The CFPB advises that, before they apply for a reverse mortgage, homeowners with minimal retirement income first determine whether they qualify for state and local programs, including subsidized housing and utility discounts, that would help lower their bills.
They should also consider whether downsizing to a more affordable home might make more sense.
Trawinski said reverse mortgages are best suited for homeowners who are healthy, intend to stay in their home for the long haul and are financially stable but may need extra cash to supplement Social Security or pay off medical bills.
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Before you pull the trigger, she said, be sure to consider alternatives and make sure you're in a position to comply with the debt obligations.
"We encourage homeowners to ask as many questions as possible and learn what they can," Trawinski said. "If there's something they don't understand, get the advice of a financial advisor, elder attorney or independent expert."
—By Shelly Schwartz, special to CNBC.com