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With market uncertainty caused by current events, it can be reflexive to check investments and to wonder if the traditional 4% rule is sustainable. This “rule” refers to longstanding advice that each year 4% can be withdrawn from assets without running out of money. The problem with a volatile market is that 4% of a shrinking asset pool might not provide enough income to meet expenses. 

This week I took a call came from a woman I had first spoken with months ago. “We always knew we would do a reverse mortgage,” she said. “We just thought the time wasn’t right. Now our investments are struggling and we need a buffer from the storm.”  

Indeed – couldn’t we all? 

It’s not news that a reverse mortgage can serve as safety net during market turbulence. In fact, longstanding research demonstrates that a reverse mortgage can relieve unsustainable drawdowns when retirement funds are under pressureSome experts actually call a reverse mortgage a “buffer asset” due to the significant role it can play in wealth preservation. 

Here are three things to remember about a reverse mortgage: 

The first thing to know is a reverse mortgage is a home equity loan. I could pretty much stop there and you would know more than most. However, it’s an equity loan with a few unique features. Most obviously, a reverse mortgage is not repaid on a monthly basis. Rather, it’s repaid on the back-end, in reverse, when the home is sold. Just like with any other home sale, once the loan is repaid all remaining equity belongs to the homeowner or the heirs. 

Second, a reverse mortgage line of credit cannot be called due, canceled or frozen. It’s established at the time of closing and it’s there for the homeowners’ use regardless of market conditions. This makes it a powerful hedge against economic turmoil, as the value of the credit line does not decrease even if housing values fall. 

Third, the unused balance in a reverse mortgage line of credit actually grows larger over time. This little-known attribute can add significantly to the amount available in the line of credit. 

The takeaway is this: A reverse mortgage can lessen pressure on investments and create an asset source outside the investment portfolio. This may give other assets time to recover lost value as markets stabilize.  

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