Retired with a mortgage? You’re not alone

Paying off the mortgage, once a widespread rite of passage for homeowners approaching retirement, has become less common in recent years, putting older homeowners at financial risk.

That’s the word from Fannie Mae and other mortgage lending experts. They say the prevalence of housing debt among baby boomers could compromise financial security in retirement, put a crimp in spending for essential non-housing needs, increase vulnerability to potential foreclosure, or limit housing wealth.

Individuals born between 1946 and 1965 – the baby boomer generation that includes 33 million homeowners — are reaching retirement age with an elevated likelihood of carrying housing debt. Among the oldest boomer homeowners who were age 65 to 69 years old in 2015, slightly less than 50 percent were mortgage-free, according to Patrick Simmons, a researcher for Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association), a U.S. government-sponsored source of financing for mortgage lenders.

The situation of boomers carrying more mortgage debt than previous generations might signal the need for more consumer outreach and education that helps older mortgage holders manage their monthly housing expenses, including ensuring that they have fully exploited opportunities to reduce monthly mortgage payments through refinancing, Simmons said.

A survey of older homeowners by American Financing, a national mortgage banker, found that 44 percent of 60 to 70-year-olds take their mortgage into retirement, with 32 percent predicting that it will take them more than eight years to pay off their mortgages and an additional 17 percent saying that they might never pay it off.

“Part of the American dream is the expectation that after years of hard work, you can retire with financial security. But the unfortunate reality for many baby boomers is that their debt burden remains high,” said Carrie Niess, a business analyst for American Financing, which is based in Colorado. “As concerning as this is, there are still many untapped options, such as refinancing and reverse mortgages, which could benefit a lot of folks.”

According to the survey:

  • 64 percent of 60 to 70-year-old homeowners plan to remain in their current home. A majority of them plan to leave the homes to their children or estates.
  • 58 percent of older homeowners have refinanced their loans, mainly to lower their mortgage rates.
  • 19 percent of 60 to 70-year-olds don’t know what a reverse mortgage is, while 15 percent would consider the option.
  • 71 percent of 60-to-70 age range are likely to make home renovations rather than move in the event that a health issue affected their mobility at home. But they aren’t sure what they would do if they ran out of savings.