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Earnest Money Vs. Deposit – What’s The Difference?

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Is there a difference between earnest money and the deposit? The answer to this question is yes.

In this article we will break down the difference between the two so you will be fully prepared to purchase your next home in Bend or elsewhere in Central Oregon.

What is an earnest money deposit?

Earnest money—also known as an escrow deposit—is a dollar amount buyers put into an escrow account after a seller accepts their offer.

Another way to think of earnest money is as a “good-faith” deposit that will compensate the seller if the buyer breaches the contract and fails to close.

Earnest money deposits usually range from 1% to 2% of the purchase price of a home—depending on your state and the current real estate market—but can go as high as 10%. If a home costs $300,000, a 1% earnest money deposit would be $3,000.

The buyer’s financing can also dictate the amount of an earnest money deposit. For example, if a buyer makes a cash offer, the seller may request more earnest money to show a true “buy-in” from the purchaser, says Matthews. In that instance, the seller of a $300,000 home might want a 3% deposit (or $9,000) versus the 1% deposit for an offer financed through a mortgage.

In any case, the seller can either accept, reject, or counter the buyer’s suggested earnest money deposit amount, says Realtor® Bruce Ailion, of Re/Max in Atlanta.

Earnest money deposits are delivered when the sales contract or purchase agreement is first signed. They are often in the form of the buyer’s personal check. The check is held by the buyer’s agent (never given directly to the seller) and is sometimes never even cashed, says Brian Davis, co-founder of SparkRental.com. If the check is cashed, the funds are held in an escrow deposit account. The money will be shown as a credit to the buyer at closing and will offset part of the down payment amount or closing costs.

So here’s the real crux of the matter: If a prospective buyer backs out of the deal, the seller might be able to keep the earnest money deposit.

Matthews advises sellers to comb through the contract to see if they can take legal action. But keep in mind that if the buyers back out for any reason allowed by the contract or purchase agreement, they are legally entitled to get their earnest money back.

What is a down payment?

A down payment is an amount of money a home buyer pays directly to a seller. Despite a common misconception, the down payment is not paid to a lender. The rest of the home’s purchase price comes from your mortgage.

The down payment money can come from the seller’s personal savings, the profit from the sale of a previous home, or a gift from a family member or benefactor.

Down payments are usually made in the form of a cashier’s check and are brought to the closing of a home sale.

Typical down payment amount

The exact amount of a down payment is often determined by the lender in relation to the overall loan amount. The minimum down payment required by mortgage lenders is 3% of the house’s price, and a 20% down payment is recommended by the real estate industry. But that’s not to say you have to put down 20%. After all, that’s a large chunk of change to have on hand, especially for first-time home buyers.

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