Quick! What’s the first thing that pops into your head when I say “escrow account”? It’s that account that’s associated with your mortgage, isn’t it. That’s the first thing that come to me when I hear the word. But, that isn’t all that an escrow account is.
At it’s very basic beginnings, an escrow account is nothing more than a savings account. Of course, the usage of the money in that savings account is designated. So, it’s a designated funds savings account. Simple. More commonly, it’s used in conjunction with a mortgage. The escrow account that is tied to a mortgage usually holds the funds designated for taxes, insurance, and other non-monthly fees. Each mortgage payment you make has a small portion of it that gets deposited into the escrow account. At the end of the year, that account has enough money in it to pay your property taxes, and any other things that the funds are set aside for, such as homeowners insurance. Yet another use is in the execution of a large purchase. Say you’re buying a car on eBay. You want to make sure that you’re not getting taken. So, you use an escrow account. You put the money for the purchase into an escrow account, and the buyer gives you the car. Once you’ve confirmed that the car is what it was supposed to be, you can release the funds in the escrow account and the buyer is free to withdraw them.
What does all this have to do with you? You can use escrow accounts in your personal finance as well. Remember that an escrow account is really just a savings account where the funds are designated. Many of you probably already have one of those. If you’re particularly saving savvy, you likely have several.
Here’s what you need. A goal, and a savings account. Let’s start with a goal. I’ll pick tires for the car. You know you’ll need to buy some in about 6 months. You know they’ll cost you a little less than $600. If you had to come up with that all at once, you’d be flat broke. In fact, some of you would just throw it on a credit card. (I used to too, I understand.) Instead, let’s set up an escrow savings account for it. Get yourself a savings account. Many banks and credit unions have them. Many of them will allow you to give them nicknames. If you’re bank or credit union allows nicknames, name it Tires.
All set? Ok. We know we need $600 in 6 months to purchase tires. So, we take the $600 and divide it into 6 equal amounts. (I’m no math genius, which is why I’ve got some simple numbers here.) We end up with an amount of $100. Each month, deposit $100 into the savings account, Tires. At the end of the 6 months, you’ll have $600 in the account. You can then purchase the tires with CASH! How awesome is that? And, if you’re any good at bargaining, you might end up with a deal when you start waving around all those benjamins.
You can apply the same principle to just about any planned purchase. And it’s repeatable. If you know you’ll need more tires in 6 months, you can just repeat and continue on with the escrow account. I used to think that escrow accounts were these fancy, complicated accounts. But, in reality, all they are is a savings account with funds that are designated for something. There is one small difference in that usually, the money is out of your control after you deposit it and until it’s released for use. You could replicate that, if you have a family member or very close friend that you trust that could be the controlling account holder. If you’re even slightly afraid that they might run off with your money, though, you might just have to have some self control and do the account control yourself.