The director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took aim at reverse mortgage ads Thursday, saying they were too good to be true.
“It is important that advertisements do not downplay the terms and risks of reverse mortgages or confuse prospective borrowers,” said agency chief Richard Cordray.
However, a CFPB focus group study found that the reverse mortgage industry is doing exactly that -- confusing borrowers -- in its TV, radio, print and web promotions.
“Some consumers found it difficult [after viewing the ads] to understand that reverse mortgages are loans with fees and compounding interest like other loans, since most ads either did not include interest rates or included them in fine print,” the report said.
Also, some seniors interviewed for the study said they were left with the mistaken impression that reverse mortgages were provided by the government and did not need to be repaid.
According to the bureau, 628,000 reverse mortgages are outstanding. The default rate was 10 percent in 2012, the latest year for which figures are available. About 74 percent of Americans nearing retirement are homeowners.
In an alert accompanying the study, the agency warned that elderly people carrying reverse mortgages on their residences could risk losing their homes if they fall behind on their property taxes or homeowners’ insurance or if they are absent from the buildings for longer than six months.
The bureau is also recommending that seniors approaching retirement should have a financial plan that accounts for their longer lives. This way, if they eventually need to tap home equity through a reverse mortgage, they won’t do it too early and risk running out of money.
The research for the study was based on six focus groups and 11 interviews performed late last year of homeowners age 62 and over who had never used reverse mortgages but had heard of them.