Jane took out a HECM reverse mortgage on her house
5 years ago when she became 62. Because she was still
employed at the time, she elected to take a credit line,
which she has used sparingly ever since. She has now quit
her job and wants to receive the largest possible payment
every month – a “tenure” payment, which is paid for as long
as she remains in her home.
Jane has options. She can modify her HECM by
converting her unused credit line into a tenure payment. But
she can also refinance, taking the largest possible tenure
payment on a new HECM. Jane wants to know which of these
payments would be larger. She may also want to know which
option will cost her estate the most.
Refinancing and Modification as
Refinancing and modification are alternative ways
of changing the features of a mortgage. With a refinance,
the changes occur by terminating the old contract and
executing a new one. With a modification, borrower-initiated
changes occur within the existing contract between borrower
and lender. That contract must include provisions that make
Both forward and reverse mortgages allow borrowers
to refinance without a penalty, and in both cases borrowers
can modify the loan by paying down the balance. However,
HECM reverse mortgages allow several other types of
modification that are not available on forward mortgages.
Types of HECM Modifications
One type allows borrowers with an unused credit
line to draw on it, either on a discretionary month-
to-month basis or by taking a fixed monthly payment over
some specified period. Another HECM modification allows
borrowers who are drawing a monthly payment now to increase
it if the existing draw is less than the maximum, reduce it,
change the period over which it is drawn, or convert it (in
whole or in part) to an unused credit line.
These options to modify a HECM mean that in some
cases, modification and refinancing are competing ways to
draw funds. This is the case with Jane.
Factors Affecting the Decision
Working in favor of the refinance option is that
Jane is now 5 years older and the value of her house has
increased, both of which command larger monthly payments.
Working against the refinance option is that it involves a
new set of closing costs, which reduces payments. A
modification costs only $20. But knowing all this doesn’t
answer the question of which option will provide the largest
To answer the question of whether modification or refinance would work better for the borrower, my colleague Allan Redstone designed a devilishly clever spreadsheet that is on my web site for anybody to download and use. You can download the spreadsheet by clicking here.
spreadsheet has three parts.
part shows the status of the HECM now, and how it will
evolve if the borrower neither modifies or refinances. The
borrower must enter the original features of her HECM from
her file, and the most current features as shown in the
latest monthly statement from her servicer. The spreadsheet
will project the monthly payment, loan balance, unused
credit line, property value and homeowner equity out to age
Options to Modify:
In this part of the spreadsheet, the borrower indicates her
cash draw and monthly payment desires, relative to the
maximums available. The spreadsheet projects the same 5
measures as in the status section with the desired
Refinance Versus Modification:
This part projects the same measures on the
assumption that the borrower refinances. Since these
projections are heavily influenced by the price of the new
HECM, the projections are done twice. One projection uses
the new HECM with the lowest interest rate quoted by the 9
lenders who deliver their prices to my web site. The second
projection uses the HECM with the smallest origination fee.
These results are compared to those based on modification of
the existing HECM.
The spreadsheet provides Jane with information not
otherwise available. She could learn from her servicer what
her new payment would be if she modified her HECM. She could
learn from any HECM lender what her payment would be if she
refinanced with that lender, but these results would vary
from one lender to another based on their pricing. And
neither her servicer or any lender she consults can show her
differences in future home equity between the refinance and