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What Are Impound Accounts?
Most people don’t learn about impound accounts until they’re far down the path of getting their first mortgage. An impound account (sometimes called an escrow account) is a fund managed by your mortgage company that acts as a safety net for future homeowner’s insurance premiums and property tax payments. The fund automatically pays your annual home insurance and semi-annual (twice a year) property tax payments, ensuring that they do not go unpaid.
Why is this? Unpaid taxes and insurance can result in the home being foreclosed on, so lenders use impound accounts as a way to protect both the borrower and their investment in the home.
The first payment that you put into the impound account is called a seed payment or impound deposit and is paid up-front when you take out your mortgage. Your seed payment will give you a two month cushion on your annual fees. For the seed payment, the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) requires you to pay two to eight months’ worth of property tax and insurance payments. Whether you need to do two or eight months can be determined by the time of year you fund your loan, as explained by the chart below. Basically, it shows that closing your loan closer to your first semi-annual property tax payment will require you to pay a larger seed deposit.
California Property Tax Impounds Table
After the seed payment is made to guarantee that the tax and insurance payments can be made in the future, you will begin to make additional, smaller payments into the account. Your lender determines the price of these monthly payments by dividing the annual payment by twelve and evenly adding those twelve amounts to your monthly mortgage payments. One benefit for California borrowers, though minimal, is that lenders are required to pay them the interest accrued on the impound fees. If for some reason, a borrower has insufficient funds in their impound account, they will not be able to collect any interest that their account earns.
Is an Impound Account Required?
Your lender will require you to open an impound account for your California loan if your loan-to-value (LTV) is greater than 90% or if the loan is insured by FHA (Federal Housing Administration) or the VA (Veteran’s Administration). LTV is the relationship between loan balance and property value. The reason for this is that borrowers who make a down payment of 10% or less are considered “high risk” because of their lower financial stake in the property. Impound accounts are there to protect the lender’s investment as well as secure your home as your own. You can still choose to create an impound account if your lender does not require you to. Paying your insurance fees and property taxes every month tends to be much less of a shock to your finances than paying it in one lump sum, plus the two month cushion is very useful in the event of not being able to fulfill your mortgage payments or if you have difficulty budgeting these expenses for yourself.
Property taxes and insurance rates are prone to change, which can cause problems for those who aren’t careful because any tax or insurance payments that are not covered by the impound account are the responsibility of the borrower. Your lender is required to include your impound account balance on your monthly mortgage statement. They will also give you an annual impound account statement when they do their review of your account to make sure that there are not any disparities between your payment and your charge, as required by law. If you are paying too little or too much, your monthly mortgage payment will be adjusted accordingly. Keep an eye on both your impound account, your property tax rates (especially around the first of November and February, when your tax payments are made), and your insurance premium for any adjustments.
Impound Account Cancellation
Cancelling your impound account can be arduous, as most lenders will charge you a ¼ point (equal to 0.25% of your mortgage amount) to do so. If your home equity has not yet reached 20% by the time you wish to cancel your impound account, some lenders will not allow you to close the account.
Impound accounts take the hassle out of budgeting and organizing payments for the borrower while protecting the lender’s investment. While opening an impound account is not always everybody’s first choice, it is a crucial part of the loan process for many borrowers. Be wise with your impound account and don’t let it out of your sight for too long or you may find yourself with a surprise bill. Always check with your mortgage company if there is something you have a question about or if there is a change.
Financing details are for educational purposes only. Rates, program terms, fees, and conditions referenced are subject to change without notice. Not all products are available in all states for all amounts. All mortgage applications are subject to underwriting guidelines and approval. This is not an offer of credit or a commitment to lend. Residential Wholesale Mortgage, Inc. dba RWM Home Loans is an equal housing lender licensed by the CA Department of Real Estate #01174642 and CA Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Residential Mortgage Lending Act. NMLS# 79445