The HECM Reverse Mortgage Decision Process

November 22, 2015, Reviewed March 21, 2017

The HECM reverse mortgage offers multiple options that are designed to meet a wide range of senior needs and capacities. This is a major strength of the program, but it can also be a weakness. Multiple options make the program complex, which opens the door to poor decisions that can be costly.

The purpose of this article is to provide a roadmap for the decisions that must be made at each of 4 steps in the process. My colleagues and I have developed a calculator that generates the information needed to make the best decisions possible at each step. If taken one step at a time, with the help of the calculator, none are difficult. Without the calculator, though, you will be guessing.

Step 1 – Entering Your Information: The validity of the results depends on the accuracy of the information you provide at the outset. My illustration assumes a John Doe who is 68 years old, has a house worth $500,000 with an existing mortgage balance of $170,000, and who expects to have a reverse mortgage about 10 years. Under the rules, the existing mortgage balance must be paid off with the proceeds of the reverse mortgage.

Step 2a - Choosing Fixed-Rate or Adjustable-Rate:  With fixed-rate HECMs, the senior has only one option for drawing funds: whatever amounts are drawn must be taken entirely at closing. The most that Doe can draw with a fixed-rate (in addition to the $170,000 balance payoff) is $32,000. With an ARM, Doe could draw $32,000 at closing, and another $105,000 12 months later.  Alternatively, with the ARM Doe could draw funds monthly, or take a credit line that defers any draws until later.

In sum, anyone who wants to draw funds in the future will select an ARM. The only seniors for whom an FRM makes sense are those who have an immediate need for funds that can be met with the FRM, and want to minimize their loss of equity.   

Step 2b - Deciding Between a 0.5% Mortgage Insurance Premium and a 2.5% Premium: The higher premium applies to transactions on which the borrower uses 60% or more of his borrowing power upfront, to draw cash and/or pay off an existing mortgage. The $32,000 that Doe could draw upfront was based on the 2.5% premium. With the 0.5% premium, Doe could draw only $15,000. Those who select an FRM might elect the higher premium because of the larger cash draw. In contrast, those who select an ARM because of their interest in future draws, will not find the higher premium option of any value because it reduces monthly payments and future credit lines. I assume Doe selects the ARM with the lower insurance premium.

Step 3 – Selecting the ARM Payment Options:  Doe has the following single draw options

  • A cash draw of $19,600 and another draw of $128,000 in 12 months; or

  • An unused credit line for the same amounts, which will grow at the mortgage rate if not used; or

  • $940 a month for as long as Doe resides in the home; or

  • Larger amounts for shorter periods, which Doe can specify – for example, $1,577 a month for 10 years.

In addition, Doe can combine these options in an unlimited number of ways: Here are a few:


Upfront Cash

Monthly Payment Period

Monthly Payment

Credit Line (At Closing and After 12 Months)





$8738 + $51,452



5 Years


$1081 + $114,981



1 Year


$6879 + $128,000



10 Years


$223 + $58,974


Step 4a– Selecting the Best Combination of Interest Rate and Origination Fee: Lenders offer multiple combinations of interest rate and origination fee. For example, on Transaction A shown immediately above, one of the lenders who delivers reverse mortgage price data to my web site this week quoted a rate of 3.776% and an origination fee of $3,000, and also a rate of 3.901% and an origination fee of minus $5042 – a rebate. Which set is better for the borrower depends on his objective. If it is to minimize his loss of equity, he wants the price combination that results in the lowest loan balance at the end of the period he expects to have the mortgage. The calculator shows that this is the high rate/rebate combination.

On the other hand, borrowers whose focus is mainly on husbanding a credit line until they need it will probably prefer a price combination that results in the largest unused credit line sometime in the future. My calculator allows the user to rank lender price quotes by that criteria as well, and also to vary the length of the period used in the calculations.

Step 4b – Selecting the Lender Offering the Best Deal: This last step is anti-climactic. Unless you have some other basis for choosing a lender, you will select the one offering the price combination that results either in the lowest debt or the largest unused credit line, depending on which of these objectives dominates your plan, over the period you specify.

The calculator I used in writing this article is free for anyone to use. We have tried to make it as user-friendly as possible, but if you get hung up we are available to help.

In or near retirement? The Professor’s Retirement Funds Integrator (RFI) might enhance your life during retirement.

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