Reverse mortgages should be last resort

LOS ANGELES, Calif. For some homeowners they can provide an extra stream of cash, but they could end up ruining your finances so you should be wary before signing up for one.

At 83 years old, Arlene Schwemmer is no longer able to live on her own and has had to move. She's devastated she'll get nothing from the sale of the home she shared with her late husband for 49 years.

Arlene's daughter says that's because a broker persuaded her parents to take out a /*reverse mortgage*/ four years ago. The terms were complicated and hard to decipher.

"The decision on the reverse mortgage was one of the worst decisions I think my folks had ever made. It was tragic," said Diane Zaugg, Arlene's daughter.

Reverse mortgages are loans aimed at people 62 or older. You cash in some of the equity in your home and receive a lump sum or a line of credit. You make no monthly payments and can use the money for any purpose. The loan comes due at the time of death or if you move out.

"The big danger with reverse mortgages is the hefty fees and mounting interest charges quickly erode any equity you have in the house," said Andrea Rock from /*Consumer Reports*/.

Fees and interest charges of more than $100,000 pushed Arlene's loan to far more than she can get for her house. As for the cash from the reverse mortgage, Arlene's daughter says the broker steered her parents to a poor investment, and Arlene has seen little of the money.

"There are brokers out there who prey on their customers' ignorance. And laws to protect against questionable sales tactics just aren't strong enough," said Rock.

Consumer Reports says for some people reverse mortgages can be an option, but only as a last resort.

"Always consider other options first because should you someday need to sell the house, these loans can be a disaster, wiping out all your equity and leaving you and your heirs with nothing," said Rock.

Taxpayers may soon have to cover losses by companies pushing reverse mortgages. Consumer Reports says that could be as much as $800 million next year because the federal insurance fund might run out of money.

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