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It seems that there is a new breed of Canadian—house rich, but cash poor. Most everyone wants to own the home of his or her dreams, but many Canadians aged 55 and older are finding the financial stress of homeownership to be onerous, hence the reverse mortgage.

What’s a reverse mortgage? Those who are 55 years of age of older and have their mortgages paid off, or have a sizeable equity in their homes, may wish to investigate borrowing against that equity—something known as a reverse mortgage. You can either get a loan in a lump sum payment or on a schedule. Borrowers don’t pay back the loan right away, but the debt is settled upon death of the homeowners or when the home sells. That’s the major difference between a reverse mortgage and a home equity line of credit (HELOC).

So what’s the problem? A reverse mortgage comes with a much higher interest rate than a HELOC. Not repaying a loan at set intervals means that the equity in your home is going to be gobbled up by those high interest rates. That’s fine if you’re not planning on leaving any assets to family members, otherwise, there may not be any equity left to leave.

More older Canadians are taking advantage of reverse mortgages. Statistics show that reverse mortgage debt is escalating. That debt reached more than $3.5 billion at the start of 2019. These loans have doubled over the last three years. Data from Statistics Canada shows Canadians between the ages of 55 and 64 are most likely to take out reverse mortgages. With the burgeoning costs of post-secondary education, many older homeowners are using the equity in their homes to finance their children’s educations.

Reverse mortgages are appealing to so many because those who apply don’t need to show they’re in good health or show what they earn. They just need to own a property in which they have relatively good equity.

For almost three decades, Canadians only had one option when it came to reverse mortgages—the Canadian Home Income Plan (CHIP)—but now they’ve been given some competition from Equitable Bank.

What are the alternatives? Although reverse mortgages are tempting and, in some cases, may be the answer to getting some relatively quick cash, experts say there are less costly alternatives, especially for those who don’t want to put their houses on the line.

Since Canadians are also living longer, the equity in a home might be needed to offset the high price of care in advancing years. Home care and assisted living are expensive. The bottom line is, investigate all the options when thinking about using the equity in your home to get cash.

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