Personal Finance Q & A

Like a mortgage, but backward

Q. What is a reverse mortgage? When might it be a good idea, and what is done with any funds should the person taking out the mortgage die? E.M., Watertown, S.D.

A. A reverse mortgage is a home-equity loan in reverse, where the home serves as collateral for monthly payments from lender to homeowner.

Homeowners use them if they need extra cash but want to stay in their home, says Steve O'Connor, with the Mortgage Bankers Association in Washington, D.C.

And increasing numbers of older people are tapping into their home equity since, "that is where they have their main wealth," Mr. O'Connor says.

The loan amount can be repaid from the borrower's estate. A reverse mortgage should be entered into carefully, since it is written against the home.

To find lenders, check local banks and your state department of banking. An excellent Web site on reverse mortgages is

Q. A firm called Vivendi recently purchased a water-bottling company in the US. Where can I find out more about Vivendi and how to invest in it? V.D.V., via e-mail

A. Vivendi, a French company, is the world's largest water company and is also involved in construction and real estate. It trades in US markets with the symbol VVDIY.

For information, you could write Vivendi for an annual report (Vivendi, 42 Avenue de Friedland, 75380 Paris Cedex 08, France), or check out its Web site ( You can also get information from

To invest in the company, go to any stockbroker - traditional or online - to arrange the transaction.

Questions about finances? Write: Guy Halverson The Christian Science Monitor 500 Fifth Ave., Suite 1845 New York, NY 10110 E-mail:

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