An escrow is an arrangement made under contractual provisions between transacting parties, whereby an independent trusted third party receives and disburses money and/or documents for the transacting parties, with the timing of such disbursement by the third party dependent on the fulfillment of contractually-agreed conditions by the transacting parties, or an account established by a broker, under the provisions of license law, for the purpose of holding funds on behalf of the broker's principal or some other person until the consummation or termination of a transaction or, a trust account held in the borrower's name to pay obligations such as property taxes and insurance premiums.
The word derives from the Old French word escroue, meaning a scrap of paper or a roll of parchment; this indicated the deed that a third party held until a transaction was completed.
Escrow generally refers to money held by a third-party on behalf of transacting parties.
It is best known in the United States in the context of real estate (specifically in mortgages where the mortgage company establishes an escrow account to pay property tax and insurance during the term of the mortgage).
Escrow is an account separate from the mortgage account where deposit of funds occurs for payment of certain conditions that apply to the mortgage, usually property taxes and insurance. The escrow agent has the duty to properly account for the escrow funds and ensure that usage of funds is explicitly for the purpose intended.
Since a mortgage lender is not willing to take the risk that a homeowner will not pay property tax, escrow is usually required under the mortgage terms. Escrow companies are also commonly used in the transfer of high value personal and business property, like websites and businesses, and in the completion of person-to-person remote auctions (such as eBay), although the advent of new low cost online escrow services has meant that even low cost transactions are now starting to benefit from use of escrow.