What Are the Little-Known Truths About Equity Release?

Do You Have to Be Retired to Take Out Equity Release? Will Your Family Be Left With Debt? Here Are the Facts You May Not Know.
  • Last Updated: 07 Feb 2024
  • Fact Checked
  • Our team recently fact checked this article for accuracy. However, things do change, so please do your own research.

Contributors:

Francis Hui

In the realm of personal finance, the little-known truths about equity release often remain hidden, shrouding retirees in a cloud of uncertainty regarding the profound potential impact of their financial choices. 

Picture this: in 2022, a staggering £6 billion was accessed by UK retirees through equity release,1 yet, astonishingly, research indicates that a significant number of retirees still harbours misconceptions about this powerful financial tool.2 

As such, the purpose of this article is to cast a light on these concealed truths, dismantling prevalent myths and providing insightful answers to pivotal questions surrounding equity release.

In This Article, You Will Discover:

    At Every Investor, we strive to offer insights into the equity release market based on diligent research, regular updates, careful reviews, and thorough fact-checking, all aimed at supporting informed financial decisions.

    What Is Meant By 'Equity Release'?

    For homeowners aged 55 and above, equity release offers a route to access their property's value without selling.

    It provides a financial cushion, often used for retirement or other significant expenses.

    The funds from equity release come as either a one-off lump sum or smaller, regular payments.

    Importantly, it doesn't require moving out of your home.

    Learn More: Examples Of Equity Release

    What Are the 4 Little-Known Downsides of Equity Release?

    Unmasking the truth about equity release is crucial in determining its suitability for you. 

    While equity release can offer an immediate source of funds, it's important to consider the potential downsides and "Is equity release a bad idea?"

    Understanding these ‘hidden truths’, such as variable rates, impact on inheritance, options for moving home, and early repayment penalties, is essential for making an informed decision.

    Are Equity Release Rates Fixed or Variable?

    Equity release rates can be fixed or variable, with fixed rates being more common.3 

    According to the Equity Release Council, lifetime mortgages offered by its members must provide fixed or capped variable rates.4 

    Rates vary among providers and plans, highlighting the need for thorough research and expert guidance.

    How Does Equity Release Affect Your Estate and Inheritance?

    Opting for equity release significantly affects your estate and inheritance. 

    As the loan amount and accrued interest are repaid by selling your property upon your passing or moving into long-term care, the value of your estate decreases. 

    A smaller estate means there’ll be less to leave to your beneficiaries as an inheritance.

    However, certain equity release schemes offer features like Inheritance Protection, which safeguards a portion of your property's value as a guaranteed inheritance. 

    That’s not all

    The Equity Release Council requires a No Negative Equity Guarantee, stating that if the debt exceeds the property's value, the estate will not be responsible for it.5

    Any shortfall will be absorbed by the lender, provided the house is sold for the maximum amount achievable.6 

    Can You Move Home After Taking Out Equity Release?

    Yes, moving home after equity release is generally possible, but certain conditions apply. 

    Equity Release Council-approved lifetime mortgages are typically portable, allowing the loan and accrued interest to be transferred to the new property if it meets the lender's suitability criteria based on value and condition.7 

    However, if the new property has a lower value than your original home, you may need to repay a portion of the loan from the proceeds of the sale of the original property.8 

    Keep in mind that each equity release provider has its own policy, so discussing this scenario with your provider or advisor is crucial during the equity release decision-making process. 

    Can You Pay Off an Equity Release Loan Early?

    Yes, you can pay off an equity release loan early, but doing so would be subject to conditions and potential financial penalties called Early Repayment Charges. 

    These charges, which aim to cover the lender's costs and potential loss of profits, can vary significantly between providers. 

    They can be calculated as a percentage of the loan amount or based on a gilt-linked variable rate.9

    To understand the costs and implications associated with repaying the loan early, it’s vital to discuss these potential charges with your advisor or broker before entering into an equity release agreement.

    The Reality Behind Equity Release: Is It as Good as It Sounds?

    The reality behind equity release and whether it’s as good as it sounds depends on your circumstances and financial goals. 

    The suitability of equity release varies for each individual—in fact, these products may not be a good fit for some borrowers at all—and a comprehensive analysis of each case is necessary to determine its appropriateness.

    Things to consider include: 

    • Additional fees 
    • Hidden costs
    • The impact on your financial independence

    What Are the True Costs of Equity Release?

    The true costs of equity release include not only the loan but also various fees like arrangement, valuation, solicitor's, and advice fees. 

    Also keep the following in mind:

    • Accumulated interest on the loan, repayable upon the sale of the property, adds considerably to the loan total. 
    • Early Repayment Charges can be significant if the scheme’s ended prematurely.10  
    • Indirect costs include the reduction in estate value and potential impact on means-tested benefits. 

    Since each plan differs, seeking professional advice is crucial to grasp the true cost of equity release in your unique situation.

    Are There Any Hidden Charges?

    There shouldn’t be any truly ‘hidden’ charges with equity release, as your agreement should explicitly detail all charges, leaving no room for hidden fees. 

    However, certain costs may not be immediately apparent, such as application, valuation, and solicitor’s fees. 

    The Equity Release Council demands a clear and comprehensive presentation of plans11, ensuring your understanding of setup costs, tax implications, rules for moving homes, and the impact of house price changes. 

    To avoid unexpected charges, carefully review your agreement and discuss fees with your provider or financial advisor beforehand.

    How Does Equity Release Impact Your Financial Independence?

    Equity release impacts financial independence in significant ways. 

    These products provide immediate access to funds for various purposes, but they also reduce estate value, affect benefits eligibility, and incur long-term costs due to compounded interest. 

    In short

    While equity release may enhance short-term financial access, it can potentially reduce overall wealth, limit future financial options, affect eligibility for benefits, and result in substantial long-term costs.

    Seek expert financial advice before considering equity release.

    Debunking Misconceptions: What Are Some Misconceptions About Equity Release?

    Misconceptions about equity release often cause confusion and misunderstanding. 

    These include:

    • The fallacious belief that equity release leads to loss of home ownership. 
    • The idea that equity release is a 'debt-trap,' which is not necessarily the case. 
    • The belief that all equity release schemes are the same when it comes to terms and costs. 

    Understanding how equity release affects benefits is also crucial. 

    Let's examine these points in more detail.

    Will I Lose My Home If I Take Out Equity Release? 

    No, you will not lose your home if you take out equity release, specifically a lifetime mortgage, which is the most common form of equity release. 

    With this type of scheme, you retain ownership and can live in your home until you pass away or move into long-term care. 

    Repayment typically occurs through the sale of the property.

    Keep in mind

    If you take out a home reversion plan (and not a lifetime mortgage), you won’t retain full ownership of your home, owing to the nature of this type of plan.

    It's essential to understand the terms and conditions of your specific agreement to ensure that it fits your needs and circumstances.

    Is Equity Release a Debt Trap?

    Equity release isn’t necessarily a ‘debt trap’, but it’s a financial commitment that should be entered into with full understanding. 

    It involves borrowing against your home's value, with repayment upon selling the property, including accrued interest. 

    The debt can grow due to compound interest, so discussing mitigation strategies with your advisor is crucial. 

    Fortunately, the Equity Release Council introduced a new standard in March 202212 that permits penalty-free partial payments on all new lifetime mortgages, providing borrowers with repayment flexibility and debt management options.

    Are All Equity Release Schemes the Same?

    No, not all equity release schemes are the same. 

    There are two main types: lifetime mortgages and home reversion plans. 

    Lifetime mortgages allow you to retain ownership while releasing equity, and repaying the loan and interest upon selling the property. 

    Home reversion plans involve selling part or all of your property, receiving a lump sum or regular payments while retaining the right to live there rent-free. 

    Providers differ in terms, conditions, rates, and fees. 

    Seek professional advice to find the best plan for your needs.

    How Does Equity Release Affect Benefits Eligibility?

    Equity release affects benefits eligibility by altering the amount of capital you have access to, which is taken into account when certain means-tested benefits are applied for.

    Releasing equity may push your savings or income beyond government thresholds, potentially reducing or eliminating benefits like Pension Credit or Council Tax Reduction.13   

    The interaction is complex and depends on factors such as age, financial situation, and specific scheme terms. 

    Seek advice from a financial advisor or benefits specialist before proceeding with equity release to ensure a clear understanding and informed decision-making.

    It's essential to dispel these misconceptions to provide a clear understanding of equity release and to ensure it is considered as part of a well-informed financial decision.

    Planning for the Future: What Should You Consider Before Deciding on Equity Release?

    Before deciding on equity release, you should consider factors such as longevity, your inheritance intentions, future care costs, property value appreciation, and possible changes in living circumstances. 

    With this in mind, it’s vital to consider all of your alternatives to determine if there’s a better fit for you. 

    How Should You Prepare for Equity Release?

    Preparing for equity release involves understanding the financial implications and considering personal and family circumstances. 

    Exploring different schemes, seeking independent advice, discussing plans with family, and considering the impact on inheritance, benefits, and future financial needs are all important steps in this process.

    Are There Alternatives to Equity Release?

    Yes, there are alternatives to equity release, such as moving to a smaller home, renting out your spare room, and using savings or other investments. 

    All these alternatives may not be available to every homeowner, of course:

    • Downsizing comes with its own set of costs.
    • Not everyone will have a spare room to rent out to lodgers.
    • Using savings and investments won’t be an option for everyone.

    Each option has its benefits and drawbacks, so it’s crucial to explore all possibilities and seek professional advice before making a decision.

    What Role Do Financial Advisors Play in Equity Release Decisions?

    Financial advisors play a crucial role in equity release decisions, providing tailored expert guidance for your financial situation and goals. 

    They assess suitability, explain scheme types, costs, impact on your estate, and effects on means-tested benefits. 

    Advisors compare plans from different providers, highlighting risks and exploring alternatives for an informed decision. 

    Common Questions

    What’s the Negative Side of Equity Release?

    Why Not to Get Equity Release

    What’s the Catch With Equity Release?

    Can You Sell Your House After Equity Release?

    Is There an Alternative to Equity Release?

    What’s the Best Age to Take Equity Release?

    How Much Is the Average Equity Release?

    How Much Do You Pay Back on Equity Release?

    In Conclusion

    If you’re considering taking out an equity release loan, speak to a qualified financial advisor who’ll help you determine whether it would be the best option to suit your individual needs.

    As more and more homeowners in the UK start exploring equity release to help them beat the cost-of-living crisis, you’re bound to run into a lot of confusion and outdated information online. 

    Don’t fall into a misinformation rabbit hole; stick to reputable sources and you’ll find more valuable insights like these 4 little-known truths about equity release. 

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