an extended economic downturn.