Home Loans for Seniors on Social Security | 2024

By: Craig Berry Updated By: Ryan Tronier Reviewed By: Paul Centopani
February 23, 2024 - 18 min read

More seniors are taking out new home loans

If you’re a senior who relies on Social Security as your primary source of income, the thought of securing a home loan can be daunting.

However, there are home loans for seniors on Social Security specifically designed to meet your unique financial needs. This is particularly relevant for many retirees and seniors interested in purchasing a vacation home, downsizing, or tapping into their home equity.

Fortunately, the market offers a variety of home loan options for seniors on Social Security, and here’s what you need to know.

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Can a senior get a home loan?

Yes, seniors can get home loans on Social Security. No age is too old to buy or refinance a house, if you have the means.

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibits lenders from blocking or discouraging anyone from a mortgage based on age. If we’re basing eligibility on age alone, a 36-year-old and a 66-year-old have the same chances of qualifying for a mortgage loan.

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The qualifying criteria remain the same:

  • Loan-to-value ratio
  • Income
  • Assets
  • Debt-to-income ratio
  • Credit score

However, it can be tougher for retirees and seniors to meet those qualifying criteria, especially regarding income. Seniors on social security should expect stricter scrutiny when applying for a mortgage loan. You may be required to submit additional documents as proof of income from various sources.

What counts as income for a mortgage loan?

When applying for a mortgage loan, lenders typically look at several types of income to determine your ability to repay the loan. Here are some examples of income that is generally accepted to qualify for a senior mortgage loan:

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  • Retirement income: If you receive retirement income, including Social Security, 401(k), traditional IRA, Roth IRA, long-term disability, pensions, or annuities, lenders may consider this as part of your overall income
  • Dividend and investment income: If you have investment accounts, such as dividend stocks or bonds, lenders may consider the income you receive from these investments as part of your overall income
  • Salary or wages: This is the most common type of income and includes the regular pay you receive from your employer
  • Self-employment income: If you’re self-employed, lenders may look at your business income as part of your overall income
  • Bonuses and commissions: If you receive bonuses or commissions as part of your job, lenders may consider this as part of your income
  • Rental income: If you own rental properties, lenders may consider the rental income as part of your overall income
  • Alimony and child support: If you receive alimony or child support payments, lenders may consider this as part of your income

It’s important to note that lenders may have specific requirements for each type of income, and some may be considered more reliable than others. For example, lenders may require documentation of self-employment or rental income, and they may look at the stability and consistency of your income sources.

Can seniors on Social Security get a mortgage?

Yes, seniors on Social Security can get a mortgage. Social Security Income (SSI) for retirement or long-term disability can typically be used to help qualify for a mortgage loan. That means you can likely buy a house or refinance based on Social Security benefits, as long as you’re currently receiving them.

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However, seniors will also need to meet other eligibility requirements, such as having a good credit score and a low debt-to-income ratio.

  • SSI should be counted along with retirement funds and other liquid assets to calculate the borrower’s total qualifying “income”
  • Since Social Security income is typically non-taxable, it can also be “grossed up.” That means the lender can increase the qualifying amount by 10% to 25% and help you qualify for a larger monthly mortgage payment
  • For a lender to count Social Security income toward your mortgage, it will need to be documented via an SSA Award letter or proof of current receipt

If the borrower is drawing Social Security income from another person’s work record, they’ll need to provide the SSA Award letter and proof of current receipt, as well as verification that the income will continue for at least three years.

Home loans for seniors on Social Security

Retirees and seniors enjoy a wide range of mortgage loan options. Beyond products like conventional mortgages and asset depletion loans, there are a number of government home loans for seniors on social security. These include FHA, VA, and USDA loans.

Additionally, state and local housing agencies often provide specialized home loans for seniors that feature flexible qualifying criteria and possible assistance with down payments and closing costs.

As previously noted, seniors with sufficient assets, retirement savings, or investment accounts can readily overcome the income requirements for mortgage approval. Below are some commonly found home loans for seniors on Social Security or other income sources.

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Asset depletion loans

An asset depletion loan is a type of mortgage designed for home buying and refinancing without regular income.

Technically, this is the same as a traditional mortgage. The only difference is the way a mortgage lender calculates your qualifying income. This loan is a good option for retired people. But anyone is eligible if they have enough cash reserves and the proper accounts.

Asset depletion mortgages allow borrowers to qualify for a home loan based on their liquid assets, rather than a continuing income source. The sum of the borrower’s assets is divided into a monthly “income,” which is used to determine whether they can afford mortgage repayment.

For instance, say you have $1 million in savings. The lender will divide this amount by 360 (the loan term in most fixed-rate mortgages) to arrive at an income of about $2,700 monthly. This number is used as your monthly cash flow for mortgage qualifying.

You need a significant amount in savings to qualify.

Only certain types of funds can be counted toward your qualifying income for an asset depletion loan. These typically include:

  • Checking and savings accounts
  • Money market accounts
  • Certificates of deposit
  • Investments such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds
  • 401(k) and IRA retirement accounts
  • Annuities

It doesn’t matter if the income has a defined expiration date. Lenders will require you to document the regular and continued receipt of qualifying income.

This is typically done using one or more of the following:

  • Letters from the organizations providing the income
  • Copies of retirement award letters
  • Copies of signed federal income tax returns
  • 1099 forms
  • Proof of current receipt via bank statement deposits

For retirees who aren’t earning income, an asset depletion loan may be a good way to qualify for a new home loan or refinance.

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Bank statement loans

Bank statement loans offer an alternative path to homeownership for seniors with non-traditional income sources, such as SSI income from investments, rental properties, or retirement accounts. Lenders look beyond traditional documentation, such as W-2s or pay stubs, and instead consider cash flow from personal and possibly business bank accounts.

  • Proof of income: Typically, 12-24 months of bank statements
  • Requirements: A decent credit score and sufficient cash reserves to cover several months of mortgage payments are essential. The exact credit score required can vary by lender, but having a good to excellent credit rating helps in securing better loan terms
  • Property eligibility: These loans can be used for purchasing or refinancing primary residences, second homes, or investment properties, including 1-4 unit residential homes, condos, and townhomes

Bank statement loans are especially well suited for seniors relying on varied non-wage income sources. However, expect higher interest rates and a requirement for a larger down payment, often between 10% and 20% of the home purchase price. On the plus side, because these are non-conforming loans, lenders rarely require private mortgage insurance (PMI) for down payments of less than 20%.

Not all lenders offer bank statement loans, so your options might be more limited compared to applying for conventional mortgages. Explore non-bank mortgage lenders and credit unions, as big banks are less likely to provide these non-QM products.

Conventional loans

Conventional loans are a popular choice for many borrowers. Lenders generally consider Social Security income to be reliable, allowing seniors to qualify. However, these loans often require a good credit score, a low debt-to-income ratio, and sometimes a substantial down payment to secure favorable terms.

Fannie Mae senior home buying program

Fannie Mae has policies that allow eligible retirement assets to be used to qualify under certain conditions. It lets lenders use a borrower’s retirement assets to help them qualify for a mortgage.

If the borrower is already using a 401(k) or other retirement income, they’ll need to demonstrate that the income received will continue for at least three years. Additionally, they’ll need to provide documentation showing the money being drawn from the account.

If the borrower still needs to start using the asset, the lender can compute the income stream that asset could offer.

Freddie Mac senior home buying program

Similarly, Freddie Mac changed its lending guidelines to make it easier for borrowers to qualify for a mortgage with limited income, but substantial assets.

The rule allows lenders to consider IRAs, 401(k)s, lump sum retirement account distributions, and proceeds from the sale of a business to qualify for a mortgage.

Any IRA and 401(k) assets must be fully vested. They must also be “entirely accessible to the borrower, not subject to a withdrawal penalty, and not be currently used as a source of income.”

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Reverse mortgage loans

The reverse mortgage is a federally-insured program provided by the Federal Housing Administration and is officially known as the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage, or HECM. Reverse mortgages allows homeowners aged 62 and older to convert part of their home equity into cash, providing financial relief without the need to sell their home or adhere to a monthly repayment schedule. The interest is then deferred to when the loan matures.

  • Eligibility: To qualify, you must be at least 62 years old, live in the property as your primary residence, have substantial equity in your home, and attend a counseling session with a HUD-approved counselor​​​​​​.
  • Benefits: A reverse mortgage can offer a lifeline by providing tax-free income to cover living expenses, home improvements, or other costs. It doesn’t affect Medicare or Social Security benefits, and the loan isn’t repayable until the home is no longer your primary residence​​​​.
  • Risks and costs: It’s essential to be aware that reverse mortgages can diminish your home equity over time, potentially leaving less for your heirs. The loans can include fees and interest that increase the amount owed. You’re still responsible for property taxes, insurance, and upkeep, and failing to meet these obligations could lead to foreclosure.

Reverse mortgages aren’t for everyone. A home equity line of credit (HELOC), home equity loan, or cash-out refinance are often better choices to tap your home value. Before deciding, it’s wise to consult a HUD-approved counselor to understand the full implications.

FHA loans

The Federal Housing Administration insures FHA loans, which have less stringent eligibility requirements than conventional loans. Seniors can use their Social Security income to qualify, but they may need to make a larger down payment, usually around 3.5% if their credit score is above 580. These loans also require mortgage insurance premiums.

VA loans

For veterans or spouses of veterans, VA loans are a government-backed option that comes with several benefits, such as no down payment and no private mortgage insurance (PMI). Social Security income is acceptable for meeting the loan’s income requirements, making it a viable option for retired military personnel.

USDA loans

The US Department of Agriculture backs USDA loans, which are intended for homebuyers in rural areas. While Social Security income can be considered for eligibility, these loans often have additional income requirements and limitations to ensure they are used by moderate- and low-income households. They also usually require no down payment.

Cash-out refinance

A cash-out refinance involves replacing your existing mortgage with a new, larger loan and receiving the difference in cash. Social Security income can be counted towards meeting the lender’s income requirements. However, you’ll need to have substantial home equity, and lenders may apply additional scrutiny, such as a more in-depth credit check and possibly higher interest rates.

Mortgage alternatives for Social Security recipients

Navigating the housing market can be complex, especially when it comes to mortgages for seniors on Social Security. However, various mortgage alternatives are available that are tailored to accommodate the financial realities of Social Security recipients.

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Home equity line of credit (HELOC)

A HELOC is a revolving line of credit that uses your home’s equity as collateral. Social Security income can be used to qualify, but lenders typically require a good credit score and a low debt-to-income ratio. Interest rates are generally variable, and you only pay interest on the amount you borrow.

Home equity loans

Similar to a HELOC, home equity loans use your home’s equity as collateral but function more like a traditional loan with fixed payments over a set term. Social Security income can be used for qualification, but a good credit score and a low debt-to-income ratio are usually required. The loan provides a lump-sum amount, which is ideal for large expenses.

Buy a home with non-taxable income

Another helpful solution for seniors is counting non-taxable income. Social Security income, for example, is typically not taxed. Most lenders can increase the amount of this income by 25%. This is known as “grossing up” (before taxes and deductions) when calculating monthly income.

Although lenders are not required to gross up non-taxable income, most will unless it’s not necessary. Further, the lender may choose to gross up by a smaller percentage, such as 10% or 15%.

Speak to your lender about how it calculates non-taxable income.

Buy a home with investment income

Investment funds can be used to qualify for a mortgage. But lenders likely won’t count the full asset amount. When retirement accounts consist of stocks, bonds, or mutual funds, lenders can only use 70% of the value of those accounts to determine how many distributions remain.

Buy a home with a co-signer

One of the quickest and easiest solutions for seniors with trouble qualifying is to add a co-signer.

Some retired parents are doing this by adding their children or a family member to their mortgage application. A child with substantial income can be considered alongside the parent, allowing them to buy a home even with no regular cash flow.

Fannie Mae has an increasingly popular new loan program for co-signers. The HomeReady mortgage program allows income from non-borrowing household members, like adult children or family members, to be counted.

To qualify for HomeReady, you must meet the income limit requirements and purchase a primary residence. Vacation homes and investment properties are not allowed.

Property tax breaks for seniors

One final thing to consider as a senior homeowner is that you may qualify for a property tax break. Rules to claim your senior property tax exemption vary by state. So does the amount your taxes could be reduced. Check with your local tax authority or financial planner for more information.

Qualifying for reduced real estate taxes could help lower your debt-to-income ratio (DTI). Having a lower DTI may increase the amount you can borrow on your new home loan.

“Keep in mind, even if you qualify for tax breaks, taxes will be calculated at the current tax rate in the local area,” says Jon Meyer, loan expert and licensed MLO.

Senior home buying example: Qualifying for an asset depletion loan

As an example, suppose retiree Michael has $1 million in his 401(k). He has not made any withdrawals.

  • Michael is not yet 70½. This is the age at which the IRS requires account owners to start taking required minimum distributions from 401(k)s
  • He is living off Social Security income, along with income from a Roth IRA
  • To qualify Michael for a mortgage, the lender uses 70% of the 401(k) balance, or $700,000, minus his down payment and closing costs
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Note: Fannie Mae also allows borrowers to use vested assets from retirement accounts for the down payment, closing costs, and cash reserves.

Let’s say that after down payment and closing costs, Michael is left with $630,000.

Assuming a 30-year mortgage, that amount of $630,000 can then be used to gradually pay for his mortgage over the next 360 months. That would give him $1,750 a month to put toward a housing payment.

  • Amount in 401(k) = $1,000,000
  • Qualifying 401(k) funds (70%) = $700,000
  • Funds left after down payment and closing costs = $630,000
  • Monthly mortgage budget ($630K / 360) = $1,750

Though it is not a separate loan type, lenders sometimes call this an asset depletion loan or asset-based loan. Borrowers may still count income from other sources when they use assets to help them qualify.

Michael could use the asset depletion method from his untouched 401(k). And then combine it with the income from Social Security benefits and his Roth IRA to borrow as much as possible.

He does not actually dip into his 401(k) to pay the mortgage. But this calculation proves that he could rely on his 401(k) to pay the mortgage if need be.

Challenges retirees and seniors face when getting a mortgage

While there is no maximum age limit to apply for a mortgage, seniors and retirees may find it tougher to qualify for a home loan.

Here are a few challenges you might face when buying or refinancing, and what to do about them.

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1. No regular income

Mortgage companies need to verify that you can repay a home loan. Usually, that means looking at monthly income based on W2 tax forms. But most seniors won’t have a regular monthly cash flow to show lenders.

For those in retirement, lenders will often consider 401(k)s, IRAs, and other retirement account distributions for mortgage qualifying. They’ll also consider Social Security income, pension, and investment income.

However, borrowers need to prove these funds are fully accessible to them. You can’t qualify based on retirement accounts or pension unless you can draw from them without penalties.

Retirees also need to show their retirement accounts can be used to fund a mortgage, on top of regular living costs like food and utilities.

2. Income ending in under 3 years (retirement)

Home buyers who aren’t yet retired, but plan to retire soon, may hit a different snag in the mortgage application process. When you buy a home or refinance, mortgage lenders need to verify your income source will continue for at least three years after the loan closes.

Someone retiring in a year or two would not meet this continuing income requirement. In that case, they would not qualify for a mortgage or refinance loan. It won’t matter how high their credit score is. Nor will it matter how much credit card debt they’ve paid off. Or how much money they have stashed away in investments and retirement accounts.

What is the simplest solution to this problem? Don’t tell your lender you plan to retire.

  • There’s nothing on your pay stubs to cue a lender off about retirement plans, so they have every reason to believe your income will continue
  • There’s also no guarantee that you will retire when planned. Many people change their plans based on the current economy, their investments, or their desire to keep working

However, you’ll need to be certain you can afford mortgage payments with your retirement income.

If you’re in a situation where you’ve received a retirement buyout or your employer tells your lender about retirement plans, you may not be able to qualify for a new mortgage. If this is your situation, you may have to wait until you’ve retired and begun drawing from your retirement accounts to qualify based on your assets rather than your income.

3. Accessing retirement funds

Most underwriting guidelines consider distributions of 401(k)s, IRAs, or other retirement accounts to have a defined expiration date. This is because they involve the depletion of the asset. As such, borrowers who derive income from such sources must be able to document that it is expected to continue for at least three years after the date of their mortgage application.

In addition, individuals typically cannot withdraw money from 401(k) accounts before age 59 ½ without penalty. For this reason, the retiree must prove unrestricted access to these accounts, and without penalty.

If the accounts consist of stocks, bonds, or mutual funds, those assets are considered volatile. For this reason, lenders only use 70% of the value in retirement accounts to determine how many distributions remain.

When does it make sense to get a home loan as a senior?

Many retirees and seniors opt for a mortgage instead of paying off their loan balance or buying a new home with cash.

This can free up savings for other uses, depending on how long the loan will be around. Necessities such as food, transportation, and long-term care are among the highest expenditures for seniors.

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Other than freeing up assets, there are a number of reasons seniors may be considering financing a new home purchase.

  • Sizing down: Empty nesters may size down to minimize square footage, maintenance, and mortgage costs
  • Physical challenges: Cleaning and repairs can become physically taxing. Many seniors purchase a new home to cut down on upkeep
  • Supplementing fixed income: More and more senior citizens are finding it difficult to live on their fixed incomes. Retirees may decide to sell or refinance their homes, finance a new home purchase, and use the equity cashed out to supplement their income
  • Moving to a new area: According to one survey, as many as 40% of retirees are venturing out of their home state looking for better weather, recreation, favorable taxes, and other benefits

If any of the above applies to you, it might be worth it to consider financing a home in retirement.

FAQ: Home loans for seniors on social security

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Can seniors on Social Security get a mortgage?

Yes, seniors on Social Security can get a mortgage. Lenders often consider Social Security as a stable form of income. However, eligibility will also depend on other factors like credit score, other sources of income, and existing debts.

How much income does a senior need to qualify for a mortgage?

The income needed to qualify for a mortgage varies depending on the lender and the loan type. However, a general rule of thumb is that your mortgage payment should not exceed 28-31% of your gross monthly income. Lenders will also consider your debt-to-income ratio, ideally below 36%.

Are there home loans for people on Social Security?

Yes, there are home loans specifically designed for people on Social Security. These include government-backed options like FHA loan, VA loans and specialized products from private lenders. Reverse mortgages are another option, particularly tailored for seniors.

What is the 62 PLUS loan?

The 62 PLUS loan is a type of reverse mortgage designed for homeowners aged 62 and older. It allows seniors to convert a portion of their home equity into cash, which can be used for any purpose. This type of loan does not require monthly payments and is repaid when the homeowner sells the home, moves out, or passes away.

Can a senior on Social Security get a home loan with a low credit score?

Getting a home loan with a low credit score is challenging but not impossible. Some lenders specialize in offering mortgages to individuals with low credit scores. Government-backed options like FHA loans are also more lenient with credit requirements. However, you may face higher interest rates and may need to make a larger down payment.

How do you qualify for a mortgage if you are retired?

Qualifying for a mortgage when you’re retired involves demonstrating to lenders that you have a stable income, which can come from various sources such as Social Security, pensions, or investments. A good credit score is also crucial for securing favorable loan terms. Lenders will assess your debt-to-income ratio to ensure that you can afford the mortgage payments; this ratio should ideally be low. Additionally, having a substantial down payment can improve your chances of mortgage approval, as it reduces the lender’s risk. Overall, the key factors are stable income, creditworthiness, and a manageable level of debt.

Finding home loans for seniors on social security

Finding the best mortgage for seniors comes down to carefully balancing their monthly income against their monthly debt to ensure financial stability and peace of mind in retirement.

Thankfully, most mortgage lenders have loan programs that allow seniors to buy a home or refinance their current home. However, not all lenders are experienced in issuing mortgages for seniors on social security.

Prior to choosing a lender, make sure to ask a few screening questions. In addition to getting the lowest mortgage rates, you’ll want to know how the lender qualifies retirement income and calculates qualifying income from assets.

A few questions asked upfront can help you find an experienced lender to process your application and get you the best deal.

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Craig Berry
Authored By: Craig Berry
The Mortgage Reports contributor
With over 20 years in mortgage banking, Craig Berry has helped thousands achieve their homeownership goals.
Ryan Tronier
Updated By: Ryan Tronier
The Mortgage Reports Editor
Ryan Tronier is a personal finance writer and editor. His work has been published on NBC, ABC, USATODAY, Yahoo Finance, MSN Money, and more. Ryan is the former managing editor of the finance website Sapling, as well as the former personal finance editor at Slickdeals.
Paul Centopani
Reviewed By: Paul Centopani
The Mortgage Reports Editor
Paul Centopani is a writer and editor who started covering the lending and housing markets in 2018. Previous to joining The Mortgage Reports, he was a reporter for National Mortgage News. Paul grew up in Connecticut, graduated from Binghamton University and now lives in Chicago after a decade in New York and the D.C. area.