Equity release is often used as a way to boost retirement income, help family, or pay off debts, but it should never be entered into lightly.
Unlocking some of your property wealth is a serious decision, so it’s essential to fully understand the impact it could have on both your finances and your family relationships.
Here are some key questions to ask yourself if you’re considering equity release.
Do I meet the eligibility requirements for equity release?
If you’re aged 55 or over and a homeowner, you’ll usually qualify for equity release. If you’re releasing equity with your partner, they must also be aged 55 or over.
Most equity release providers will require your property to be a minimum value, usually around £70,000 or £80,000. If your home is considered ‘non-standard’, for example it’s timber-framed or of concrete construction, some providers may be unwilling to accept your application.
The property you want to release equity from must be your main residence and not a property which you let out. If you still have a mortgage on your home you can still apply for equity release – some people decide to use the proceeds of equity release to pay off what they owe.
See more in Am I eligible for equity release?
What type of equity release plan is right for me?
You’ll need to seek professional financial advice before releasing equity from your home, but before you do it can be helpful to get to grips with how the two main types of plan work. These are lifetime mortgages and home reversion plans.
Lifetime mortgages are the most popular type of equity release plan and usually enable homeowners to draw down money as and when they need it, helping to keep interest charges down. Some plans also allow you to pay back some of the interest you owe, which can also reduce costs significantly over time. With this type of plan, you remain the owner of your home.
Home reversion plans, however, involve the equity release provider paying you a lump sum for a portion of your property. You can stay in your property rent-free for the remainder of your life. When the property is sold, the proceeds are split between you and the equity release provider, according to the proportion you each own.
The right plan for you will depend on your individual circumstances, and whether you’re keen to retain ownership of your property, or if you’re happy to sell part of it.
Should I tell my family I’m considering equity release?
Releasing equity from your home will reduce the value of any inheritance you might have planned to leave your loved ones. It’s really important to inform them of your plans, and the implications of unlocking some of your property wealth, so they’re aware of the impact it may have on them. Some people use some of the equity they’ve released to provide their children or dependents with a ‘living inheritance’ if for example, they want to help them cover education costs, or put down a deposit on a property of their own.
Some equity release plans allow you to ring-fence some of your property wealth so that you will be able to pass on a guaranteed amount to them when you die, known as an inheritance guarantee, so it’s worth considering this option if this is important to you.
How might it affect my entitlement to benefits?
If you receive means-tested benefits, where the amount you get is based on your income and savings, equity release may reduce your entitlement, or even stop it altogether. For example – . Pension Credit, Universal Credit and Council Tax Reduction are some of the means-tested benefits that might be affected by equity release.
To see an example of how this might work, if you are currently claiming the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit, which in the 2020/21 tax year tops up your State Pension to a guaranteed weekly amount of £173.75 if you’re single, or £265.20 if you’re in a couple.If you have capital of less than £10,000, you can claim the full amount of the Guarantee Credit, but for every £500 of capital you have in excess of this amount, you lose £1 a week of your Guarantee Credit. If, therefore, you decided to release £20,000 of equity from your home and had no existing savings, the money released from your house would count as capital for your benefits calculation. This means with £20,000 in capital, you’d lose £20 a week of your Guarantee Credit (£10,000 divided by £500). You can find out more about how Pension Credit works.
Releasing equity from your home could also affect any Council Tax Reduction or Universal Credit entitlement as you’ll usually only qualify if you have savings or capital of less than £16,000. If you are still working then local councils can set their own savings limits, but this will usually be £16,000 or less.
Find out more about How lump sum payments and savings can affect your benefits.
Will I want to downsize in future?
One of the main reasons people opt for equity release is that they want to stay put in their current home. However, it’s important to consider that your plans might change over time, and that you may decide you want to downsize in future. If you have released equity from your property and then move, you’re likely to face charges if you want to use the proceeds of your sale to pay back what you owe.
If you think downsizing could be a possibility, some providers offer what’s known as ‘downsizing protection’. This means that if you do decide to downsize, you can repay your equity-release plan in full – either because you want to pay off what you owe, or because it can’t be transferred to your new home – without being hit by any early repayment charges. Downsizing protection can usually only be used five years after you’ve released equity from your home.
Have I factored in all the costs of equity release?
Interest rates on equity release products tend to be higher than for standard mortgages, so it’s vital to understand how much unlocking some of your property wealth might cost you over the long run. Sometimes this can come as a shock, as because you’re not repaying any of the interest on the money you’ve borrowed, interest rolls up and is compounded. This means that you’re essentially charged interest both on the original sum unlocked and also on any interest already charged. It’s therefore vital to check that you’ve gone for the most competitive equity release rate possible, as even a seemingly small difference in interest rate can make quite a substantial difference in the amount charged over twenty years.
See more in our article: How much does equity release cost?
What impact will releasing equity from my home have on my tax bills?
Any money you receive from equity release is tax-free – however if you were to put it into a savings account, any interest earned will be subject to standard income tax rules.
Releasing equity from your property will also reduce the value of your property that could be eligible for inheritance tax, which could in turn help reduce any potential Inheritance Tax liability. This is a complex area of financial planning so if you’re considering releasing equity specifically for this reason, it’s essential that you seek professional financial advice first as equity release may well not be suitable for you. You can find out more about How Inheritance Tax works.
Does the equity release provider I’m considering using belong to the Equity Release Council?
The Equity Release Council is the trade body for the equity release sector. Its aim is to promote “high standards of conduct and practice in the provision of and advice on equity release which have consumer safeguards at its heart.”
For example, products provided by members of the Equity Release Council must provide you with the right to remain in your property for life or until you need to move into long-term care. They must also offer a “no negative equity guarantee” which means that if house prices fall and your property ends up being worth less than your outstanding loan, you won’t have to pay any more.
You can find an equity release adviser via the Equity Release Council’s (the trade body for the equity release sector) website here.
If you’re looking for somewhere to start, Key group is one of the more established providers who offer advice on equity release. It is a member of the Equity Release Council and has an excellent customer service rating on Trustpilot. If you are interested in a free, no obligation conversation with one of Key’s equity release specialists, you can request a callback here.
Have you recently released equity from your home or are you considering doing so? We’d be interested in hearing from you. You can join the money conversation on the Rest Less community or leave a comment below.