Dorsey, 69, isn't so sure now.
The retired high-school teacher figures the loan — which netted him a $75,000 lump sum after paying off his existing mortgage — will reduce his home equity by $100,000, compared with what it otherwise might have been, if he lives another decade.
Then again, Dorsey can stay in the house for as long as he pays his property taxes and homeowner's insurance. Plus, he won't be liable for the shortfall if his final loan balance exceeds his home's value, either because of falling real-estate prices or because he lives longer than expected.
That's because almost all reverse mortgages since 1989 have been insured by the Federal Housing Administration.
The agency collects mortgage-insurance premiums from borrowers, much of which are used to make lenders whole if borrowers default or if home prices drop.
"The feds are assuming the risk," he said. "The bank is in the catbird seat."
That risk has put the FHA's reverse-mortgage portfolio $5.25 billion in the hole as worrisome numbers of borrowers fail to keep up with taxes and insurance or convey their homes to the FHA rather than go through the expense of marketing and selling their properties.
In response, Congress recently passed legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., allowing the FHA to fast-track changes to stem the deficit. President Obama signed the bill.
The agency plans to use the new authority to tighten lending terms that could reduce loan amounts or even disqualify some borrowers.
Among the proposed changes are requiring a review of applicants' finances before granting a loan and mandating an escrow account to set aside money for taxes and insurance.
The new rules are scheduled to take effect Oct. 1.
The legislation's passage comes on the heels of an FHA administrative action in April to steer borrowers to lower-fee, lower-payout loans to reduce stress on the agency's insurance fund.
Some consumer advocates fear the pending changes could lock seniors out of reverse mortgages or drastically lower their borrowing limits. That's a worry because retirement experts expect more pension- and savings-poor Americans to tap their home equity after paychecks end.
Heck said his legislation was a "twofer" win for seniors and taxpayers. Giving the FHA quick authority to shore up its reverse-mortgage program of Home Equity Conversion Mortgages, Heck said, protects against defaults and minimizes the tab for the Treasury.
Heck acknowledged that critics regard reverse mortgages as inherently predatory. Unlike home-equity loans, for instance, reverse mortgages carry origination fees, mortgage-insurance premiums, closing costs and other expenses.
Then there are those who believe "the FHA shouldn't even exist at all," he said.
Erin Reardon, a reverse-mortgage counselor with Solid Ground, a nonprofit anti-poverty group in Seattle, warned that the FHA's new guidelines could sow more confusion with a product that's already complicated.
Dorsey, who separated from his partner, said reverse mortgages come with trade-offs: cash now or equity later.
He said fees ate up a substantial portion of his original draw. In exchange, he can stay put in his home as long as he keeps it in good repair.
"Do you need the cash? If so, then reverse mortgages may be a sound choice," he said. "Do you value future equity? If so, then reverse mortgages may not be a good choice."
Reverse mortgage basics
Reverse mortgages can help cash-poor seniors tap the equity in their homes without moving out. But borrowers often lack a full grasp of how the loans work. They are the opposite of traditional, or "forward," mortgages: Your loan balance grows — and home equity shrinks — over time.
Homeowners who are at least 62. You must be mortgage-free or have a small balance that will be paid off with proceeds from the reverse mortgage.
You can borrow against homes of any value, but loan proceeds are capped at homes appraised at $625,500. The size of the loan depends on the age of the borrower, the interest rate and required fees. But roughly, on a $200,000 home, a 65-year-old homeowner could take out about $120,000 after closing costs and other fees, depending on the terms of the loan. At 85, the same borrower could get about $155,000.
Interest and fees
Reverse mortgages have similar costs as regular mortgages. For instance, they carry origination fees of up to $6,000 on homes appraised at $400,000 or higher. On top of that, some borrowers must pay an up-front 2 percent mortgage-insurance premium, plus another 1.25 percent annually. Borrowers also incur closing costs, such as title searches, home appraisal, recording fees and mortgage taxes.
Borrowers can opt for lump-sum draws, regular payments or a line of credit. They are responsible for paying property taxes and homeowner's insurance to avoid foreclosure. The loans come due when owners move out, sell or die. The final loan balance can sometimes exceed the home's sale price. The borrowers or their heirs are not liable for the shortfall.