To Escrow or Not to Escrow?

To Escrow or Not to Escrow?

Like many seemingly simple questions, the answer to the question "should I use an escrow account for my taxes and insurance or manage it myself" is "it depends".

Like many seemingly simple questions, the answer to the question "should I use an escrow account for my taxes and insurance or manage it myself" is "it depends".

In case you aren't familiar with escrow accounts, let's start by defining it. An escrow account is an account separate from but connected to a mortgage loan account where a deposit of funds occurs for payment of certain conditions that apply to the mortgage, usually property taxes and insurance. Generally, the annual amounts of taxes and insurance are divided by 12; this 1/12th amount is added to your monthly mortgage payment and deposited into the escrow account. Then, on the due dates for your tax or insurance payments, the mortgage loan servicer pays your taxes and insurance from the escrow account. Example: let's say your taxes are $12,000 per year and your insurance is $1200 per year. Divided by 12, your monthly escrow contribution would be $1100.

When you select to have an escrow account, generally this account must be partially funded at the time of your mortgage loan closing - three months is the norm. This means that the cash you must bring to the closing includes your down payment, closing costs, and the escrow funding amount.

Many loan types, such as an FHA loan, require an escrow account, as do most loans when you put down less than 20% of the home sales price. Some lenders offer mortgage loan rate discounts if you agree to an escrow account.

Your personal financial situation and habits play a role in the decision as well: Do you earn the same amount of salary each month or do you have variably monthly income (i.e. commission based)? Are you a good saver? Do you prefer to have ultimate control over every penny and every bill or do you prefer having the loan servicer manage bill payment for you?

For those with variable income, who are good savers, or who like control over every penny and bill, it may make more sense to manage the tax and insurance payments on their own, without an escrow account. For those who prefer to have someone else manage paying the various entities (county, city, school district, insurance company, etc.) or a consistent cash flow, an escrow account may be preferable.

The last consideration is whether or not the money you use to pay annual bills can work for you during the year.

Example: David has purchased a home worth $400K, with a 20% down payment for a loan value of $320K. His insurance and taxes are $11,160 annually. His lender has discounted his mortgage loan interest rate by 0.125% to encourage him to use an escrow account.David assesses his options: 1. he can go with the escrow account, 2. he can put that $11K into a CD at 1.3% and earn $145 over a year, or 3. he can put it into the stock market with a goal of earning 5% or $558 over a year. The CD option is not beneficial to David as he would end up "losing" $255 ($400-$145). The stock option may be beneficial to David however, as he could "earn" $158 ($558-$400). However, the stock option has the risks of the market and potentially trading fees.

Still not sure? Your mortgage lender can help you assess the pros and cons for your specific loan and situation.

Do's & Don'ts for Mortgages During Divorce

Do's & Don'ts for Mortgages During Divorce

Divorce is often emotionally and financially challenging, but following a few key do's and don'ts will minimize the frustration and help both parties weather the process in better financial shape.

Divorce is often emotionally and financially challenging, but following a few key do's and don'ts will minimize the frustration and help each party weather the process in better financial shape.


1. Engage a mortgage lender into your divorce team very early in the divorce process.

With a mortgage lender on your divorce team, clear choices and implications of each choice are known up front, which can minimize the emotional challenges of divorce and clarify the paths to consider during your settlement negotiations. Ultimately this will smooth the path for a settlement agreement that supports current and future mortgage financing needs.

2. Get an appraisal on existing property

The fee for an appraisal performed by a professional appraiser is worth every penny in terms of time and paperwork saved.

3. Regularly check your credit

Everyone is entitled to get one free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies each year. I recommend requesting a report from one agency every 3-4 months during your divorce in order to stay on top of your credit history.  Credit reports are available at

4. Keep up with all your bills and financial obligations

If your name is on a bill or obligation - even if you believe your soon-to-be ex is responsible for a bill - make sure it gets paid on time, every time it is due. Late and missed payments can wreak havoc on your credit score, which can create significant challenges for your ability to borrow money long into the future.

5. Close any equity lines of credit on your existing property

If you have a HELOC (home equity line of credit) on your existing property and it is in the names of both spouses, close it! Having a zero balance does not mean that the account has been closed; you must specifically request that the HELOC be closed. Leaving the HELOC open presents an opportunity for one of the spouses to use it, creating a new liability for both spouses.


1. Do not apply for any new mortgages before the divorce is final

You may feel that applying for new mortgages (refinance or new purchase) during the divorce process is helping to speed things along, but you may in fact be committing mortgage fraud without realizing it.

2. Do not agree to any divorce settlement agreement prior to speaking to a mortgage lender

If you plan on refinancing or buying a new home, check with a mortgage lender to make sure the divorce settlement agreement sets you up properly to qualify for a new loan. This is especially important if you require any support payments as qualifying income. The general rule of thumb is that you need at least 6 months history of support payments and at least 36 months of continued payments into the future to consider support as qualifying income for a mortgage, but there are many nuances and rules here that may be missed. Working with a mortgage lender early in the divorce process is best to avoid any issues, but engaging one at any time is better than running into issues after the divorce.

Rebecca Thorburn is a Loan Officer with PrimeLending. She is happy to answer your divorce-related mortgage questions and be a part of your divorce team.

Image: Stuart Miles at
Mortgage Advice for Lawyers, Doctors, and Young Professionals with High Student Debt

Mortgage Advice for Lawyers, Doctors, and Young Professionals with High Student Debt

In today's mortgage world, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals can find that getting a mortgage after graduation can be very difficult if they have high student debt and lack significant job history. We ask the experts for some tips on what these graduates can do to improve their chances of being approved for a mortgage.

Many doctors, lawyers, and other graduate degreed professionals finish school in their late twenties to early thirties with a good, steady paycheck and a desire to upgrade their living conditions after many years on a student budget. Part of the plan often includes purchasing a home. Most young professionals assume that with their high salaries and great future job prospects, they should have no trouble receiving a mortgage. In today's mortgage world though, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals can find that buying a home after graduation can be very difficult if they have high student debt and lack significant job history.

While doctors, lawyers, and other professionals often graduate into jobs with high salaries, have great credit histories, and may even have money for a down payment, high student debt is often a huge obstacle to securing a mortgage.  When determining whether to give a loan, a key metric used by lenders is the debt to income ratio, calculating by taking all of a borrowers monthly debt payments (student loan, credit card, auto loan, etc.) and dividing it by their gross income. Thus, a doctor with $3,000 in debt payments and with a gross salary of $10,000 would have a debt to income ratio of 30%. In general, borrowers with ratios over 45% will not quality for a mortgage.  Gloria Shulman, the founder of Centek Capital Group in Beverly Hills stated that "even if deferred, student loan debt is a huge issue for young borrowers... medical or other graduate school debt can be a killer if you don't go into buying property with a debt management plan." Doctors and lawyers because of the number of years of graduate school required, often have the highest amount of debt.

The second reason young doctors and lawyers may find it difficult to get a mortgage is that many mortgage lenders require two years of stable work history before providing a mortgage. A new graduate doesn't have the work history required by many lenders.

But difficult doesn't mean impossible. Here are some tips provided by lending experts from around the country:

Get a Co-Signer

Ms. Shulman recently helped a young neurosurgeon find a loan product after multiple bank denials by working a deal where his parents were co-signers in name only. Having parents server as co-signers places risk on your parents and is often not advised by financial planners, but if you have a great relationship with your parents, and are confident in your future earnings, if might be a sensible step to consider.

Buy a Starter Home

Don't have your sight set on the McMansion down the street, start with more modest aspirations. Look to buy a home with a mortgage of less than $417,000 (a conforming mortgage). Roy Sperr from Equity Source Mortgage in Minneapolis provided the following guideline:

If you have your first pay stub as a new professional employee, are borrowing less than $417K and have a Debt ratio of less than 45% (divide your total monthly base income into your monthly debts to calculate) If you are .45 or less you can most likely buy a home.

If you are buying a home that will result in a Mortgage Loan higher than $417K you are considered a “Jumbo” borrower. This loan is not sold on the secondary market (Fannie and Freddie) and is subject to higher scrutiny.

Look for HUD/FHA Loans

Jason Bonarrigo from Residential Mortgage Services in Braintree, MA says that "with a HUD/FHA loan, "if the lender can document student loans are deferred for more then 12 months, then the person does not have to use the student loan debt in the qualifying ratio's." HUD/FHA loans are popular government sponsored loans that often require lower down payments when purchasing a home. In general, HUD/FHA loans are only for conforming mortgages (less than $417,000) and often have expensive fees, but they are worth investigating.

Consolidate and Pay Down Debt Where Possible

The cleaner you can make your debt situation, the better. Mr. Sperr also offered the following advice:

Before applying make sure you do everything you can as a borrower to understand your student loan debt and its repayment terms. Make sure you know your other outstanding debts.

a.) Consolidate all separate student loans if possible into one payment.

b.) Pay down credit cards, car loans and other smaller debt that can be
controlled to improve ratios.

Malcolm Hollensteiner, Director of Lending Sales and Products at TD Bank advised borrowers to see if a family member can provide a gift and use it to "to eliminate consumer debt, rather than putting family money directly towards a house. In certain cases, eliminating or reducing consumer debt helps to increase buying power more than a higher down payment would."

Buy With a Friend or a Significant Other

Mr. Hollensteiner also advised that pairing up with a friend can increase a buyer's chances of obtaining a mortgage, "assuming both do not have considerable college debt." He advised that individuals considering this route "be cautious and thoroughly think the decision through. Future plans – including marriage and job relocations - could make this kind of partnership inconvenient down the road."

Another option is to purchase a house with a significant other, especially if the relationship is headed towards marriage. Once again, the borrower should carefully weight the pros and cons and think through what happens if the relationship does not work out.

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