Avoiding Problems with Your Escrow Account
If you are using a mortgage to purchase your first home it is highly likely that the lender will request that you use escrow in order to handle the annual homeowner’s insurance and taxes on the property. This is reflected by an additional payment on top of the interest and principal payment that you make on the home loan. Ideally, the lender will review this account every year to see if there are overpayments or underpayments and change the escrow accordingly.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world and companies do make mistakes. Here are some important facts to help you understand the basics of an escrow account.
Property taxes are usually reviewed one year after a home has been purchased. At this time the property will likely get a new assessment, which can drastically increase the tax amount. For people that are buying a previously owned home this will usually not be an issue, although you should look at what the current assessment value is. If you are buying a brand new home, or if you have just built a home, then the previous tax amount was based on an empty lot. The existence of a new home will greatly improve the lot’s value and subsequently change the tax amount.
Before finalizing the loan you will be asked to provide proof of insurance from a licensed insurance agent. The location of your home may dictate a few extras that might not be prevalent in other areas.
For instance, if you are considering the purchase of a home that is close to a river or lake then you may be in a flood zone and subject to flood insurance. Homes that are located in extremely rural areas may be subject to higher premiums if there are no fire fighting stations in close proximity to the home. It is vital that you speak to your Realtor® before buying a home to see if there are any conditions about the home that would result in a higher insurance policy.
Reviewing the Escrow
Every year your lender should mail you a letter that goes over the escrow account for the previous year. It should list all of the payments you made to the escrow account as well as any amounts disbursed from the account to cover your expenses. You should also contact your homeowner’s insurance agent and the local tax assessor’s office to see if there are any upcoming changes for your tax bill or your insurance bill.
How to Handle Property Tax Increases
Going back to the early example of someone buying a new home or building a home, there is the expectation that the property tax amount will increase tremendously. If the increase is more than $1,000 then the lender will possibly add $2,000 to the escrow account in case the taxes increase again the following year. This presents you with three choices:
- Accept the new escrow amount and pay the additional $167 monthly amount
- Ask your lender if they will spread the extra amount over the next two years to make the monthly amount lower
- If you have the funds, offer to pay the increased tax amount yourself so that your escrow payment does not change.