Mortgage lenders often require borrowers to have an escrow account. With this kind of account, you pay a few hundred dollars extra every month on top of your monthly mortgage payment of principal and interest. The servicer keeps this extra money in the escrow account until your property tax and homeowners' insurance bills are due. It then uses the money to pay the bills on your behalf.
Some borrowers like the ease of having an escrow account; by paying a little bit each month, they can avoid worrying about having to pay large amounts when the tax or insurance bill comes due. But if you prefer to pay these bills on your own, you might be eligible to cancel the account—if you meet certain criteria and depending on the type of loan you have.
First, let's clearly define "escrow" in the context of mortgage accounts. This kind of escrow is something different than when you purchased your home. That kind of escrow is where a neutral third party holds funds, such as earnest money, or documents before closing the sale.
With a mortgage escrow account, you have to pay the servicer a certain amount each month to cover property taxes, homeowners' insurance, and (sometimes) private mortgage insurance and homeowners' association dues. These are collectively called “escrow items.” The servicer then pays for those items on your behalf as the bills come due. Having an escrow account ensures that your taxes, insurance premiums, and the like are paid on time and in full.
The servicer collects escrow funds as part of your monthly mortgage payment, along with the principal and interest. Approximately one-twelfth of the estimated annual cost of taxes and insurance is paid into the account each month out of your monthly mortgage payment. The servicer might also collect a cushion—usually two months’ worth of escrow payments—to pay for unexpected increases in costs.
By making payments into an escrow account, you're essentially making an interest-free loan to the servicer because most escrow accounts don't pay interest on the money that's kept there. For this reason, some people prefer to hold on to their money and pay the tax and insurance bills themselves. (Some states, though, require interest to be paid on escrow accounts. To find out the law in your state, check with a local real estate attorney.)
Many lending institutions require escrow accounts for certain types of loans.
In some cases, you might be able to cancel an existing escrow account—though every lender has different terms for removing one. In some cases, the loan has to be at least one year old with no late payments. Another requirement might be that no taxes or insurance payments are due within the next 30 days.
If you decide that you want to get rid of your escrow account, call your servicer to find out if you qualify for a deletion of the account.
Before waiving or canceling your escrow account, you should consider whether or not you really want to get rid of it. Some borrowers prefer to have one as a convenience. With an escrow account, the servicer assumes responsibility for making sure taxes and insurance are paid. That’s fewer bills you have to deal with. (Learn what happens if you don't pay property taxes on your home.)
Also, if you’re not good at saving money, having an escrow account might be a good idea. With an escrow account, it's easy to save money to put towards bills that become due later because you contribute small amounts toward them with each mortgage payment.
Even if the lender waives or cancels the escrow requirement, it might require you to provide evidence that you have made the payments for taxes and insurance, which can be a hassle. And, if you don’t keep up with the taxes and insurance premiums, the servicer can pay the taxes for you or buy insurance coverage and you'll then have to repay those amounts—otherwise, the lender might foreclose.
If you're facing a potential foreclosure, consider contacting an attorney to find out about your options.