BOSTON (CBS) –  Just as the name implies a reverse mortgage works in the reverse way a usual mortgage works. The lender gives you the money!

You borrow against the equity in your home and the money does not have to be paid back until you die or want to move.

They have been around since 1990 and are getting better and more popular. According to HUD there were just over 79,000 such mortgages nationwide last year.

These mortgages are not for everyone. Who should consider one? A cash-strapped elder who wants to stay in their home! An individual who is on a fixed income and living in their own home and wants to stay in their home may find a reverse mortgage gives them the cash they may need to maintain their life style, but more importantly may give them the cash they need to make repairs or modifications on the house so they can continue to live there.

There are no restrictions on how the money is used. Which worries me for many retirees are getting a reverse mortgage and going on a shopping spree, traveling with the money or helping their kids get out of debt.

To be eligible for a reverse mortgage you must be at least 62 years old and own your home. But should you be considering a reverse mortgage when you are 62? I don’t think so unless there some extenuating circumstances.

At 62 and healthy you can look forward to another 30 years in retirement and you have just tied up your largest asset. Before you sign on the dotted line be sure you have talked to a financial planner to see if a reverse mortgage is right for your situation. In addition, HUD now requires extensive counseling and budget planning before they will sign off on the loan.

There is no free lunch here. There are upfront fees. As an alternative you might just consider selling your home, pocketing the profit and moving into a smaller less expensive place or even elder housing or assisted living facility. But moving is a major change and change is hard at any age.

AARP has a calculator on line to help you weigh your options, to stay or to sell.

I got on the AARP calculator and used the average listing price of a house in South Boston, $390,000. You would be entitled to a monthly payout of $1,333 or a lump sum of $206,000.

The Federal Trade Commission and the AARP both have information on reverse mortgages. The FTC’s toll free number is 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357).

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