NATALI MORRIS

Natali Morris Blog

June 3, 2016

Why You Should Not Escrow Your Taxes And Insurance

We recently refinanced a mortgage and somehow in the raping of many trees, I overlooked the page that allowed me to choose whether or not to escrow my taxes and insurance into my mortgage payment. If I had caught that page, I would have OPTED OUT but I guess my head was in the clouds that day.

If you are new to mortgages, here is what I’m talking about: Your monthly mortgage payment includes a principal payment plus amortized interest. The mortgage company usually gives you the option of paying a few hundred dollars extra per month so that they can keep that money in an escrow account to pay your annual property taxes and homeowners’ insurance. Isn’t that so kind of them?

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Well, not really. They do not do this because they are kind. They do it for two reasons:

  1. They are CYA‘ing. If you do not pay your property taxes, the city will take priority in a lien against the house (in most states). This means that if your house has to be sold at auction or foreclosed on, the city will get paid back first before the lender. The lender has no guarantee of being repaid in full. They get whatever scraps are left over from the emergency sale. The lender obviously doesn’t like this option.
  2. They are also making money on your escrow account. Let me explain this.

I am not a lender so I am not 100% sure that the lender earns interest on your escrow account, although my insurance agent assures me that they do. But I do know that they do not have to pay YOU any interest whatsoever so you could be keeping thousands of dollars in this account per year, earning ZERO on it. Plus, they pad this account to make sure they have enough for these bills. The law allows them to estimate the total of taxes and insurance and add 1/6 more.

With this high cash reserve from your escrowed money, the bank can now lend out more money and make more money on those loans based on our system of fractional reserve banking.

I live in a very high property tax rate county. Taxes for homes in my area are regularly assessed at $20,000 per year. So do the opportunity-cost math for where you should put that $20,000 before it comes called up by the tax man.

Some interest-bearing account > 0 interest-bearing account

In some cases, the lender requires you to use an escrow account and charges you a one-time set-up fee to boot. But often you are given an option and if you are given the option, I suggest you opt out in the interest of maximizing the power of your dollars! Have the discipline to save this money yourself, put it in an interest-bearing account, and then you’ll have some extra dough left over to ease the pain of your tax bill.

Since I had neglected to do that on my recent refinance, I had to request to opt-out after the loan had closed by sending an actual fax. So old school! (Incidentally I do this with an iPad app called iFax. Comes in handy from time to time.)

Thankfully I really like our lender and they were super cool about this request. They dissolved the escrow account within a week and sent me a refund for the money they had been holding in there. My insurance agent was shocked that they were so breezy about it.

“If you were with Wells Fargo or one of the other big banks, I doubt they would have let you do that,” she said. “It’s getting increasingly hard to get the banks to give up a single penny because interest rates are so low and they are not making enough money on their loans.”

She makes a point!

She cautioned me that when that tax and insurance bills shows up, I should pay them pronto because if the bank gets an opportunity to pay it, they’ll jump at the chance to escrow me up again. Not sure if that is true but okay.

What about convenience?

I grant you, an escrow account is convenient. If you have not saved enough in taxes and you get that ugly bill in the mail, it puts a world of hurt on. And your property tax bill isn’t something you can affect very much, other than arguing with the city about your home’s value. For the most part, the government digs its heels in and makes you pay what they demand. Same with insurance bill. The cost is the cost and it is usually a high cost for homeowners.

If you really think you need to be forced to save this money inside of an escrow account, I applaud you for knowing the extent of your willpower. But if you are trying to play the smartest you possibly can with every dollar you spend, you already know the logical choice.

One last note of caution: Your lender does not know for sure how much your taxes and insurance for the next year will be. The city assesses tax values annually and your insurance rate can change too. Your lender estimates this amount and then pads the number in the escrow. They are required to disclose this to you. Look for this in your statements and make sure they are not holding too much of YOUR money.

Okay I’m done on this subject. Would love to hear what any experienced lenders have to say about this! You know how to respond so do so!

 

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37 responses to “Why You Should Not Escrow Your Taxes And Insurance”

  1. RedwoodCitytoNJ says:

    If some folks have a tendency to pay their bills late the penalties on missing a property tax payment is greater versus opportunity cost. I selected to have my property taxes put in escrow, but not my insurance. With low-interest rates, the upside is limited. Not worth the risk.

  2. Ron B says:

    Some comments:

    A. You should never be charged an escrow set up fee. On the contrary, in most states, you are charged to waive an escrow account on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans.

    B. I agree with RedwoodCitytoNJ… the small amount of interest you may lose does not compensate for the convenience of making one payment to cover PITI.

    C. A law was recently passed that actually requires an escrow account for flood insurance.

    D. For most people, I advise an escrow account. For those that use a HELOC to pre-pay their mortgage, I advise not to as the HELOC can come in handy for those payments when they come around and especially in high tax states such as NY & NJ.

  3. Tom P says:

    My parents taught me to always avoid escrow accounts like the plague. On our current mortgage we opted out of the escrow. But now we are looking to refi and most of the banks we are talking with will add 1/8 point if we don’t want to escrow. That is a big upfront cost that would fund most of our initial escrow balance and it would be nice to not have to worry about property tax payments twice a year.

    On your situation, I don’t think having your bank release your escrow funds is very common. It is an additional risk that they will be bearing so there is some associated cost, hence the additional upfront fee that we will be charged.

    Agree with Ron, for most people, I think escrowing is probably a good idea.

  4. Chris says:

    There is another advantage of managing tax payments for yourself. In California they automatically allow you to make 2 separate payments for your property tax. The first is due in December and the second the next year. Should you have a windfall in income one year, you can pay ALL of that year’s property taxes by December so you maximize that deductible expense.

  5. Tim says:

    We just happened upon another very good reason to leave your money in the bank: escrow accounts are NOT INSURED.

    If your escrow company receives a fraudulent or erroneous bill, and they pay it on your behalf, you might get screwed.

    In our case, PennyMac (might as well name names) received an erroneous insurance bill for our address, because the previous owner failed to cancel his policy (and just happened to have the same lender).

    Rather than ignoring the bill, PennyMac paid it out of our escrow account (assuming we’d changed insurance companies… and our name… apparently). When we asked to have the money refunded, PennyMac refused. After being passed around to different people over a couple days, I was eventually told (by someone who sounded like their attorney) that PennyMac was NOT a bank, that they were NOT FDIC insured, and that they were under NO obligation to replace any funds that they been erroneously paid on our behalf. Nice. If we wanted our money back, we’d have to contact the insurance company they had paid.

    Naturally, if we’d received the bill ourselves, we never would’ve paid it. When you have someone else paying your bills, there’s a chance that these kinds of errors can occur, and the escrow holder may not take responsibility for their mistakes.

    After many calls and several months of hassle (and having to prove to the 3rd party insurance company that the home HAD been sold), we eventually received a refund. Had this been a fraudulent bill, we would’ve been out $1000. And even though we received a refund, it was still a pain to resolve.

    • nmorris says:

      Holy cow, really!? That sounds like a huge headache! I had no idea that was not an insured account. Total crap!

    • Daniel says:

      That is not possible. If the lender made a mistake, they are required to fix it. If they refuse to fix it, you have a few options. First, file a formal complaint with the CFPB at Consumerfinance.gov

      Second, get an attorney.

      Once an institution escrows, they are liable for the funds and what they do with the funds. If they paid your taxes late, the lender is required to pay the fee. If they pay the wrong property tax bill, the lender will need to pay yours while they wait to get the wrong payment refunded. There are rules and regulations in place for this reason.

      https://www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/news/cnspr11/escrow.html

      Yes, lenders are not FDIC insured. In fact, even if your lender was FDIC insured, your loan isn’t.

  6. J. River says:

    First let me say thank you for writing this article, Natali!

    Second, first time home buyer here so when I received a notification that I would be receiving a refund from my escrow account I was thrilled. But due to couple of earlier financial mistakes I decided that I needed to intelligently approach this surprise money (it’s almost as much as a full mortgage payment due to the appraisal value changing).

    So what do I do with it? Thank god for google. After a fairly lengthy search (who am I kidding, most of us millenials give up if it’s not one of the top 3 results on the first page) and a few tabs worth of bank propaganda later I came across this article. Your situation and exposition taught me several things I knew nothing about previously but had been seeking answers on.

    Now, thanks to your effort, I will be able to more intelligently and affectively approach my escrow refund.

    Regards,
    J. River
    A Millennial

  7. Amy Tang says:

    I really appreciate the insight here in this post and confident it’s going to be helpful to me and many others. Thanks for sharing all the information and tips.

  8. Anne says:

    Your article was interesting as I am trying to determine if I can change my mortgage and NOT have my property taxes and insurance escrowed. My property taxes are so high and they are split into two payments annually. The lender just raised my mortgage payment by 125.00 which is enough to cause me a huge budget issue, if not a reason to move altogether because the payment is jut too high. I’m a long time homeowner, meaning this is my fourth home over a 25 year period and I’ve never experienced such fluctuations from year to year in my mortgage payment. It seems that two things are happening: they are padding the amount by a large percentage and secondly, they are calculating it wrong! I put nearly 30% down on this house and have lived here a little over two years. I no longer want them “managing” my money so how do I eliminate the escrow? My insurance isn’t changing and my property taxes went down just in May due to the classification of my home from being a rental property before I purchased it and now it’s a primary residence. The Homestead Act it is??? So that change, coupled with ILLINOIS taxes historically being paid in arrears in this county, my payment was high for over a year and a half after moving here until the county finally issued the new property taxes, meaning mine dropped by about $800. So, it really doesn’t add up how I can possibly have a shortage in my escrow to begin with. I don’t know if a call to them is warranted or if I can just eliminate the escrow. Advice on all of this????

  9. Anne says:

    I might add that I am an artist, a small business owner, so my income fluctuates thru outhe each year, meaning there are months I have a windfall and could simply pay the taxes and/or insurance sooner or in full.

    • Anne, a belated thank you for this note! And OUCH! This increase in your payment sucks!! Have you called your bank and asked them to uncouple your taxes and insurance? They don’t all allow it but it is worth checking into. I had a bank that allowed it but I had to fax (FAX!?) my request in and wait weeks for an answer. Good luck with this!

  10. Gee Cory says:

    I have an FHA loan…so I can’t get out of my escrow account. I got tired of this “escrow shortfall” issue coming up year after year… So, what I did do last year was start paying my own taxes and insurance WELL BEFORE any bill went to the mortgage company. The result? For the first time there was a SURPLUS in my escrow account…and they, not only had to refund the money (what I had paid and then some,) but my mortgage payment went down. Yes…for the year I basically paid double…but I got the money back… and the end result was that there could be no “escrow shortfall,” and thus, no increase to my monthly mortgage payment. The money they refunded to me will simply be used to do the same thing… pay my own tax and interest.

    • Oh that’s clever! I’m surprised they let you do that! Can I ask you for clarification: How did you make sure that your mortgage holder wouldn’t pay those bills too? You paid them WAY in advance so no bill was sent? Did you call the tax and insurance offices to make sure of that? I would think that they would still send a bill and then the mortgage company would pay it anyway. And how did they drop your mortgage payment if you are still required to have an escrow account? They can’t guarantee that you’ll pay both next year, right?

    • OP says:

      Gee Cory, I have been looking for someone who did what you did as I’ve been thinking of doing exactly the same, so thank you for your post! I also suffer from my mortgage company miscalculating my taxes, but I have a VA loan and they require an escrow account. Not only will this allow me to better manage my money throughout the year (and earn some interest while I wait for these yearly bills), but I can also pay my taxes and insurance with a credit and earn rewards cash (and pay the credit card balance off, of course)!

      Along with the questions from Natali Morris, how did you know that your mortgage company would refund you the money? Are all lenders required to refund money collected if the bill has been paid already? I haven’t been able to find the answer to this so any insight you have is appreciated.

  11. Shaimpy says:

    Hi OP, I got mortgage of 2650 per month with an escrow account. In July 2016, I did that accidently . I went on the county accesor’s website and saw a bill so i paid 1100 usd in july that year with my credit card my mortgage payment went down to 2595 in sep 2016 and by the end of that year i got a check from my mortgage company for 1100 usd but in Jan 2017 my mortgage jumped to 2800 due to a shortfall in an escrow account. I called the mortgage company and ask them the reason and they said its due to a shortfall in my escrow account and i have to keep paying it it it get balanced. They were unable to answer my question about how long i have to keep paying it. So honestly, even with escrow account banks can jack up your mortgage payment. My advice, if you are good with math, then calculate your monthly escrow payments, add another 1/6 amount on top of that and save in your saving account. Pay your escrow account with credit card and then pay the card back.

    • I’m not sure I understand this. You paid the tax bill yourself but still had a deficit in your escrow account? And you pay your escrow account with a credit card? How?

  12. LDS says:

    Great article. I’m located in MO and my loan went to Wells Fargo after using a local bank which told they would keep loan in house. Anyway when I called Wells Fargo to cancel my escrow for house insurance, they refused until my loan with them hit the one year mark. I chose to keep the escrow active for property taxes but cancelled it for the property insurance so I can pay it with a credit card with rewards. Not worth the hassle paying the property taxes if I can’t use a credit card with rewards, so I decided to let the bank handle that.

    • Thanks for sharing this story! So many arbitrary rules! That is super frustrating but good idea to pay your insurance with a card for the points. I do that too! It is nice that they let you uncouple just part of this though. I have never heard of that. Good for you for staying on top of it!

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  14. michael haliigan says:

    I refinanced for a lower interest rate around 4 years ago. The house is valued around $150K, I live in Texas. The refinance was $50K. I paid the taxes and insurance out of pocket annually. About a year ago, I began adding an additional $100 to deduct from the principle. Unknown to me, the mortgage company created an escrow account, rather than apply the funds to the principle. I paid my taxes for the year and the insurance, but received a notice that my insurance was paid for the year. The mortgage company stated they used the escrow account I didn’t know I had, to pay for the insurance, although they had to add some of their funds. My check was returned. I told them I didn’t want an escrow account and I would send the money back to them. They said they would add it to the escrow account. The additional money I was sending in to lower the principle, has now become part of the monthly billing. I’ve never been late with a payment, I’ve always paid my tax and insurance. Is there no way out of escrow?

    • Oh I’d be pissed to see that my principal payment was kept in their vaults! You have every right to be irked!

      Whether or not you can get out of this all depends on your mortgage company. Some of them don’t let you out of the escrow account. Some of them do but they require you to send in a letter or do some other arduous task. I think I had to get a letter notarized to do this once. I would call them up and get a real answer or else show up at a branch. I would also advise going into the branch to make the principal payment. I write and highlight PRINCIPAL ONLY on my check in the notes section and then check my online account the next day to make sure it was in fact applied to principal. MANY times they have applied the money to a regular payment and I’ve had to call up and give them some sass. For obvious reasons they don’t want extra principal payments like this. Find out the rules and ask them how to specifically make extra principal payments and don’t stop until you get clear answers!

      Go get ’em!!

  15. Disgusted in Lake City, Pa says:

    I has my 30 year conventional PHH residence mortgage loan at 5.6%. I had paid on it regularly for 8 years, so 22 years remained. My husband and I filed a chapter 7 bankruptcy due to my loss of job as a nurse. All to save the home and 2 cars. That was in 2013. Got 147,000 in unsecured debt canceled. Great. Then, my husband got his 70% service connectedness pay for disability received while in Army, which we used to pay off both cars, and other debts. We have no credit cards now, on time with everything.

    But PHH—India based company that waa the 3rd time sold without my consent—did a “loan modification” which tacked on 7 more years to our mortgage after our bankruptcy was discharged in 2013. After waiting 2 years of good payments, I looked into the incredibly low 3.75% locked in VA REFI in Erie, Pa. However it was done long distance via Atlanta, GA through CBC NATIONAL BANK totally over the phone, by text, and email! The closing was done by some agent 3rd party who came to our home and had us sign LITERALLY hundreds of government forms. 4 hours long of questions. Good news we did a 15 year VA Refi, which did not require PMI but did have us do an escrow. Since I never really knew the ins and outs of NOT having one and it seemed forced on us, I took it.
    Low and behold after guaranteeing to KEEP IT LOCAL AND NOT TO SELL US TO INDIA—we were immediately sold to PENNYMAC USA. Bastards. And two years straight—Escrow shortages. I am so pissed off this time.

    With both PHH and PennyMac, I called our tax collector and I called my homeowners insurance. ALLSTATE said at one time—they NEVER raised our premium. But PHH said they “needed more money in our escrow”. Such BS. This is why I am
    suspicious again. This is like….the 5th time it’s happened. Only once did I get a refund and a lower monthly payment.

    So for 2 years with this new VA Refi, with the escrow and BS padding, I am fed up.

    I just got off the phone with Pennymac who said “Ginny Mae” VA Refi Residential loans FORCES me to keep an escrow. Not the lender. She suggested we “get out of the VA loan and switch to a conventional loan to drop the escrow and coupled hazard insurance.” NOT!!! Talk about trying to sucker in another idiit for their gain!

    Well, I read Pmac’s website and amortization rules and such. While I have had 2 different mortgages on this same home for 14 years now— CBC Bank and Ginny Mae VA Refi HAD TO DO AN APPRAISAL. WE HAD TO PAY FOR it, too! I think around $800. CBC bank and Ginny Mae KNEW OUR HOME WAS VALUED AT AROUND $139, 000- $143,000.

    I borrowed 110,000 and paid off any remaining small debts and my husband got his 401K paid off that we used for our privacy fence, too!

    If they KNEW my LTV was less than 80%–(meaning Now we owe 94000 and my home is valued around 140,00—0.078% is what Pmac said the LTV is)—WHY wasn’t I explained about opting out? I bet the bank agent who sold us our loan got a higher commission with an escrow vs. no escrow. God I feel so duped!

    All my house needs to sell for is $125,000! I was very convincing and upset. We only have 12.5 years left on THIS Va refi and I have great LTV ratio. So, why in the HELL ARE WE BEING FORCED to carry coupled escrow? My combined home and 2 auto insurances carrier–Allstate—will let me pay by DIRECT BILL—-vs. in escrow. No problem
    But Allstate agent cautioned me they might not LET ME not have an escrow. There’s that warning again!

    I am very very prudent with our finances. I also pay extra to principal ONLY ONLINE TO PENNYMAC. I never imagined they could misappropriate those funds to somewhere else. Bet your hiney I’ll be all over them tomorrow to verify that money DID go to principal.
    The escrow lady at Pmac said, “Oh, well how much approximately was your home’s appraisal?” I told her the amount, and that I have good equity in this property. I have invested over 50,000 in upgrades and repairs. She replied, “I am writing a request for you to dissolve the escrow account and hazard insurancd based on this conversation, and you will receive a letter mailed in 5 days to your residence with the details of their response. I think you have a good shot”. I thanked her and said I wanted it DONE before February 1st loan payment comes due. She repeatedly rebutted my remarks that they get commission or upcharge these escrows. But after reading all the blogs on your site, I believe they’re lying scumbags.

    I wanted to know for myself and my hubby—if IT IS SO DARNED CONVENIENT AND WONDERFUL FOR ESCROW ACCOUNTS– AND NOTHING SHADY IS GOING ON FOR US CONSUMERS—why is it SO HARD TO GET LENDERS TO ALLOW YOU TO CLOSE THEM?!!!!
    I THINK INTELLIGENT, GOOD STEWARDS OF THEIR MONEY WHO ARE CAPABLE OF SAVING THEIR INCOME, AND PAY ALL THEIR BILLS ON TIME—-ALL GET RID OF THEIR ESCROWS.

    I am capable of paying my own city and school taxes as well as my hazard insurance. I am not an idiot. I am in control of my husband’s hard earned foundry job income and spend frugally. We cook home always and haven’t been anywhere on vacation to be careful with our bills. I also buy my own utility commodities too! I don’t need their overpriced budget billing. I pay the REAL CCF AND KWH RATES as they come. I enjoy that we are not being screwed by gas and electric companies.

    It made me think that this is exactly the same thing. So I should know next week if we got Pennymac to let us close down the whole escrow and if worse comes to worse—-they’ll GLADLY take our money into an escrow account again.

    Unfortunately, we cannot enjoy reward points on a credit card to make our tax payments. No more.
    On the upside, I am diligently working on all 3 credit bureaus to gdt our scores up. We leased a 2017 Honda CRV, got a sleep # bed, and new furniture. Overpaying on oue monthly payments and always early or on time. Our scores on 1 company are high 600s. Not bad for having come thru a chapter 7!

    I think getting our money away from PENNYMAC’s escrow will be a good thing. Just wish I knew of a way to up our credit score by 150 points paying our own taxes and homeowners insurance. Any advice?

    • Oh wow, that is quite the story! I am not EXACTLY sure which piece of this you want advice on however. You want to switch lenders perhaps to get out of the escrow account? Or you want help actually getting out of it? Can you please clarify your question and I can give it some more thought? Thanks for sharing!

  16. Michael says:

    The total mortgage payment reported to credit agencies and seen by other creditors will be substantially lower and could benefit your credit and lending prospects as well (other than mortgagors who will factor in tax and insurance, regardless). You can leverage that to increase monies available for investments and other debt-savvy activities. We don’t escrow. Our previous mortgage servicer, Cenlar, took more money for taxes and insurance than any other lender I have ever had (they sent us a bill for $2,000 or near $200 increase in monthly payment), even though our taxes/insurance premiums stayed the same as the previous year. It was a money grab on their part – a tactic to increase the amount of money in their pockets. Then they conveniently did not pay our taxes that year (Oct) and I didn’t discover it until I got the 1098 for income taxes (Feb) and the amount of real estate taxes paid the previous year was $0. There went $6,000 in tax write-offs for us that year. Cenlar dragged their feet despite being several months behind and numerous contact from me that taxes were OVERDUE. We ultimately filed a complaint with Consumer Protection (who were VERY responsive by the way) and forced Cenlar to comply, and not charge us any fees for the late taxes. Escrows can be convenient – but sometimes too convenient. If you aren’t paying attention, which escrow’s can lull you into, you may get screwed. We had to wait a year to get our tax refund on those taxes and now, with new tax laws, potentially capped – how about that? Manage your own money, if you can.

    • Excellent point! That would have infuriated me! It is amazing that with all of the automated banking we have now, things like this can still happen. Great on you for paying attention and catching this!

  17. Chris Meyers says:

    OK, if we’re talking property tax escrow, there is no reason not to do it. They dont charge a fee for it, you have to pay it anyway, and any escrow refund must be mailed to you each year. There is no real cost to escrowing it. None zero. They dont pad your property tax heh And the huge major benefit of them escrowing it is that they deal with the annual property tax rate changes and not you. All you get is a nice clean yearly statement telling you what the next years monthly escrow will be. And of course the other massive benefit is youve broken up the huge number into 12 pieces and you dont have to stress abouf a) paying it on time or b) Having to suddenly find thousands of dollars when the tax bill comes

    • I respectfully disagree Chris. They absolutely DO pad your property taxes. This is also a short-sighted way of managing your money. Key words: YOUR money. If you have faith that you can maximize your dollars into assets, why would you let those assets just hang out in the banks’ coffers all year? This is only a good idea if you don’t trust yourself to build your own assets with your money. But if that is the case, then use this service by all means. But come on! You can do better than that!

      • Chris Meyers says:

        I don’t know why you think they are padding it, but you’re wrong. All you have to do is look up your property’s tax bill online from the county and cross check it against the escrow. Mine always matches. And they have to be by law. If you look at the yearly review they are required by law to provide, it will list out everything that is escrowed exactly itemized. There is no padding

  18. Caroline says:

    I had never paid my mortgage late by a single day or bounced a payment check until I was forced into escrowed taxes and insurance. The additional $500 was not easily found in my monthly budget. You might wonder how, if my margins are so slim, I could manage to pay property tax and insurance annually, which I also did on time and with checks that did not bounce. Although I didn’t always have $500 to put aside, I would put aside something, around $300 give or take a few. Beyond that, it was a matter of getting nervous a few months before the due date for property tax and starting to stash away any mini-windfalls and contemplate selling nice things that I didn’t really need, picking up freelance jobs, badgering people who owed me money, and the like. It always worked, and another benefit was that when, in midyear, a calamity struck and I needed a couple of thousand dollars to deal with it, I had it on hand. No need to resort to credit cards or other painful versions of indebtedness. Of course I had to make it up later, but that’s a far sight better than a letting a loan servicer make money with it when I needed it to stay afloat.

    • Thanks for this anecdote! I agree, best to keep that money to yourself and then make it happen when it is time rather than let it chill out in the banks’ coffers! Thanks for sharing!

  19. Rudy Barron says:

    Help, Nov2017 was a year that we purchased our home with an escrow & now we received a letter that our ESTIMATED taxes for 2018 must be paid by the 18th of February or our payment will go up $400 each month.
    I’m pulling my hair out
    Please Help

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