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There are many issues to consider before committing to a reverse mortgage.

“All reverse-mortgage applicants must receive counseling from a HUD-approved counselor in order to make sure they understand all the ramifications of the loan,” Mr. Rothstein says. “I also think it is extremely important for the seniors to have their family members there so that everyone understands what is happening.”

Mr. Rothstein says it is important to work with a lender who will listen to the seniors before recommending a reverse mortgage.

“The best way to find someone who does a lot of reverse mortgages is to check with the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association,” he says. The consumer website for NRMLA is www.reversemortgage.org.

“The homeowners need to sit with someone who will discuss their needs and help them figure out how to achieve what they are trying to accomplish.”

Mr. Warner says the first question to discuss with a reverse-mortgage consultant should be why it is being considered.

“If someone wants to pay off their mortgage, then they are more likely to want a fixed-rate, lump-sum reverse mortgage,” Mr. Warner says. “Those who want extra cash flow are more likely to want the adjustable-rate mortgage that provides a guaranteed monthly check for as long as they live in the home.”

While Mr. Onks says most of his customers now take out a reverse mortgage to pay off their existing mortgage, many of them also choose to pay off credit-card debt or other bills in order to provide for better monthly cash flow.

“Some borrowers choose to help their adult kids or their grandchildren, basically giving them their inheritance now instead of when the house is sold,” Mr. Onks says.

Mr. Rothstein divides reverse-mortgage borrowers into those with needs and those with wants.

“The ‘needs’ borrowers are those who want to grow old in their home but need to make the home handicap-accessible or take care of deferred maintenance,” Mr. Rothstein says. “A few years ago, I worked with two sisters in their 90s who had plenty of equity in their home but had drained their savings. They used the reverse mortgage to fix up their home and create cash flow, and now one of them is 100 and they still live there.”

Mr. Rothstein also has worked with seniors who own their home without a mortgage but need the income from a reverse mortgage to pay the property taxes.

“The ‘wants’ borrowers have equity in their home and want to use it to travel, to give to their families, enlarge their home or for estate planning to create a trust fund,” Mr. Rothstein says. “There is a different story for every person.”