What is an escrow account? How do you know if you need one?

Asked by Trulia Phoenix, Phoenix, AZ Fri Mar 22, 2013

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Josh Barnett’s answer
Josh Barnett, Agent, Carney, OK
Fri Mar 22, 2013
From Wikipedia:

Escrow payment is the common term referring, (in the US), to the portion of a mortgage payment that is designated to pay for real property taxes and hazard insurance. It is an amount "over and above" the principal and interest portion of a mortgage payment. Since the escrow payment is used to pay taxes and insurance, it is referred to as "T&I", while the mortgage payment consisting of principal and interest is called "P&I". The sum total of all elements is then referred to as "PITI", for "Principal, Interest, Tax, and Insurance". Some mortgage companies require customers to maintain an escrow account that pays the property taxes and hazard insurance.

Others offer it as an option for customers. Some types of loans, most notably Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans, require the lender to maintain an escrow account for the life of the loan.

Even with a fixed interest rate, monthly mortgage payments may change over the life of the loan due to changes in property taxes and insurance premiums. For instance, if a hazard insurance premium increases by $120.00 per year, the escrow payment will need to increase by $10.00 per month to account for this difference (in addition to collection for the resulting escrow shortage when the mortgage company paid $120.00 more for the hazard insurance premium than what was anticipated).

By RESPA guidelines the escrow payment must be recomputed at least once every 12 months to account for increases in property taxes or insurance. This is called an escrow analysis.
The validity of an online escrow company's license can be checked with the regulating authority. Usually this is accessible through their official website, and should always be checked before dealing with an escrow company to ensure it is not a look-alike or fraud.
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