Decoding Escrow Accounts:
What They Are and How They Work

Advertiser Disclosure
Updated: May 29, 2023
author photo Written by Louis BakerUpdated: May 29, 2023
Advertiser Disclosure

Understanding escrow accounts is easier than you think, this article is your compass, guiding you through the intricacies of escrow accounts.

We'll unravel their importance in your real estate transactions and how they safeguard your hard-earned money. Whether you're a first-time homebuyer, an experienced seller, or simply curious, this comprehensive guide offers essential insights into the world of escrow accounts. Let's dive in.

What Is An Escrow Account?

An escrow account is a financial instrument that is typically used in transactions where significant value is exchanged, such as the purchase of a house. The term 'escrow' originates from the Old French word 'escroue', meaning a piece of parchment or scroll, which served as a receipt or evidence of a transaction in medieval times.

Escrow Accounts For Home Buying

In the context of home buying, an escrow account is created when a buyer and seller enter into a purchase agreement. This account serves as a neutral, secure holding area for funds. 

It plays a vital role in holding the buyer's deposit, commonly known as 'earnest money'. This deposit signifies the purchaser's determination to finalize the transaction, and the funds in the escrow account cannot be accessed by either party until all purchase agreement conditions have been fulfilled.

Once the conditions are satisfied, typically after home inspections and approvals for mortgage loans, the funds are released from the escrow account to the seller. If the conditions aren't met, the funds are returned to the buyer. This protects both parties in the transaction.

Escrow Accounts For Taxes And Insurance

Another common application for escrow accounts is managing property taxes and homeowner's insurance. Your lender may set up an escrow account when you buy a home with a mortgage to cover these costs during the loan period. Every mortgage payment contributes a portion of the funds into this account.

When your property taxes and insurance bills are due, the lender pays them on your behalf using the funds in the escrow account. This provides the advantage of spreading large, irregular expenses over many smaller, regular payments, making budgeting easier for the homeowner.

Additionally, it assures the lender that these crucial payments are being made, which protects their collateral—the property itself.

What Do Escrow Accounts Do?

Escrow accounts serve various functions before and after the closing of a real estate transaction. Here's a breakdown of what they do:

Before Closing: Hold Your Earnest Money

As part of the process of buying a property, it is common practice to provide earnest money while making an offer to demonstrate your serious intent to purchase and hold until closing.

The funds are deposited into an escrow account overseen by a third-party entity, like a real estate brokerage, title company, or legal firm, which guarantees the safety and security of your earnest money until the transaction's conditions are satisfied.

After Closing: Pay Taxes and Insurance

Once you've closed on your property, if you have a mortgage, your lender may use an escrow account to manage the payment of property taxes and homeowner's insurance.

How Does An Escrow Account Work?

An escrow account works as a safeguard in financial transactions, particularly in real estate, by holding funds or documents until the conditions of a contract are met. Here's a step-by-step breakdown of how it works:

  1. Setting Up the Account: To manage a real estate transaction, a neutral third party, such as a title company, real estate broker, or attorney, will establish an escrow account. Furthermore, in other circumstances, banks or other financial institutions may offer escrow services.
  2. Deposit of Funds or Documents: The buyer deposits earnest money into the escrow account as a show of good faith once the purchase agreement is signed. In other cases, crucial documents, like a property deed, may also be held in escrow.
  3. Fulfillment of Contract Conditions: The funds or documents remain in the escrow account while the buyer and seller work to meet the contract's conditions. This could include tasks like home inspections, securing financing, or title searches in a real estate transaction.
  4. Disbursement of Funds: The seller receives the funds, and any paperwork held in escrow is provided to the relevant party after the fulfillment of all provisions. Failure to meet requirements prompts the escrow agreement to dictate the return of the documents or funds.
  5. Ongoing Payments: In the context of a mortgage, after the home purchase, a portion of your monthly mortgage payment continues to go into the escrow account. The lender then uses this money to pay property taxes and homeowner's insurance on your behalf.
  6. Annual Escrow Statement: Every year, your lender will review your escrow account to ensure that it has enough funds to cover taxes and insurance. If there is a shortage due to increases in these expenses, you may need to pay more into escrow. If there is an overage, you may receive a refund.

By holding funds until all contractual obligations are fulfilled, an escrow account minimizes the risk for all parties involved and helps ensure a smooth transaction process.

How is My Escrow Payment Calculated?

Escrow payments are a portion of your monthly mortgage payment. They cover the estimated annual costs of your homeowner's insurance and property taxes. Here is how your escrow payment is calculated:

  • Property Taxes: The lender will look at the property's annual tax assessment to estimate how much you'll owe for the year. Since property tax rates can change, lenders will often use a higher estimate to ensure the escrow account has sufficient funds.
  • Homeowners Insurance: The lender will also include the cost of your annual homeowner's insurance premium. Just like property taxes, lenders may estimate a little higher to account for potential increases in your insurance rate.
  • Total Escrow Costs: To determine the total escrow costs for the year, lenders will add up the anticipated yearly expenses for property taxes and homeowners insurance.
  • Monthly Escrow Payment: After calculating the annual escrow expense, lenders typically divide it by 12 to arrive at the monthly escrow payment, which is then added to your regular monthly mortgage payment.

Keep in mind that your escrow payment may adjust annually. Your lender is required to send you an annual escrow statement, which outlines what was paid from your escrow account and what they anticipate the next year's expenses will be. 

A shortfall in your escrow account resulting from unexpected increases in taxes or insurance premiums may require you to pay more, while an overage might entitle you to a refund or credit for future payments.

Types of Escrow Accounts

Escrow accounts are not just for buying homes or managing mortgages. They can serve a variety of purposes, providing security and convenience in different financial transactions. Let's explore the various types of escrow accounts:

Mortgage Escrow Account

When securing a mortgage, your lender will arrange a mortgage escrow account, which is the most well-known type of escrow account. Generally, this escrow account is funded by a fraction of your monthly mortgage payment, and it's accessible to cover the expenses of property taxes and homeowners' insurance premiums on your behalf.

Homebuyers Escrow Account

A homebuyer's escrow account is created during the home-buying process to retain the earnest money deposit, indicating the buyer's genuine commitment to following through with the purchase. It holds on to the deposited money until the deal is finalized. Once concluded, the funds are then paid out to the seller.

Homeowners Escrow Account

Current homeowners can take advantage of a homeowners escrow account, which functions similarly to a mortgage escrow account, to manage the significant and unpredictable expenses related to owning a home, including insurance premiums and property taxes.

Regardless of whether the mortgage is paid off, homeowners can use an escrow account to aid in managing these expenses more easily.

Non-Real Estate Escrow Accounts

Non-real estate escrow accounts can be used in a variety of situations beyond property transactions, offering security in any transaction where significant value is exchanged.

Renters Escrow

In some jurisdictions, if a landlord fails to make necessary repairs, tenants can withhold rent and instead deposit it into an escrow account. The funds are released to the landlord once the repairs are completed.

Escrow and Online Shopping

Online escrow services are used to protect buyers and sellers in high-value online transactions. The buyer sends payment to an escrow account, and the funds are released to the seller once the buyer confirms they've received the item in the promised condition.

Escrow and Stocks

In business transactions, escrow accounts can also be used to hold stocks or shares. For example, in an acquisition, the shares of the company being acquired could be held in escrow until the deal's conditions are met.

Escrow accounts, in all their forms, offer a level of protection to all parties in a transaction. They hold funds securely and ensure that they are released when the agreed-upon conditions are met, making transactions more secure and streamlined.

Who Manages An Escrow Account?

Escrow accounts are typically managed by neutral third parties known as escrow agents. These can be individuals or entities, depending on the type of escrow account and the nature of the transaction. Here are the most common managers of escrow accounts:

Escrow Companies And Escrow Agents

During a real estate deal, the escrow account is managed by independent third-party entities, like escrow companies or agents. Separating them from the buyer, seller, and lender, they manage the receipt, disbursement, and documentation of funds in the account, safeguarding the financial interests of those involved.

Escrow agents can be title companies, attorneys, or real estate brokers, depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the transaction. 

Mortgage Servicers

In the context of a mortgage, it is often the mortgage servicer who manages the escrow account. A mortgage servicer is a company that manages daily loan tasks for the lender, including collecting and tracking payments, managing the escrow account, handling loan modifications, and processing foreclosures if necessary.

Every month, the mortgage servicer collects a portion of your mortgage payment and places it into the escrow account. They then pay your property taxes and homeowner's insurance premiums from this account when they are due.

The Benefits Of An Escrow Account

Escrow accounts provide numerous benefits for all parties involved in a transaction, making them an essential tool in many financial dealings.

For Home Buyers

  • Security: Homebuyers can benefit from the security provided by an escrow account, which protects the earnest money deposit until the transaction's completion. This guarantees that their funds are not accessed prematurely or incorrectly, giving homebuyers peace of mind.
  • Simplicity: Having an escrow account makes it easier for buyers to handle large, infrequent bills like property taxes and insurance premiums, as these costs are spread out into monthly payments.
  • Peace of Mind: Knowing that their property taxes and insurance will be paid on time without their direct intervention can provide peace of mind to many home buyers.

For Homeowners

  • Budgeting: Homeowners can manage annual homeownership costs effectively with an escrow account, which breaks down significant yearly payments into smaller monthly ones for easier expense management.
  • Timely Payments: Escrow accounts ensure that insurance premiums and property taxes are paid on time, avoiding penalties or potential issues with underpayment or late payment.

For Lenders

  • Risk Mitigation: For lenders, escrow accounts provide assurance that property taxes and insurance premiums will be paid on time. This is essential as unpaid taxes could lead to a lien on the property, and lapsed insurance could leave the property unprotected against damages, both of which would increase the lender's risk.
  • Loan Security: To secure their loans, lenders depend on escrow accounts to ensure timely payment of property taxes and insurance, which is vital since these assets serve as collateral.

The Disadvantages Of An Escrow Account

  • Lack of Control: If you choose to use an escrow account, you cannot directly oversee the timing of your property tax and insurance premium payments.
  • The responsibility for managing these payments falls to either the escrow company or your mortgage servicer, which could be perceived as a drawback for those who want more control over these transactions.

  • Potential for Overpayment: Escrow accounts rely on estimates of your insurance premiums and property taxes. If the estimates are too high, you could be paying more into escrow each month than necessary. While you'll likely receive a refund for the overage, these funds might be better used elsewhere throughout the year.
  • Possibility of Mismanagement: There's a risk, albeit small, that the escrow company or your mortgage servicer may mismanage your account. They might make a mistake in their calculations or miss a payment, leading to penalties or lapses in coverage.
  • Limited Interest Earnings: Escrow accounts tend to provide limited interest earnings on the funds held within them. For individuals with good financial management skills, it might be advantageous to move these funds to a high-yield savings account until they need to be used for payments.

While these disadvantages are important considerations, many people find the benefits of using an escrow account – such as convenience, budgeting simplicity, and peace of mind – outweigh the potential drawbacks. It's a personal decision based on your comfort level with managing large payments and your trust in the escrow holder.

What Escrow Accounts Don’t Cover

Here are a few things escrow accounts do not typically cover:

  1. Home Maintenance and Repairs: Costs related to home maintenance, repairs, or improvements are not typically covered by escrow accounts. It's the homeowner's responsibility to budget for these expenses separately.
  2. HOA Fees: If your property is part of a Homeowners Association (HOA), the regular HOA fees are not included in your escrow account. These fees are generally paid directly to the HOA.
  3. Home Warranty Plans: If you choose to purchase a home warranty, the cost of this plan is not covered by your escrow account. This is an additional, optional expense.
  4. Utilities: Utility costs like water, electricity, gas, and internet are also not covered by escrow accounts. These will be billed directly to you by the utility companies.
  5. Non-Real Estate Escrows: In transactions outside of the real estate, escrow accounts won't cover additional expenses that might come up related to the transaction. For example, in online shopping, any shipping fees or import taxes will need to be paid separately and won't be managed through the escrow service.
  6. Personal Property Insurance: While homeowner's insurance is typically paid from an escrow account, additional personal property insurance or separate policies for high-value items (like jewelry or artwork) are not covered by escrow accounts.

Remember, the escrow account is primarily designed to cover property taxes and homeowner's insurance in the context of a mortgage. For any other expense associated with homeownership or your specific transaction, you will need to make arrangements outside of the escrow account.

When Do You Need An Escrow Account?

The need for an escrow account can depend on a variety of factors, including the type of mortgage you have, the terms of your loan agreement, and your personal preferences. Let's explore some common scenarios when you might need an escrow account:

  1. Mortgage Transactions: Escrow accounts are most commonly associated with mortgages. When buying a home, your lender will likely require an escrow account to manage the payment of property taxes and homeowner's insurance. This protects the lender's interest in the property.
  2. High Loan-to-Value Mortgages: For mortgages with a high loan-to-value ratio (LTV), lenders may insist on the need for an escrow account. This is because they believe that such accounts provide additional protection, especially since these loans are considered to be riskier.
  3. Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Loans: If you have an FHA loan, you are required to have an escrow account for the entire life of the loan.
  4. Large Transactions: For large transactions, such as buying a car or high-value goods online, using an escrow service can provide an additional layer of protection and ensure that the terms of the deal are met by both parties.
  5. Lease or Rental Agreements: In certain jurisdictions, renters can use an escrow account to hold rent payments when a landlord fails to make necessary repairs.
  6. Business Transactions: An escrow account serves as a protective measure for funds during mergers or acquisitions until all contractual obligations have been fully satisfied, at which point the funds can be released.


What is an Escrow Account on a Mortgage?

An escrow account on a mortgage is a particular type of account designed to safeguard the interests of both the lender and the borrower in a mortgage agreement. When you take out a mortgage loan, your lender usually sets up this account as part of your overall mortgage package.

With a mortgage escrow account, a portion of your monthly mortgage payment goes into this account. The fraction that goes into the escrow account represents the estimated annual costs of your homeowner's insurance and property taxes divided by 12 (for each month).

The beauty of a mortgage escrow account lies in its dual function, making it an invaluable tool for homeowners and lenders alike.

Firstly, lenders gain added peace of mind knowing that critical expenses such as taxes and insurance will be paid on time, which decreases the risk of tax liens or uninsured losses. On the other hand, for homeowners, it provides a way to budget more effectively by enabling them to make smaller, more affordable monthly payments.

Is an escrow account necessary?

The necessity of an escrow account often depends on your loan type and lender. For example, if you have an FHA loan, you're required to have an escrow account. Some lenders also require an escrow account for high loan-to-value mortgages.

Is an escrow account required if I’m buying a house without a mortgage?

If you're buying a house outright without a mortgage, an escrow account is not required. However, you may still choose to use one during the transaction process to secure earnest money and facilitate the exchange of funds.

Can I take money out of my escrow account?

It is uncommon to withdraw funds from your escrow account unless there are specific circumstances. The money in this account is commonly reserved for specific purposes like paying property taxes and homeowner's insurance. 

However, if there are excess funds in the account after all the necessary payments have been made, those funds will typically be refunded to you at the conclusion of the year.

Can you have an escrow account without a mortgage?

Yes, escrow accounts can be used in various transactions outside of mortgages, such as online purchases of high-value items, rent disputes, or business transactions.

How do you remove your escrow account from your mortgage?

This varies by lender and loan type. Some lenders may allow you to cancel your escrow account once you've reached a certain amount of equity in your home. However, doing so typically requires a request and approval process.

Do escrow accounts earn interest?

Some states require that escrow accounts earn interest, which must be paid to the account holder. However, in many cases, escrow accounts tend to produce minimal or no interest.

Can you change your homeowner's insurance when you have an escrow account?

Yes, you can change your homeowner's insurance with an escrow account, but you must inform your lender so they can adjust your escrow payments and pay the new insurer.

Where can I see a breakdown of my escrow account?

To view a detailed description of your escrow account, look for the annual escrow statement provided to you by your mortgage servicer. This statement lists all past payments and anticipated expenses, giving you a clear picture of your financial obligations.

Do I need to pay escrow if I’m tax-exempt?

If you are tax-exempt, you may not need to pay into escrow for property taxes, but you may still need to pay into escrow for homeowners' insurance.

Can I cancel my mortgage escrow account and pay the costs directly?

Depending on the terms of your mortgage and your lender's policies, you may be able to cancel your mortgage escrow account. You would then be responsible for paying your property taxes and homeowners' insurance directly.

How does changing my insurance company impact my escrow payments?

Changing insurance companies and experiencing a shift in your premium will necessitate an adjustment to your escrow payments. Be sure to inform your mortgage servicer of any changes promptly.

How Much Escrow Can a Lender Require?

Federal law limits the amount that a lender can require a borrower to put into an escrow account. An escrow account balance cannot exceed the sum of all payments for the coming year plus two months' worth of escrow payments.

What Happens to Your Current Escrow Account When You Refinance?

When you refinance, your current escrow account will be closed, and any remaining balance will typically be returned to you. A new escrow account will be set up for your new loan.

How Much Money Should You Expect to Place in Escrow When You Refinance?

The amount you'll need to put into an escrow account when refinancing depends on your new loan's terms and your property tax and homeowners' insurance costs.

How long do you make payments on your mortgage escrow account?

Your obligation to make payments into your escrow account depends on the presence of an active mortgage tied to it. Once you have fully paid off your mortgage or closed the escrow account, you can terminate the payment process.

author photo

Written by

Louis Baker


Louis Baker started his career in 2017 by contracting with Experian. He also became a part-time content creator in various fields such as insurance, personal finance & investment, etc.

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here’s how we make money.
On this page Jump to