Property Rich, Cash Poor

On paper, Ruth Boe, 72, is a wealthy woman. Since she bought her modest six-room house near San Francisco in 1950, its value has surged from $10,500 to $139,000. But interest payments on her savings, plus a monthly $395.50 Social Security check, are not enough to pay for her rising food, utility and repair bills. Desperate and disheartened, Boe feared that if her savings became depleted, she could be forced to sell her home in order to raise enough money to live.

Last month the Crocker National Bank solved Boe's cash problem. The mechanism: a reverse mortgage, meaning in essence a loan...

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