Why mortgage lenders require escrow accounts

Think of an escrow account as a safety net for your home. It financially safeguards both you and your lender against liens and property damage.

Since most of us do not have the means to buy a home outright, we rely on lenders and mortgages to help fulfill our dreams of homeownership. In turn, lenders rely on escrow accounts to ensure property taxes are paid on time and home insurance policies are kept up to date. Without the assurances provided by an escrow account, a lender’s financial risk could increase significantly.

To fully appreciate the benefits of escrow for lenders, let’s first review what escrow is, and how it works for borrowers.

What is an escrow account?
An escrow account is an account held by a third party agent who represents both the borrower and lender. The borrower makes regular deposits into the account -- usually as part of a regular mortgage payment. Then, when property taxes and insurance premiums become due, the third party agent releases the funds to cover the payments.

Rather than paying your taxes or insurance in a large lump sum, many homeowners prefer the idea of spreading their property taxes and insurance premiums evenly over 12 monthly payments. Plus, with escrow, you don’t have to remember to send your payments on time. This means there’s less risk of missed payments or lapses in your insurance coverage.

The benefits of escrow to the lender
If your down payment is less than 20 percent of the property value, your lender will likely insist that you open an escrow account at the time of your mortgage closing. Even if your down payment is greater than 20 percent, your lender may recommend or require that you have an escrow account.

The reason is simple: Escrow accounts provide lenders with added security and peace of mind that their collateral -- your home -- is protected in a couple of important ways:

1. Your property taxes will always be paid on time, which ensures tax authorities will have no reason to place a lien on your home or foreclose on it.

2. Your home insurance premiums will always be up to date, which means your property will be covered in the event of damage or destruction caused by a fire or natural disaster.

Lenders need these assurances just as much as homeowners.

Imagine if your property taxes fell into arrears and a lien was placed on your home. It goes without saying that it would be an unfortunate experience for you and your family. But your lender would also suffer because without the collateral of your home, it may not be able to get its money back should you default on your loan.

In another scenario, let’s say your property insurance has lapsed due to a few unpaid premiums. And then, during a storm, your house is destroyed. Just as you’re left without a home, your lender is left without any collateral, since there’s no insurance to cover the loss.

You can see why so many lenders insist their borrowers use escrow accounts.

For many new homeowners, escrow accounts are the norm. Even though the funds in escrow typically do not earn interest, the account provides a convenient, hassle-free way to ensure your taxes and premiums are always paid on time. And that can offer peace of mind to you and your lender.

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