Reverse Mortgage Loans: A Quantitative Analysis
Reverse mortgages allow elderly homeowners with limited income or financial wealth to borrow against their housing wealth without downsizing or selling out and becoming a renter. Although the proportion of elderly homeowners using reverse mortgages has been increasing rapidly, only 1.4 percent of elderly homeowners are using reverse mortgages. In this paper, we analyze reverse mortgage loans in a rich structural life-cycle model in retirement. Our model can replicate the low take-up rate with a reasonable calibration. When the model is calibrated to match the observed take-up rate, the welfare gain from introducing reverse mortgages is small -- equivalent to a one-time transfer of 4 dollars for all households, or 300 dollars for those who benefit from reverse mortgage loans. Our model indicates that the reverse mortgages are used by the borrowers to pay for medical expenses while remaining in their home. Through a variety of counterfactual experiments, we identify that bequest motives, moving shocks, and house price fluctuations, as well as costs of insurance, contribute to the observed low take-up rate. Finally we also find that the HECM Saver, which is a recently-introduced reverse mortgage contract, pushes up demand for reverse mortgages. Going forward, we are planning to investigate the optimal design of reverse mortgage loans using our framework.
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