Montana aims to remind seniors about its ‘reverse annuity mortgage’

“As Montanans face more economic challenges due to inflation, it can weigh heavily on our most vulnerable populations, including senior citizens,” Cheryl Cohen, division administrator for the housing division at the Montana Department of Commerce and executive director of the Montana Board of Housing, wrote in a recent op-ed.

“Housing costs are soaring across the nation, thanks in part due to a lack of supply keeping up with demand. While many Montana seniors own their own homes and have little or no remaining mortgage debt, they struggle to make ends meet on fixed incomes.”

This is where the RAM program can come into play. Cohen describes the program as overseeing “low-interest rate loans [which] allow senior homeowners to benefit from an additional income source from their home equity while offering the financial flexibility they need to continue living at home.”

Differences with HECM

HousingWire’s Reverse Mortgage Daily (RMD) submitted questions to Montana’s Department of Commerce about the RAM program and received responses from a spokesperson.

In terms of how the RAM program aims to solve issues that a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) might not address, the department said that many of the goals are the same but that the RAM program may come with more flexibility on qualifications.

“The Montana Board of Housing’s RAM program provides interest rates that are competitive or lower with requirements that are simple and easy to understand,” the spokesperson said. “Board staff and participating counselors work closely with the borrowers helping to set up the reverse mortgage with closing costs often several hundreds to thousands of dollars less than similar programs.”

These closing costs are limited to the “actual charges from the appraisals and title companies with no administrative costs added by the Board,” and the administration of the reverse mortgage itself is handled by state housing staff “who can easily be personally contacted for any questions or assistance. The Montana Board of Housing is administratively attached to the Montana Department of Commerce,” the spokesperson said.

Additionally, Cohen explained in her op-ed the different types of proceeds available for RAM borrowers.

“The RAM program helps senior Montana homeowners with monthly payments back to them to manage everyday expenses while living in their homes,” she said. “Eligible homeowners can borrow a minimum of $15,000 up to a maximum of $150,000. The maximum loan amount is determined based on 80 percent of the FHA-determined value of the home.

“Additionally, lump sum advances are available at loan closing, and up to $10,000 is available for payment of prior mortgages, liens and pledges or for accessibility improvements and other home repairs.”

Longer retirements

The loan values for the HECM program are generally larger depending on the age of the borrower and the value of the home, with the HECM limit in 2024 topping $1.1 million. The minimum qualifying age for a HECM is 62 years, while the minimum for the RAM program is 68. There’s a reason for this, the spokesperson said.

“With Montana’s elderly population growing and living longer, we find that even with an age limit of 68, many of our borrowers outlive the 10 years of payments allocated,” the spokesperson explained. “Providing loans to a younger population may add to financial issues as more participants outlive those payments.”

The program’s availability is also subject to the financial disbursements the state Legislature gives to the department itself. The origination process also has similarities to the HECM program, with some state-specific requirements.

“Applicants must go through trained RAM counselors from the non-profit sector before qualifying for our financing,” the spokesperson stated. “Once they’ve completed the session, housing staff work with the participant to determine needs and financing availability. Staff assist in obtaining an appraisal and in closing the loan and setting up payments. The Montana Board of Housing is the only entity to provide this service.”

Renewed communication efforts

As for why the state is interested in spreading more awareness about the RAM program now, the spokesperson cited the economic circumstances faced by the state’s seniors as a key reason.

“The board hopes to increase knowledge of this program for the elderly in Montana and offer this option to help with costs that surpass what can be paid by social security or other pension receipts,” they said. “Since the RAM proceeds don’t need to be paid back until the home is vacated, additional funds become available without incurring further debt. We hope those monthly payments provide peace of mind and assist in our RAM participants’ quality of life.”

That being said, the reputational issues faced by the wider reverse mortgage industry have also been faced by the RAM program, which may have depressed consumer demand, according to both Cohen and the department’s spokesperson.

“Reverse Annuity Mortgages scare some seniors because of scams that have taken place by some providers of such financing,” the spokesperson said. “For this reason, we require counseling and have staff available to speak directly with participants and their families about any issues they may have. Payments we can provide often cover costs of medications or shortfalls concerning income to help pay monthly expenses for food or utilities.”

The spokesperson also mentioned a borrower’s success story granted by the program.

“One borrower mentioned to staff that she was having to sell her furniture a piece at a time to help pay for her medication but was able to stop when she started receiving the RAM monthly payments,” they said.

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