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Reverse Mortgages vs. Home Equity Loans: A Complete Guide

Reverse Mortgages vs. Home Equity Loans: A Complete Guide

In today's ever-changing financial landscape, individuals often find themselves seeking additional funds to support their retirement or address unexpected expenses. Two popular options for tapping into home equity are reverse mortgages and home equity loans.

While both serve as potential solutions, understanding the differences between these two loan types is essential to make an informed financial decision. In this article, we will explore the definitions, eligibility criteria, loan amounts, interest rates, fees, repayment options, and the pros and cons of reverse mortgages and home equity loans.

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A reverse mortgage is a type of loan available to homeowners aged 62 and older, enabling them to convert a portion of their home equity into cash. Unlike a traditional mortgage, reverse mortgages do not require monthly payments. Instead, the loan is repaid when the homeowner moves out, sells the home, or passes away. The primary purpose of a reverse mortgage is to provide retirees with a steady source of income, allowing them to maintain their quality of life and cover expenses during their retirement years.

On the other hand, a home equity loan, also known as a second mortgage, allows homeowners to borrow against the equity in their property. The loan is typically provided as a lump sum, and borrowers must make monthly payments to repay the loan amount with interest over a specified period. Home equity loans are often used to fund significant expenses such as home renovations, medical bills, or debt consolidation.

Eligibility and Loan Amount

Reverse mortgages have specific eligibility criteria. Homeowners must be at least 62 years old, own their home outright or have a low mortgage balance, and occupy the property as their primary residence. The loan amount is determined based on factors such as the borrower's age, home value, interest rates, and the chosen payment plan. Generally, the older the borrower, the higher the loan amount they can receive.

Home equity loans have different eligibility requirements. Lenders typically consider factors such as credit history, income, and the borrower's loan-to-value ratio. The loan amount for a home equity loan is determined by the appraised value of the property, subtracting the outstanding mortgage balance. Generally, lenders offer home equity loans up to 80% of the home's appraised value.

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Interest Rates and Fees

Reverse mortgages and home equity loans differ in terms of interest rates and fees. With a reverse mortgage, borrowers have the option to choose between fixed and adjustable interest rates. The interest accrues on the outstanding loan balance over time, and the borrower is not required to make monthly payments. However, interest rates for reverse mortgages tend to be higher than those for traditional mortgages.

Home equity loans typically have fixed interest rates, offering borrowers predictability in their monthly payments. The interest rates for home equity loans are often lower than those for reverse mortgages. Additionally, borrowers may need to pay various fees, including origination fees, closing costs, and appraisal fees when obtaining a home equity loan.

Repayment Options

Repayment options differ significantly between reverse mortgages and home equity loans. Reverse mortgages allow homeowners to defer repayment until they move out of the home, sell the property, or pass away. At that point, the loan, along with accrued interest and fees, must be repaid. The repayment is usually facilitated through the sale of the home, with any remaining equity going to the borrower or their heirs.

In contrast, home equity loans require borrowers to make monthly payments, typically over a fixed term, to repay the loan amount plus interest. This repayment structure offers borrowers the ability to plan and budget their payments over time.

Pros and Cons

Reverse Mortgages


  • Provides a steady source of income during retirement.
  • No monthly mortgage payments required.
  • Flexibility in loan disbursement options (lump sum, line of credit, or monthly payments).
  • The borrower retains ownership of the home.


  • Higher interest rates compared to traditional mortgages.
  • Possible impact on the borrower's eligibility for certain government benefits.
  • The loan balance can grow over time, reducing the home equity available to heirs.
  • Complex terms and conditions that require careful consideration.

Home Equity Loans


  • Lower interest rates compared to reverse mortgages.
  • Funds available as a lump sum for immediate use.
  • Predictable monthly payments.
  • The loan does not affect the borrower's eligibility for government benefits.


  • Monthly payments required, which may strain the borrower's finances.
  • Potential risk of foreclosure if the borrower fails to make payments.
  • Fees associated with obtaining the loan.
  • The borrower's home is used as collateral.
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When deciding between a reverse mortgage and a home equity loan, it's crucial to assess your individual financial needs and circumstances. Reverse mortgages offer flexibility and no monthly payments, making them an attractive option for retirees seeking additional income.

However, home equity loans provide a lump sum amount and predictable repayment structure, making them suitable for borrowers who prefer regular payments and need immediate funds. Ultimately, thorough research, consultation with financial advisors, and careful consideration of the pros and cons will help you make an informed decision that aligns with your long-term financial goals.

Feature Image Credit: marekuliasz/Getty Images

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David Gittelson

David Gittelson

Reverse Mortgage Advisors David Gittelson (Reverse Mortgage Specialist NMLS 224312) started his career in the lending and finance industry in 2001 and has supported close to two billion in transactions through hundreds of trusted professionals. In the early 2000's David used Reverse Mortgages to support his client's cash management and retirement strategies in collaboration with the client’s tax and financial advisers and continues today with even better products and solutions to support trusted advisers whose clients are fifty-five years and older.

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