Home mortgage lenders sometimes seek to protect their interests in properties by requiring borrowers to fund and maintain escrow accounts in addition to making scheduled loan payments. They do this to ensure that enough funds are available to pay the property taxes and insurance premiums when they come due.
The state of Georgia's Department of Banking and Finance's mortgage division oversees the mortgage industry in the state, including licensing of mortgage lenders and various regulations regarding the making and administering of mortgage loans. The Mortgage Division, however, has no regulations regarding tax escrows. It defers to the applicable federal regulations contained in the Residential Settlement and Procedure Act. RESPA regulations and enforcement are administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Escrow Account Amount
RESPA regulations do not require that a mortgage borrower maintain a tax escrow account. It leaves that up to the lender's discretion. If the lender does require such an account, it must comply with HUD regulations. The lender is not allowed to require an escrow balance of more than one-sixth of the annual property tax bill, which should be two months worth of tax payments. The lender is also required to provide the borrower with a detailed escrow account statement on at least an annual basis.
Disbursements and Interest
The purpose of a tax escrow account is to assure that the property tax bills will be fully paid in a timely manner. The lender must actually disburse the needed funds as the tax payment becomes due. Any kind of fees or interest charged for late tax payments cannot be charged or deducted from the borrower's escrow funds as long as the borrower is not more than 30 days late on any escrow payments. RESPA does not require the lender to pay interest on the held escrow funds.
The borrower has the right to make inquiries and complaints regarding their tax escrow account and the lender must comply with the regulations regarding them. The borrower must send the lender a qualified written request, separate from the submission of the mortgage and escrow payment. The lender must officially acknowledge this request within 20 business days. Within 60 business days, the lender must either correct the situation or explain its decision to not do so. After this procedure, if the borrower is still not satisfied, an official complaint against the lender can be filed with HUD.
Kerry Zias has been a strategic business consultant and college instructor of business administration courses since 1990. He has taught courses and performed professional consulting work in the areas of marketing, management, business start-ups, entrepreneurship, real estate, sales psychology and performance, business communications, business law and political/governmental relations. Zias holds a Master of Business Administration in marketing from National University.