Many older people will consider themselves asset rich, cash poor.

This means most of their money is locked up in assets, like their home.

Equity release products allow homeowners over the age of 60 to access some of that wealth locked up in their property.

"They can allow you to repay other debts, take a holiday, improve your lifestyle or even to give a gift to the kids to get them on the property ladder," explained Mark Coan, CEO of MoneySherpa, a financial advisory firm.

Like all financial products, equity release can bring benefits and risks - and if you are considering using it is very important to get good impartial advice before deciding and discuss it with those you trust.

What type of equity release products are available here?

There are two types of equity release products – lifetime loans and home reversion schemes.

A lifetime loan is a mortgage loan secured against your home.

You can borrow between 15% and 40% of the value of your house, and use the money as you like.

You don't sell a share of your home and you can keep living in it.

On the other hand, a home reversion scheme is where you agree to sell a share of your home in return for a set price.

Spry Finance is the only provider of lifetime loans here, while Home Plus is the sole provider of home reversion schemes.

How does a lifetime loan work?

A lifetime loan is designed to last for the rest of your life - hence the name.

It becomes repayable after you die, or if you sell your home or permanently stop living in it – this includes moving into long-term residential care.

Unlike a standard loan, you don't have to make regular repayments.

But the interest is added to the loan balance every month – which means the balance on the loan will grow over time, as the unpaid interest is added to your loan and incurs compound interest.

It is worth noting that the interest rate for lifetime loans is much higher than other loans.

"It is expensive money," said Michael Dowling, of Dowling Financial Services.

The current interest rate being offered by Spry Finance, the only lifetime loan provider in Ireland, is 6.45%.

"In effect, the debt increases by 35% every five years," he explained.

In some cases, by the time the loan, along with the interest is paid off, there may be little or even nothing left to leave to your children - or whoever is due to inherit your home.

However, John Moriarty, CEO of Spry Finance, said some people use the loans to give their sons and daughters money now, rather than when they die.

"Parents want to see their children and their grandchildren enjoy that benefit while they are still alive," he said.

"So the idea of a living inheritance or assisting with a deposit for a home is a regular use of this product."

Are there different types of lifetime loans?

There are two types of lifetime loans - a 'rolled up' lifetime loan and an 'interest only' lifetime loan.

The 'rolled-up' lifetime loan is the most common.

This is where there are no regular repayments to be made but you are charged interest on the money borrowed.

If you go for this option, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) said to make sure you don’t borrow more than you need.

"Because the loan balance will grow over time, the golden rule is that you should only borrow the amount required right now to meet your financial needs," said Muriel Dolan, Deputy Director of Communications with the CCPC.

"Otherwise, you will pay interest on money you don’t need," she added.

With an "interest only" loan you repay the interest on your loan through regular repayments.

This means the lump sum of money you owe will not grow once you make your monthly repayments.

"We are a provider of choice and control for the over 60s in relation to their finances," said Mr Moriarty of Spry Finance.

"They can choose to make repayments and many of our customers do that, so they can treat it like a standard mortgage or a standard loan in that you pay it back over time.

"But the typical product itself doesn’t require regular monthly repayments to be made but the loan will grow over time," he explained.

How much can I borrow?

The amount you can borrow will depend on your age and the value of your home.

The older you are, the more you can borrow.

The entry age for lifetime loans at Spry Finance is 60 – so at 60 you can borrow a maximum of 15% of the value of your home.

The amount you can borrow increases by 1% every year, up to 40%.

For example, a 70 year old can borrow 25%, a 75 year old can borrow 30% and those aged 85 and over can borrow 40%.

The house must have a minimum value of €250,000 in Dublin, or €175,000 outside of Dublin.

Typically, the most Spry will lend is €500,000 and the minimum is €20,000.

What are the alternatives to lifetime loans?

Lifetime loans are not suitable for everyone.

Muriel Dolan, of the CCPC said it is important that you consider alternative options first before choosing this product.

She said these include applying for a standard mortgage, down-sizing your home to a smaller property, renting a room in your home - perhaps through the 'Rent a Room Scheme', availing of pensions, investments or savings, or availing of financial support from family or friends.

As mentioned earlier, home reversion is another equity release product you can consider.

What are the main benefits of lifetime loans?

Lifetime loans free up money for those aged 60 and over, who may find it difficult to secure other types of loans.

Spry Finance has written 400 loans here in Ireland worth €70 million since it relaunched back in January 2021.

It said 25% used the money to enhance their lifestyle, to provide extra monthly income or to fund emergencies.

Another quarter used the funds to carry out home improvements or to buy things for their home, while a further 25% paid off debts, such as their mortgage or credit cards.

10% said they gifted the money or gave it to their children as a living inheritance, while the remaining 15% used the funds for other purposes.

What are the main risks associated with lifetime loans?

The main risk is that the lifetime loan will reduce the value of what you leave to your family when you die.

"My advice is to talk to your family upfront about these trade offs," said Mark Coan of MoneySherpa.

"It often turns out your family would rather see you kick up your heels now than leave a big inheritance for them in the future," he said.

Although providers advise applicants to discuss taking out lifetime loans with their families upfront, it's the individual's choice and not everyone wants to share their decision with their family.

"This can lead to some members of the family getting less than they expect when the value of their inheritance is calculated," Mr Coan said.

Mr Moriarty of Spry Finance said most of their customers decide to inform their family before taking out the loan.

"We really strongly recommend that our customers talk to their families and their advisors," he said.

"We ask our customers if they have spoken with their children, and most of them tell us that they have - but we can’t insist on it.

"I’m 60 next year, with adult children and I probably would tell them but I’d reserve the right to make my own financial decisions," he added.

During the application process, Mr Moriarty said they invite those taking out the loan to bring their children to a meeting with a Spry Finance consultant.

Could my house go into negative equity when my loan grows?

Make sure your loan has a "no negative equity" guarantee.

This is provided by Spry Finance, and means that the value of the loan that must be paid back can never exceed the value of the home.

"If the loan grows and the value of the house stays stagnant such that the loan would be worth more than the value of the house – that is not their family's problem," Mr Moriarty said.

"They can’t leave a debt behind them that isn’t secured on the house," he said.

Unlike a standard mortgage, Spry Finance doesn’t have recourse to any other assets in your estate.

"It is purely on the value of the house that it is secured," Mr Moriarty said.

Can you still avail of the Fair Deal scheme if you have a lifetime loan?

John Moriarty, CEO of Spry Finance said lifetime loans and the Fair Deal scheme can, and have operated side by side.

'The Nursing Home Loan’, is part of the Government’s Fair Deal Scheme administered by the Health Service Executive (HSE).

This loan applies where the person in nursing home care has assets including land and property. They can delay paying for their care until after they die, using these assets to secure the loan.

"We do allow the HSE to put a second charge on the house to secure the nursing home loan which is part of the Fair Deal Scheme," Mr Moriarty said.

"For a single borrower, if they move to care our loan gets due for repayment and the house is sold and the funds are ring-fenced for Fair Deal purposes.

"For joint borrowers, our loan doesn’t become repayable if one party goes into care and we allow the HSE to put a charge on the property," he explained.

If the two go into care, Mr Moriarty said the loan becomes due for repayment.

"So our loan gets repaid typically from the sale of the house and because of recent changes in the Fair Deal scheme, those net sales proceeds get ring-fenced for Fair Deal purposes and then those proceeds are used for up to a maximum of three years in terms of contribution to their care," he explained.

Who will a lifetime loan not work for?

If you have an adult child living with you, and want them to be able to continue living in the house after you die, a lifetime loan won’t work for you.

"It is not designed to be a multi-generational product," Mr Moriarty said.

"If their need and objective is to pass the house on in full, in terms of residency as well as value, well then this product isn’t suitable for them – unless the loan gets fully repaid," he added.

Are lifetime loans popular in Ireland?

Before the financial crash, these products were quite popular.

Pre-2008, three providers were offering lifetime loans.

But following the crash they all stopped accepting new applicants, as they weren’t able to source funds at a price where they could market the product to the target audience.

"The banking crisis was a reset for credit products across the board including equity release products," said Mr Coan of MoneySherpa.

"Sweeping changes in regulation and lower property values led to providers hitting the pause button on equity release in Ireland after 2008," he added.

Some of the providers attracted negative press, which was impacting on their brand.

Why did these loans get a bad rep?

Lifetime loans got a bad reputation after the crash, but why?

"Very simple - people did not fully understand the product," Mr Dowling of Dowling Financial Services said.

Last January, Joe Duffy dedicated almost a week of his Liveline shows on RTÉ’s Radio 1 to the problems people encountered with lifetime loans.

Mr Dowling said a significant cohort of those who complained about the products, were the sons and daughters of those who took out the loans.

In some cases, the children weren’t told that their parents had taken out a lifetime loan, or they did not understand how it would impact their inheritance.

"They were expecting a big inheritance, and then realised that it was eroded," Mr Dowling said.

Mr Coan of MoneySherpa said that while providers advise applicants to discuss taking out lifetime loans with their families upfront, it's the individual's choice and not everyone wants to share their decision with their family.

"This can lead to some members of the family getting less than they expect when the value of their inheritance is calculated," he explained.

So, should I take out a lifetime loan?

Before you make any decisions, Muriel Dolan of the CCPC said she would strongly recommend you seek advice.

"Taking out a lifetime loan is a big financial decision," she said.

"You should consider taking independent financial and legal advice before undertaking this loan."

When seeking financial advice, Ms Dolan said you should make sure that the advisor is regulated.

You can check if an advisor is regulated by using the Central Bank’s Register.