Do you get your earnest money back at closing? If you're buying a house and planning to finance the purchase with the help of a mortgage, the question is bound to come up. The short answer is: You don't usually get your earnest money back at closing.
But hold on! Sometimes earnest money is returned at closing. What? Read on to find out what happens to your earnest money at closing.
What is earnest money, anyway?
So you've heard the term "earnest money" thrown around during the purchase process, and you're not quite sure what it means? Sometimes called "good-faith money" or a deposit, earnest money is a sum that home buyers put down when they make their offer on a house, to show they're committed to the purchase.
Earnest money (typically about 1% to 2% of the amount you plan to pay for the house) is put down by a buyer within five days of an offer being accepted by a seller. The money is then deposited into an account by an escrow agent.
Maybe you've heard it called "going into escrow"? That's because the escrow officer will set the earnest money aside while you continue the steps of buying a house, such as getting an appraisal so your bank will approve the purchase or sending a home inspector to the house to ensure there are no reasons you should back out of the deal. They can't touch that money during that time, and neither can the seller!
Do I get my earnest money back at closing?
If the appraisal comes through at a price that makes your lender happy, and the home inspection doesn't turn up anything alarming, eventually you'll get to closing—the end of the home-buying process—when you pay the seller and walk away with keys to your new castle.
This is when your escrow agent is going to pull your earnest money out of escrow. What happens with it next is typically dependent on the sort of earnest money that was put down, says Keith Lucas, broker and owner of the Charleston Real Estate Company, in Charleston, SC.
If you put down cash (which is nearly always the case), the earnest money is traditionally applied to closing costs or toward your down payment—the portion of the sale price that buyers pay on their own in conjunction with a mortgage.
But there are times when you might get the earnest money back. Maybe you have secured a loan with no down payment required, such as a Veterans Affairs loan or a mortgage backed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If that happens, the earnest money will be applied to closing costs instead of down payment. If there's money left over after the closing costs are paid, you will get the surplus back.
But sometimes the earnest money isn't actually money at all.
Wait a second. How can there be money that isn't, well, "money"? It turns out, sometimes that good-faith deposit can just be something of "good and considerable value."
"There are cases where a watch, car, boat, real estate, or precious metals have been used as an earnest deposit," Lucas says. "In that case it might be returned to the buyer or liquidated by the seller and put toward the purchase price at closing."
Bottom line: Even if you don't get your earnest money back at closing, don't worry! That big chunk of change you put down at the beginning of the home-buying process hasn't disappeared. It's been used to help pay for your brand-new house.