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New Survey Finds Significant Lack of Understanding of Mortgage Escrow Accounts and Raises Concerns Over Expected Increases

New Survey Finds Significant Lack of Understanding of Mortgage Escrow Accounts and Raises Concerns Over Expected Increases

Nearly half of respondents say they don’t understand how Escrow accounts work and would be unable to pay if their monthly mortgage payment increased by 25% due to rising taxes and insurance rates.

A new survey from LERETA, a leading national provider of real estate tax and flood services for mortgage servicers, shows that among survey respondents that have an escrow account with their mortgage, only about one half of them completely understand how their escrow account works. This is worrisome since mortgage escrow accounts across the U.S. are likely to experience a sharp increase due to rising property taxes and increased insurance rates.

Conducted in February, the survey asked more than 1,000 homeowners who had purchased or refinanced homes in the past four years, and who have an escrow account, how well they understood their escrow accounts and how potential increases would affect them.

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Mortgage escrow accounts are used to pay homeowners’ property taxes and related insurance premiums (homeowners, flood and mortgage insurance.) Lenders require them for conventional mortgage borrowers who have 20% or less equity in their home. All borrowers with a federally backed FHA loan must have an escrow account for the life of the loan, no matter how much equity they have. Nationally, approximately 80% of mortgage holders have an escrow account.

The survey’s key findings identified varying levels of awareness of how mortgage escrow accounts work, such as:

  • A majority of the homeowners surveyed – more than 80% – said they understand what an escrow accounts is and what it is supposed to do: which is pay taxes and insurance. This makes sense since 57% reported they had experienced an increase in their real estate taxes, and 38% reported they had experienced an increase in their property insurance.
  • However, only 52% of those surveyed said they completely understand how their escrow account works.
  • More than a quarter (28%) are only somewhat aware or not aware at all that changes in their escrow accounts can affect their monthly payments.
  • More than a third (36%) who have a fixed-rate mortgage believe their monthly payment absolutely cannot change, even though it can.
  • Of those who have already experienced an increase in their monthly mortgage payment, more than half (53%) were surprised and did not expect it.

Industry observers expect property taxes across the country to increase due to record home price appreciation over the last several years. The average home price in the U.S. climbed 29% since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, which suggests the likelihood of double-digit tax increases for many homeowners. In addition, homeowners’ insurance premiums have been increasing—national average home insurance costs were up 21% as of May 2023. However, in Florida, property insurance premiums have increased by 68% in the past two years and similar high increases have been reported in CaliforniaTexas and some parts of the East Coast. Some large insurance carriers have even pulled out of certain states entirely. The lack of competition in these areas is expected to increase the cost of coverage.

In light of these trends, the survey found a concerning lack of financial capacity on the part of homeowners to handle escrow increases. Specifically:

  • Half of the homeowners surveyed (50%) said it would be a hardship if their monthly mortgage payment increased by 10%. Nearly 15% said they would not be able to pay their mortgage if their payment increased by that amount.
  • If their payments increased by 25%, almost half (49%) said they would not be able to pay their mortgage and another 30% said it would present a hardship.

“The findings reinforce what our associates are hearing every day at our tax service call centers. In 2023, 60% of the calls were related to escrow accounts, specifically shortages due to rising property taxes or insurance costs,” said John Walsh, CEO of LERETA. “With some observers predicting an ‘escrow cliff’ in the coming years, this lack of understanding is concerning. It suggests that homeowners—both with and without escrow accounts—will at the very least be getting some unpleasant surprises. Many will be financially challenged, and some homeowners will need help to make these payments and keep their homes. Our goal is to help mortgage companies increase communications and educational outreach to customers about escrow accounts to help address this looming problem.”

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