The headline on Bloomberg News as reported by National Mortgage News caught my eye. It read “Mnuchin’s Reverse Mortgage Woes Blemish Record of Treasury Pick.” As I read on, I realized that reverse mortgage-bashing by the media, which had almost disappeared in recent years, was now being revived to tarnish a Trump appointee. The article reports that reverse mortgages are an “icky” business in which celebrity spokespersons “set the stage for a potential foreclosure on an elderly widow or widower…”
What is the connection to Mnuchin? With several other investors, he had acquired the insolvent IndyMac in 2009 from FDIC, and with it Financial Freedom, a reverse mortgage lender owned by Indy Mac. Financial Freedom, according to Bloomberg, “has carried out 16,220 foreclosures since 2009, or about 39% of the country’s reverse-mortgage foreclosures…” The “blemish” on Mnuchin seems to be his association with the heavy foreclosure volume by Financial Freedom.
I was immediately skeptical of the alleged 16,220 foreclosures by one firm, and searched at HUD for an industry total. I found it in a response HUD made to a Freedom of Information request from a consumer organization. Total foreclosures of HECM reverse mortgages, as reported by HUD for the period since April 2009, was 41,237. Considering the small size of the reverse mortgage industry, this is an eye-popping number. From the inception of the program through 2016, the total number of HECM reverse mortgage originations was 971,000, which means that foreclosures since April 2009 were 4.2% of all HECMs written since 1999. To me, this sounded more like the total number of reverse mortgage terminations.