What Is a Reverse Mortgage in Canada – Is It Right for You?

WRITTEN BY Dylan Callaghan | UPDATED ON: April 9, 2024

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When homeowners reach their retirement years, achieving financial security becomes crucial. Exploring a reverse mortgage as a solution for added income or handling unforeseen costs could be worthwhile.

What is a reverse mortgage in Canada?

A reverse mortgage is a financial arrangement tailored for homeowners typically aged 55 years and older. It allows them to access a portion of their home equity while still living in the home. 

This type of loan converts equity into cash, enabling owners to bolster their finances without selling their residences.

Unlike traditional mortgages or lines of credit, a reverse mortgage does not require routine monthly payments. Instead, the loan becomes repayable when the homeowner moves out, sells the home or, ultimately, passes away. 

It's a way for retirees to stay in their homes while utilizing the equity they've built up over the years to support their retirement needs.

It's important for those considering a reverse mortgage to understand the pros and cons. Understanding these products can have a significant impact on your financial future.

Let's dig deeper into the intricacies of a reverse mortgage.

How a reverse mortgage works

  • A reverse mortgage allows a homeowner to obtain a loan secured by the equity in their primary residence. 
  • Unlike a traditional mortgage, no monthly payments toward the loan balance are required. 
  • The homeowner may borrow a percentage of their home's equity, which is then received as tax-free cash. 
  • The repayment of the loan is deferred until the homeowner sells the property, relocates, or the estate is settled after their passing.

There are some other conditions in which the loan may be asked to be repaid. However, I'll get to those a bit later when we speak about some of the risks of a reverse mortgage.

Reverse mortgages are specifically designed to provide retirees with an income stream or lump sum payment. It does this by leveraging the equity they have accumulated in their home. This enables them to remain in their primary residence while accessing the funds needed for various purposes.

What are the eligibility requirements?

To qualify for a reverse mortgage in Canada, an individual must fulfill specific eligibility criteria:

  • Age: The homeowner(s) must be at least 55 years old. All individuals listed on the home's title must meet this age requirement.
  • Primary Residence: The property against which the reverse mortgage is taken must be the borrower's primary residence. This means the homeowner must live there for more than six months of the year.
  • Equity: Lenders typically require that the homeowner has a substantial amount of equity in their home, often at least 50%. The exact amount of equity required can vary depending on the lender and the value of the home.
  • Home value: Banks will often have criteria set for a minimum value of your home.

Financial implications of a reverse mortgage

Owners should understand the financial nuances when considering a reverse mortgage in Canada.

Banks don't operate for free, and it benefits them if they're offering you a product like this.

Interest rates and fees

Reverse mortgages typically have higher interest rates compared to traditional mortgages due to their deferred payment structure. Lenders often charge a fixed or variable rate, and the accumulated interest adds to the loan balance over time.

In addition, there are several fees involved, including setup fees, appraisal fees, and closing costs. In terms of the appraisal fee, banks will require someone to come and give you a home appraisal so they can determine how much you're able to borrow.

Ultimately, the lower your appraisal, the less money you'll be able to borrow.

The impact on your underlying equity

The unique aspect of a reverse mortgage is that it allows owners to access their home equity without selling their property. 

However, as owners receive cash advances, their home equity decreases. The total debt increases with added interest, eroding the equity over time.

The pace at which this happens is linked to the rate of interest you currently pay and what type of rate you have. For example, variable rates can fluctuate the impact, while a fixed rate will give you a more predictable cost over a set period of time.

Is a Home Equity Line of Credit a better option?

Compared to other equity release products, like a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC), reverse mortgages tend to be more expensive. This is due to higher interest rates and fees.

The costs for these loans are complex, and one must account for both initial and ongoing expenses to properly compare with alternative loan options such as HELOCs or traditional mortgage rates.

Ultimately, the answer to this question is just going to be, "It depends."

Pros and cons of reverse mortgages

Benefits to homeowners

  • Tax-Free Money: The funds from a reverse mortgage are tax-free, which means they do not impact a person's Old-Age Security or Guaranteed Income Supplement.
  • Enhanced Cash Flow: You can enhance their cash flow by converting part of their home equity into cash. This can be received as a lump sum, regular payments, or a combination of both.
  • Ownership Retention: They retain ownership of their home and can benefit from any appreciation in their property's value, which could help them once they've repaid the loan.

Potential drawbacks

  • Higher Interest Rates: Interest rates for reverse mortgages are often higher than for traditional mortgages. As the interest compounds, this can lead to an increase in debt over time.
  • Reduction in Equity: Because owners are borrowing against their equity, the remaining equity in the home may decrease over time as interest accumulates unless the value of the home appreciates faster.
  • Impact on Estate: Upon the homeowner's passing, the total amount borrowed, including accrued interest, will need to be repaid. This could potentially reduce the inheritance for the estate's beneficiaries.

Why would someone use a reverse mortgage?

For the most part, it is to increase their financial flexibility during retirement. A reverse mortgage allows owners, typically aged 55 or older, to convert part of the equity in their home into cash without the need to sell or move.

Who offers reverse mortgages in Canada?

HomeEquity Bank and Equitable Bank are the primary institutions that offer reverse mortgages in Canada.

HomeEquity Bank provides the CHIP Reverse Mortgage, which allows homeowners aged 55 and older to convert up to 55% of their home equity into tax-free cash without the need to move or sell. 

Equitable Bank offers a similar product. However, they do have some situations where you may be able to borrow up to 59% of the value of your home on their Flex Plus plan, and they have a no negative equity guarantee, which means you'll never owe more than the market value of your home.

A reverse mortgage lender specializes in these types of loans and typically provides a variety of options so you can find the product that is right for you.

Both of these banks are safe and secure; I even bank fully with Equitable Bank myself, switching not too long ago. I've got nothing but good things to say about Equitable Bank, and the reverse mortgage is certainly one of their fastest-growing products.

Make sure you understand the details of the reverse mortgage you're agreeing to

When selecting a reverse mortgage lender, it is essential to consider the lender's reputation, product offerings, and the terms and conditions of their reverse mortgage products. The terms and conditions are very important, as they'll highlight the intricacies of the product itself.

Homeowners should compare the interest rates, fees, loan amounts, and options for payment (lump sum, monthly payments, or both). 

I would also strongly advise consulting a financial advisor to ensure the product aligns with your financial strategy and long-term goals. There would be nothing worse than getting involved with a product that isn't really going to help you financially.

Lenders in Canada are subject to federal regulations, so homeowners should seek lenders that present transparent information and offer guidance throughout the borrowing process. 

How do you even pay back a reverse mortgage?

There are a multitude of ways to repay a reverse mortgage, and it largely depends on how flexible the product is and what is being offered by the bank. But generally, there are three ways:

  • Interest-Only Payments: This option allows the borrower to pay just the interest portion, avoiding the increase of the loan balance over time.
  • Principal and Interest Payments: Borrowers may also choose to pay both interest and principal, thereby reducing the loan balance.
  • Lump-Sum Repayments: Homeowners can make lump-sum payments towards the loan, subject to the lenders' terms. This can help manage and reduce the interest.

The choice of repayment directly impacts the remaining home equity and the size of the loan over time. 

The payment method you use is going to be highly dependent on your situation, which is exactly why I'd suggest speaking to a financial advisor first.

The impact of a reverse mortgage on your estate

When you and any borrowers on the reverse mortgage pass away, the debt becomes due. Typically, your heirs have up to 30 days to decide what they'd like to do with the home. 

The most typical situation is that the home goes up for sale. The proceeds are then used to satisfy the debt on the reverse mortgage, and if there is any balance over and above what is owed, that gets passed on to the estate.

The payment strategy selected for a reverse mortgage also has significant implications for the borrower's estate and the inheritance left to heirs:

  • Home Ownership: Repayment plans are typically designed to allow the homeowner to maintain ownership of their home until they choose to sell or pass away.
  • Estate Impact: Upon the homeowner's death, the loan must be repaid in full from the estate. The remaining equity, if any, is passed on as inheritance.
  • Inheritance Considerations: If preserving inheritance is a priority, some borrowers may want to opt for a payment strategy that reduces the loan balance more quickly.

These factors are critical when determining the trade-offs between available cash flow during retirement and what one wants to leave behind to loved ones.

Legal and tax considerations

Get a lawyer

Reverse mortgages in Canada alter a homeowner's tied-up equity. This equity often comes out to hundreds of thousands of dollars. You do not want to be making decisions like this without help from someone who knows how they work, how a reverse mortgage contract contract is structured, etc.

This advice ensures that homeowners fully understand how a reverse mortgage could affect their title and ownership. 

Legal experts also make sure that all legal fees are transparent and that all documentation is comprehensible.

Tax implications of a reverse mortgage

One of the notable benefits of a reverse mortgage is its tax-free nature. The money obtained through a reverse mortgage typically does not count as taxable income. 

This distinction can offer significant advantages, as the funds do not affect federal or provincial income tax levels. However, it is pertinent for homeowners to consider how these funds might impact their eligibility for various government benefits.

Don't think a reverse mortgage is for you? You could consider these alternatives

Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)

A Home Equity Line of Credit, commonly known as a HELOC, offers a flexible way for homeowners to utilize the equity they have in their homes. Unlike reverse mortgages, a HELOC is a personal loan that requires borrowers to make monthly payments.

However, they typically have lower interest rates and permit homeowners to borrow only what they need.

Selling and downsizing

For those who have considerable equity in a large home, selling and downsizing to a smaller home in your retirement can free up capital while potentially reducing living expenses. 

This one-time transaction provides a lump sum that can fund retirement and does not incur monthly loan payments.

Depending on how long you've owned your home and how much it's appreciated in price, you can end up receiving a nice amount of cash over and above what you have to pay for the downsized home.

What are the current reverse mortgage rates in Canada?

In Canada, interest rates for reverse mortgages are typically higher than those for conventional mortgages. These rates vary depending on the lender and the reverse mortgage product offered. 

The rates fluctuate significantly. So, instead, what I'll do is simply link to the company's website, and you can check out their current rates from there.

  • HomeEquity Bank - CHIP: Interest rates are competitive and specifically designed for Canadian seniors. Click here to visit.
  • HomeEquity Bank - CHIP Max: Similar offerings with variations tailored to different customer needs; rates can be confirmed through their official channels. Click here to visit.
  • Equitable Bank: Another provider with competitive rates for their products, also catering to Canadian seniors. Click here to visit.

Who is best suited for a reverse mortgage?

In Canada, reverse mortgages are typically targeted towards seniors who need to supplement their income. The prime candidates are:

  • Homeowners aged 55 or older: This age requirement ensures that applicants are generally retirees or close to retirement. As the reverse mortgage allows them to tap into their home equity without selling, it is particularly suitable for those who wish to remain in their home.
  • Individuals with substantial equity: Those who have paid off a significant portion of their mortgage or own their home outright can benefit the most. A reverse mortgage in Canada allows them to access up to 55% of their home's value. In the case of Equitable Bank, I've seen up to 59%.
  • Retirees in need of additional cash flow: With common sources of retirement income sometimes falling short, a reverse mortgage provides a steady stream without the need to pass a credit check or prove income.
  • People looking for tax-free funds: As the money received from a reverse mortgage is a loan and not income, it is tax-free. This can be advantageous for retirees seeking to manage their tax liabilities.
  • Individuals not planning on leaving a large estate: Since the loan and interest are repaid when the homeowner sells the house or passes away, there may be less residual value to leave to heirs. Those unconcerned with the size of their estate may find this aspect acceptable.

What is the downside to a reverse mortgage in Canada?

  • Debt Accumulation: The borrower's debt increases over time due to accumulating interest. This can significantly reduce the equity a homeowner has in their property, which may result in a smaller inheritance left for beneficiaries.
  • Higher Interest Rates: Compared to conventional mortgages, reverse mortgage interest rates are generally higher. This contributes to the rapid growth of the loan balance.
  • Limited Equity: Access to equity can be constrained. As one borrows against their home equity, the remaining equity decreases, leaving fewer assets for future needs or for one's estate.
  • Fees and Penalties: These mortgages can come with various fees, such as setup fees, appraisal fees, and legal fees. Additionally, there may be a prepayment penalty if you pay the reverse mortgage off early.
  • Residence Requirements: One must typically reside in the home for at least six months of the year. This makes it less flexible for those who wish to travel or live elsewhere part-time.