What is escrow?
Your mortgage payment is made up of the following:
- Part goes toward your mortgage to pay your principal and interest.
- The other part goes into your escrow account for property taxes and insurance premiums (like homeowners insurance, mortgage insurance, or flood insurance).
When you purchase a home and put down less than 20%, the lender will requiere that you escrow your taxes and insurance. An account is opened at the time your home is purchased. The funds within the account are used to pay your property taxes and insurance premiums. These are paid by the lender directly using these funds. This typically helps the home owner because you don’t have to save for these funds separately.
In Texas we pay property taxes in arrears. In Jan of the current year, you are paying the past year’s property taxes. By “property taxes” I’m referring to property, School, MUD, LID and/or Drainage Taxes (not all applicable for all). It might look something like the image below.
At the beginning of the year I’d suggest you do two things:
- Make sure that your taxes have been paid. Lenders make mistake and sometimes overlook a payment. Taxes are due by Jan 31st so make sure that the payment is applied before that date.
- Review your escrow account for errors, shortages and overages.
#1 Confirm Payment
Go into the jurisdiction’s website and make sure your balance is zero. If there is a balance owed make sure to follow up with your lender.
#2 Yearly escrow review
Property taxes and insurance premiums change over time. Most lenders will review your escrow account each year to make sure you’ll have enough to cover your expenses. To help with any unexpected increases, you need to keep a minimum balance in your account at all times. It’s normally calculated to not be more than 2 months of escrow payments (but this will vary by bank).
The lender will add your taxes and insurance and divide this amount by 12. This is the minimum amount you need in your escrow account. Normally the lender will want at least 2 month cushion to cover any potential increases in taxes or insurance. Most lender will send you an analyzes by mail or online.
If you have an escrow shortage due to an increase in your taxes or insurance premiums, you are responsible for the difference. The bank will send you a notice stating the amount outstanding. It’ll be your choice how you handle it. You can either pay the entire shortage in one lump sum or you can choose to have the amount spread out over the coming year. This means if your shortage is $500, expect to pay an additional $41.67 each month the following year to make up the shortage. Your payment might also increase more as the lender increases the amount going into escrow to pay the next year’s taxes and insurance. In this example you might see an overall increase of approximately $80-100
Please note that if you choose to pay the total shortage in one lump sum, your payment will still increase to cover next year’s potential shortage.
If you have too much money in your escrow account, you might get a refund check from the lender. This usually occurs when taxes go down or payments are overestimated. The lender will pay the appropriate amount to each jurisdiction. Whatever is left goes to you, minus their desired cushion. You should receive notice that you have an escrow surplus and will receive a check not long after that. If this doesn’t happen, contact the lender for further details.
The lender should repeats this process every year but don’t relay on the lender to foresee issues. Be proactive! Before May of every year you will get your proposed assessed value from the tax jurisdiction. Review these statements. Has it increased? decreased? How will this effect your escrow balance?
To avoid unpleasant surprises, pay attention to correspondence from your insurance company or taxing jurisdictions. If you’re aware that your payments will increase, you can put additional money towards your escrow each month to avoid a shortage. If you see that your payments will go down, you can contact your bank to try to decrease your monthly escrow payments.
You can ask your lender to analysis your escrow account at any point. You do not have to wait for them to schedule the review. Increases or decreases in your annual tax or insurance bills may cause your monthly mortgage amount to change.
You can (and should) protest your taxes. The protest deadline is May 31st of each year. The final amount is established by the final quarter of each year.
For more info: Tax Protest