Help for Cash-Poor, House-Rich Senior Citizens

Peter Coy

It didn't get a lot of attention, but last December the House of Representatives passed a bill that should enable more senior citizens to get reverse mortgages.

A reverse mortgage is a way to pull spending money out of your house without incurring monthly mortgage payments. You can take out a lump sum or arrange a line of credit and never pay any interest or principal on the loan until you move out of the house or die. You have to be at least 62 to qualify. It's a great deal for older people who want to tap the value of their houses but don't want to move out and can't risk a conventional mortgage, which would leave them with repayments that they might not be able to afford.

The House bill, sponsored by first-term Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick, Republican of Pennsylvania, is called the "Reverse Mortgages to Help America’s Seniors Act of 2005." The companion bill pending in the Senate is sponsored by another Keystone State Republican, Rick Santorum.

The most popular reverse mortgage is the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), which is federally insured. Fitzpatrick's bill, if it becomes law, will remove the congressional cap on how many such mortgages can be outstanding. The cap was raised last year to 250,000 from 150,000. Among those backing the bill: the AARP.

It strikes me as a great idea.

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