Equity release is where you extract money from a property you own. In this guide, we go through how it works, the 2 types of equity release - lifetime mortgages and home reversion plans - the benefits and pitfalls of equity release and more.


Releasing Equity in Your House

Before we explain how to release equity from your home, it would make sense to fully explain what home equity is and how you obtain it in the first place.

About Home Equity

Your home equity is the value left over after all charges – i.e. your mortgage, including any second charge – are deducted from your home’s full market value.

You hold a certain amount of equity in any property you own.

Example

  • You take out a mortgage of £150,000 to buy a property worth £200,000
  • The equity you have in your property is: £200,000 - £150,000 = £50,000
  • You own the whole property but the lender’s interest is noted with the title deeds at Land Registry
  • Your equity in the property increases as you make monthly payments and/or the property rises in value – it’s worth noting your equity could decrease if the value of the property falls
  • Alternatively, if you buy a home outright with cash - e.g. for £200,000 - and there’s no mortgage to pay on it, you simply have £200,000 of equity in the property

It can be a little confusing, so just remember that you own the whole property as your name is the one on the title deeds. The lender doesn’t own any portion of the property; they have a claim to a certain amount of the equity equivalent to your outstanding mortgage debt and any unpaid interest.

The lender’s interest in the property is noted with the title deeds to ensure they’ll receive the amount they’re owed when you sell the property or remortgage, or if you fail to keep up your payments and they repossess the property.

How to Release Equity from Your Property

There are 2 types of equity release products: lifetime mortgages and home reversion schemes. With a lifetime mortgage, you borrow a percentage of the value of your property. With a home reversion scheme, you sell all or part of your property but retain the right to live in it rent free.

The lender that lends to you or investor that buys from you makes their money back when your property is sold after you die or enter long term care with no prospects of returning to the residence.

It’s worth noting that although normal remortgaging isn’t referred to as an equity release product, a remortgage where the new mortgage is larger than the previous one is still a way of releasing equity from a property.


Lifetime Mortgages

What Is a Lifetime Mortgage?

A lifetime mortgage is where you borrow a percentage of the value of your property. The maximum amount you can borrow depends on the value of the property and your age - the younger of 2 people if you’re applying as a couple - and may be higher if your life expectancy is reduced because of a health condition. The older you are, the more you can borrow.

The amount borrowed is secured against your home as with any other mortgage. Interest is charged on the amount you borrow, usually at a fixed rate. Unlike a standard mortgage, there’s normally no introductory period as the rate is fixed for life. See our guide on types of mortgages for more information on different interest rates and how they work.

The lender gets their money back when the property is sold, unless you choose to repay it before then.

Lifetime mortgages are different from other mortgages in the following ways:

  • You don’t have to make payments on the outstanding debt each month, but in most cases you can repay up to 10% per year if you want to
  • The interest “rolls up” and compounds each month unless you make an optional payment, therefore the interest charge increases each month as the debt grows
  • They’re currently the only type of mortgage offering a fixed rate for longer than 15 years – fixed rate lifetime mortgages stay at the same rate until the property’s sold or the mortgage is repaid by other means
  • There’s no affordability assessment because no payments are required, which is helpful for retired homeowners on a low income or with income that would be difficult to prove to a lender’s satisfaction 
  • There’s a no negative equity guarantee, which means neither you nor your beneficiaries will ever have to repay more than the amount the property is sold for

Who’s Eligible?

You’re only eligible for a lifetime mortgage if you:

  • Are over 55
  • Own a main residence or buy-to-let property in the UK
  • Own a property worth at least £70,000

You can still take out a lifetime mortgage even if you already have a mortgage on your home, but this would technically be a remortgage so the existing mortgage would have to be repaid. It’s best to speak to a broker to find out whether you’re eligible.

Types of Lifetime Mortgages and Features

Interest Roll-Up Lifetime Mortgage

All lifetime mortgages are offered on an interest roll-up basis, which means that the interest charged on the loan isn’t paid monthly month but added to the outstanding loan amount. The interest then compounds; it’s charged on this new, bigger loan amount each month. The loan amount increases at an exponential rate. This can sound quite intimidating, but the no negative equity guarantee means you’ll never pay more than your property is worth.

In fact, the no negative equity guarantee has rarely been needed. Lenders expect there to be some equity left over for inheritance after the sale of the property. They’d actually lose money if the loan amount increased to more than the property was worth when it was sold, so they avoid lending you too much in the first place. They take account of your age, the amount of interest which will be added to the mortgage during the rest of your expected life and the increase they expect in the value of the property over time.

Example

  • You own a property worth £600,000
  • The lender lends you £200,000, based on your age and the value of your property
  • The interest rate on your lifetime mortgage is 3.5%

The amount of the mortgage would increase as follows:

Month

Year

Interest Rate

Mortgage Balance at End of Year

New Interest Added to Loan

Month 0

0

3.5%

 £200,000

£0

Month 12

1

3.5%

 £206,511

£6,511

Month 24

2

3.5%

 £213,856

£7,345

Month 36

3

3.5%

 £221,462

£7,606

Month 48

4

3.5%

 £229,339

£7,877

Month 60

5

3.5%

 £237,496

£8,157

Month 120

10

3.5%

 £282,844

£45,348

Month 180

15

3.5%

 £336,851

£54,007

Month 240

20

3.5%

 £401,170

£64,319

Month 300

25

3.5%

 £477,771

£76,601

Month 360

30

3.5%

 £568,998

£91,227

At a rate of 3.5% the amount of the mortgage would double every 20 years. It would increase even more quickly at higher rates.

It’s important to remember that although the amount you’ll owe will increase steadily, so may the value of your property. Therefore, it’s unlikely they’ll be no equity left over for inheritance.

Early Repayments

Most lifetime mortgages allow you to make payments of up to 10% per year with no ERC (early repayment charge). Any payments you choose to make will reduce the outstanding loan amount and consequently the interest that’ll be charged. However, there can be hefty ERCs if you repay more than 10% per year.

To ensure you’re not surprised by these charges, speak to your broker about exactly what you can and can’t repay.

Interest-Only Lifetime Mortgage

A few lenders offer the option of an interest-only lifetime mortgage which requires you pay some or all of the interest, at least for an initial period. This reduces – and can halt – the interest from rolling-up and hence the loan from increasing. But, as monthly payments are required, the borrower must be able to prove affordability to the lender.

Ring-Fencing Equity for Inheritance

You can ring-fence some of the value of your property as an inheritance for your family. This means the lender can’t touch it, even if the loan amount exceeds the remaining equity value. However, to account for this portion, the lender would reduce the total amount you could borrow and/or increase the interest rate.

Drawdown Lifetime Mortgage

With a drawdown lifetime mortgage, the lender calculates the total amount of cash they could let you borrow, but you don’t receive it all in one go. Instead, you’re given an initial, smaller lump sum with the option to borrow more via a drawdown facility in the future.

Interest is only ever charged on the amount you’ve received, not the total amount you could borrow. As a result, less interest is charged over time. The loan amount doesn’t increase as quickly so you end up owing less by the time the property’s sold, leaving more for inheritance. The interest rate on each drawdown will normally be set at the time of the drawdown.

Income Product

A variation of the drawdown lifetime mortgage that some people find more convenient is what’s referred to as an “income product”. When you choose this option, you have a regular drawdown - e.g. once a year - of a set amount. The initial maximum lump sum available to you will be smaller than if you choose one of the other options.

By avoiding borrowing a larger initial lump sum, those who may be entitled to social security benefits will be able to keep their savings balance below the relevant threshold and, as interest is only charged on the outstanding loan amount, less interest will be charged than if a larger amount was taken at the outset.

What’s more, the amount of the regular payment is capital so it’s not taxable, making it a useful way of boosting retirement income.


Lifetime Mortgage Rates

Lifetime mortgage rates are slightly higher than typical residential mortgages. Current fixed rates are generally between 3.5% and 5% - with higher rates for buy-to-lets. Because most lifetime mortgage rates are fixed for life, it’s possible - unlike with a standard mortgage - to calculate what the loan balance will be at any time, subject to any optional repayments made.  

A few lenders sometimes offer a variable rate lifetime mortgage, where the rate will typically rise and fall in line with the Bank of England’s base rate. However, these mortgages don’t have the same protections that come with fixed rates and the main reason to choose a variable rate is to avoid ERCs.


Benefits and Pitfalls of Equity Release

Benefits of Lifetime Mortgage

  • The interest rate is fixed for life – this is a particular advantage with long term interest rates currently at their lowest ever
  • It’s the only type of mortgage where the interest rate can be fixed for longer than 15 years
  • You don’t have to prove your income as you don’t have to make any payments
  • There’s a no negative equity guarantee, which means you won’t ever owe more than your property is worth
  • You can work out how much the loan amount will increase by at any time
  • You remain the owner of your property
  • There are lots of options, like drawdown facilities, interest payments, etc.
  • You can ring-fence a certain amount for inheritance

Pitfalls of Lifetime Mortgage

  • It could affect your tax position and entitlement to certain benefits
  • There are ERCs, usually for the first 5 – 15 years if you pay back more than 10% per year. Some lenders charge on a percentage basis and others by what is called mark to market. The latter means that the size of the ERC depends on how long term interest rates have changed since your mortgage started. Basically, if interest rates have risen there’ll be either no ERC or a small one but if rates have fallen - the further they’ve fallen higher the ERC
  • Interest rates are higher than on standard mortgages but not directly comparable
  • The amount you owe could increase at an exponential rate

Benefits of Home Reversion Schemes

  • You don’t have to prove your income as you don’t have to make any payments
  • No interest is charged
  • You know exactly what percentage of the sale proceeds you’ll receive

Pitfalls of Home Reversion Schemes

  • It could affect your tax position and entitlement to certain benefits
  • The amount you’ll receive will be greatly under market value
  • You may have to release more equity in your property to get the value you need
  • The lender will take sole/partial ownership
  • Even if there’s a dual ownership arrangement you’re normally responsible for 100% of costs, such as repairs and insurance
  • They are very inflexible. The percentage of the value you’d receive assumes you’ll stay in the property until you die or go into care, so if your circumstances change and you want to move house - perhaps to live with a family member or new partner - you wouldn’t receive a rebate.

Equity Release and Other Options for the Over 55s

Not sure what would be the best way for you to release equity from your house? Anyone over 55 should consider equity release alongside other options, like a RIO (retirement interest-only) or a mainstream mortgage as several lenders now have no maximum age at the end of the term.

We can talk to you about the pros and cons of the different options and, if equity release might be the right solution, we can help you through our partnership with Key. They’re specialist equity release brokers who can give you advice and explain all your options.

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