Do you have the mortgage of Damocles?

Some borrowers are living with a sword hanging over their heads: a mortgage they have little or no hope of repaying. One possible answer is the “lifetime mortgage” – but it’s hardly ideal. Bloomsbury’s Carolyn Gowen explores this nerve-wracking scenario and offers some possible solutions.


According to recent coverage in The Daily Telegraph, some mortgage providers may soon offer “lifetime mortgages”, where the borrower pays interest on the loan until they die, at which point the property is sold and the mortgage repaid from the proceeds. These mortgages could be offered to those currently holding interest-only mortgages who may face a shortfall when repayment of the loan is due.

Many individuals currently in their 50 and 60s took out endowment policies to repay their interest-only loans, on the assumption that the endowment would grow enough to repay the mortgage at the end of its term. But in many cases this has not happened, leaving up to 1.3 million borrowers with ‘little or no hope’ of repaying their debt, according to the FCA. Faced with this predicament, it might seem a good idea to switch to a lifetime mortgage and then effectively pass the house keys to the lender when you die. But this scenario does throw up some questions:

  • Will borrowers be able to continue to afford the interest payments on the debt once they retire? Interest rates are historically low, but they could well rise again.
  • If it is the lender who deals with the sale of the property, and its primary aim is to obtain repayment of the outstanding loan, does it have the necessary incentive to ensure that it obtains the best sale price for the property and therefore maximises the residual lump sum for the borrower’s heirs?

Between a rock and a hard place

One alternative solution to this problem might be for the borrower to downsize at retirement, purchasing a cheaper home and so releasing equity which could be used to repay the loan.  However, who would want to be forced into considering this as an option?

This dilemma hasn’t arisen overnight.  It has long been known that holders of investment-backed mortgages run the risk of a shortfall when their repayment dates arise.  Insurance companies have been writing to their endowment policyholders on an annual basis to remind them of this for years.

It is undoubtedly true that many of these endowment-linked mortgages were mis-sold in the past, and in thousands of cases policyholders have been compensated for their consequential losses. Nevertheless, borrowers have generally had time (and still have time) to plan to meet the shortfall when repayment is due.  Yet one of the most frightening statistics in the Telegraph’s article is that one in ten borrowers has no plans in place to repay their mortgage. In other words, one in ten borrowers is merely hoping that something will turn up.  All in all, a pretty stressful way to live.

Taking control of the problem

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be like that.  A financial plan will help to show you what your financial future might look like, based on various assumptions. Once you’ve drawn up a plan, any red flag issues – such as repaying your mortgage – will immediately become apparent.  You can then look at the various options available so you can plan to deal with such issues now – rather than kicking the can down the road and hoping for the best.

Some of your available options might not seem very exciting; often it can boil down to saving more, spending less, earning more, working for longer and/or downsizing at some point. The point is, you gain a clear idea of what action needs to be taken, to what extent, and why. Without this knowledge, it’s too easy to ‘freeze up’ and take no action at all, because you simply don’t know what might help. With a plan, you can take positive steps and put the necessary remedies in place while there is still time to do so.

A home should be a home, not a source of stress hanging over your head. Financial advice can show you which way to turn, and enable you to take back control of your future – and your family’s inheritance too.


About the author
Carolyn Gowen is a Chartered Wealth Manager and Certified Financial Planner at award winning City based wealth management firm Bloomsbury. She has been advising successful individuals and their families on wealth management strategies for over 25 years.
You might also like: