Mortgage Escrow Follies

A year or so back, the mortgage on our primary house was sold to CitiMortgage.  Prior to this happening, I was aware of quite a number of horror stories about CitiMortgage, so when the sale was announced, I was a little apprehensive.  However, one thing I’ve learned over the years is to always look at the big picture.  The nature of these things is that people who have problems tend to complain the loudest, so for every one person complaining about CitiMortgage on the Internet, there are probably hundreds who are not having problems.  Still, there are disproportionately more horror stories floating around about CitiMortgage than about other mortgage companies, which is a little troubling.  All the same, I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

After a year, the verdict on CitiMortgage is neutral.  The loan transfer went off without a hitch, with no mistakes on the principal, interest, and amortization side of things (kind of hard to screw up a simple 15 year fixed-rate loan, I would think).  They also made two interest credits to the escrow account, which was a pleasant surprise, although I’m assuming they were one-time credits as there have been none since (Maryland does not require lenders to pay interest on escrow balances, so I’m wondering if this was one of the terms of the loan sale or something — haven’t bothered to investigate).  To date, all of our escrow transactions (property tax and hazard insurance bills) have been processed correctly and on time.

There’s been one little hiccup to the whole CitiMortgage experience, related to the annual escrow analysis process.  First, some background.  Our property taxes come due semiannually, as is the case in many municipalities.  However, they’re not billed in equal installments — the first installment (due in July) is always several hundred dollars more than the second (due in December).  I’m not sure how common this practice is.  But in any case, most mortgage companies I’ve dealt with take a full year’s worth of past tax payments into account when running an escrow analysis.  CitiMortgage, however, assumes that the tax is billed in equal installments, and only looks at the most recent tax payment during the escrow analysis.  They then use this amount to project both semiannual tax payments for the coming 12 months, and as a result, their numbers are always wrong.

Depending on what time of year they run the escrow analysis, this can be good or bad.  CitiMortgage ran our first escrow analysis in January 2008, right after they paid the (lower) December property tax installment out of escrow.  They then used the lower December amount to project both the July 2008 and December 2008 payments.  The result was a lower-than-expected monthly escrow payment, which is great (as long as there’s still enough in the escrow account to cover the bills — you never, ever want your escrow balance to go negative).  However, CitiMortgage caught onto this in July, when the tax payment was much higher than they had projected.  This triggered another escrow analysis in July.  This time, they used the July amount to project payments in December 2008 and July 2009, which resulted in a monthly escrow payment that was too high.

Now, it’s nothing personal, but if CitiMortgage underestimates my monthly escrow payment, and there’s still enough in the account to pay the bills, I’m certainly not going to call it to their attention.  In the opposite situation, though, I’m always going to call them on it, because I don’t want to pay more than necessary into a non-interest-bearing escrow account.  So, when we got the second escrow analysis statement, we got on the phone with them.  They told us to fax them a copy of our property tax bill, showing the correct amount due for December, which we did.  This didn’t produce any action for two weeks, though, so my wife called them again.  This time she reached a supervisor who acknowledged receipt of the fax, re-computed the escrow, and adjusted our monthly payment on the spot.  So the two weeks of inaction was a little questionable, but the followup call produced an immediate resolution.

I was recently reading some of the FAQs on CitiMortgage’s web site (I’d provide a link, but it appears you need to be signed in to get at the FAQs) and it turns out this process is documented there.  Here’s an excerpt, with the relevant bit in bold:

We automatically adjust your escrow payment one time a year to reflect changes in your escrow related items. If you would like us to complete an interim adjustment, please send official documentation of the new tax amount to our Tax Department at:

CitiMortgage, Inc.
Attn: Tax Dept.
PO Box 23689
Rochester, NY 14692
Please write your account number on the documentation.

If this happens again (and I’m assuming it will) I may try sending my request to them via certified mail, with the thinking that it’ll be more effective than a fax.  Either way, though, it seems we should be able to get it rectified with a letter/fax and possibly a single follow-up phone call.  Time will tell.

If this little snafu unfolds the same way every year, it will result in a lower average escrow balance over time, because our escrow payment will be lower than it should be for the first half of the year.  The price of this is the hassle of getting the payment corrected after it’s overestimated in July.  Yet another reason to try and pay off the mortgage early, I guess 🙂

And finally, some parting advice:

  • Stay on top of things.  Monitor your escrow balance and activity at least monthly.  Make sure there is always enough in it to cover the bills.  Ensure that the mortgage company is paying the bills in a timely fashion.
  • Understand how mortgage companies compute escrow payments.  It’s a simple formula, and every mortgage company uses it. If you know it, you can double-check the mortgage company’s numbers and call them on any errors.
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5 thoughts on “Mortgage Escrow Follies

  1. I have had my Citimorgage account for a couple of years and yes I have had the same issues with the rate hikes on “taxes”. I called the local tax office and they say the amout they get is around half what Citi claims to be paying out in taxes. I have sent several faxes to Citi with NO response. I wish everyone that has this issue would call the local news stations and show the rest of the public what kind of crap they are pulling. I too had my original mortgage bought out by Citi and the tax problem came up within a couple of months after they took over the loan. Will the BBB help in this issue? I don’t have the money to have my payment raised two time a year.

    Any suggestions to help me out of the Citimortgage grip.

    Sean

    Reply
  2. Great article. Would also like to add FAX number is 817 826 1183. Has to go thru same hassle last year , helped another neighbour out as well last year. Now hit with same mess this year.
    Sean , You have to fax your latest property tax bill from township and ask CITImortgage to run another fresh escrow analysis based on that bill. They may call township to verify some info as well.This analysis will show correct numbers.Process takes atleat a week or more to plan in advance.!!

    Unsure why citimortgage cannot fix this for good though. Doesnt sound that complicated.

    Reply
  3. I have CitiMortgage for the past 1 1/2 years with ongoing problems. Now, I received escrow analysis stating my taxes were $4800 (that would have been a 40% increase since last year). I pulled up my receipt on line from the County and the taxes were actually $2800 and that is the exact amount CitiMortgage paid. Called the County to verify and indeed $2800 is the correct amount. 12 calls, 7 faxes to CitiMortgage with no resolution. They are asking for $2600 additional dollars in my escrow account to cover the increase (although there WAS no increase) or my monthly payments will be an additional $400/mo. My next payment is due and I’m afraid not to pay the new amount but have no resolution from CitiMortgage. I want to refinance and waive escrow but feel I should have this $2000 error corrected first. I’ve been disconnected multiple times and reach people whom I cannot understand and who obviously do not understand the issue, including 3 supervisors. Any suggestions?

    Reply
  4. Citi just ran my January escrow analysis again, and once again they took my (lower) December semiannual property tax installment and used it to project both property tax payments in 2009, resulting in a monthly escrow amount that’s lower than it “should” be. Which means we’ll likely get another interim analysis in late July resulting in a payment that is too high, and we’ll have to call them again. It’s a bit of a pain, but as long as we’re able to get a timely resolution again, I’m going to stick with them for now. They’re paying interest on the account that worked out to approximately 2.5% APY in 2008, which is about what I’d get from a bank savings account. And we don’t stand to save any money by refinancing at this point. Where things could get interesting is if interest rates drop by another .5% from where they are now, in which case it starts to look attractive to refinance with our local credit union and get rid of the escrow account.

    It will be interesting to see what becomes of CitiMortgage over the next year or so; if you follow the news you’re no doubt aware that CitiGroup is not exactly in the greatest financial shape. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they decide to start downsizing, in which case CitiMortgage could very well be put up for sale.

    Parting advice: If you’re unhappy with CitiMortgage, and your current rate is over 5%, and you have decent credit and can spare the closing costs, I’d strongly consider refinancing at today’s rates. Just stick with lenders who are in good shape financially. Depending on your rate, it may be a wash financially, but it could be worth it to switch to a lender you’re happy with. If you have a local credit union that offers mortgages, that would be a great place to start.

    Reply
  5. Is there a direct number to Citi’s tax dept? (I just tried logging on to hunt for it and that isn’t even working right) I’m very new to citi, <1 month and trouble is already brewing. Hopefully I can refi before the dreaded re-calc…in the meantime I have a tax snafu to sort with them. I did send a fax to them but that feels an awful lot like a black hole from here….who knows what happened to it.

    Reply

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