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On a mortgage, what’s the difference between my principal and interest payment and my total monthly payment?

The difference between your principal and interest payment and your total monthly payment is that your total monthly payment usually includes additional costs like homeowners insurance, taxes, and possibly mortgage insurance.

The principal and interest payment on a mortgage is probably the main component of your monthly mortgage payment. The principal is the amount you borrowed and have to pay back, and interest is what the lender charges for lending you the money.

For most borrowers, the total monthly payment you send to your mortgage company includes other things, such as homeowners insurance and taxes that may be held in an escrow account. If you have an escrow account, you pay a set amount with every mortgage payment for these expenses. Your mortgage company typically holds the money in the escrow account until those insurance and tax bills are due, and then pays them on your behalf. If your loan requires other types of insurance like private mortgage insurance, these premiums may also be included in your total mortgage payment as well.

What goes into my total monthly mortgage payment?

Here’s how it works:

Principal + interest + mortgage insurance (if applicable) + escrow (homeowners insurance and tax) = total monthly payment

If you live in a condo, co-op, or a neighborhood with a homeowners’ association, you will likely have additional fees that are usually paid separately.

Although your principal and interest payment will generally remain the same as long as you make regular payments on time (unless, for example, you have a balloon loan), your escrow payment can change. For example, if your home increases in value, your property taxes typically increase as well.

When considering a mortgage offer, make sure to look at the total monthly payment listed on the written estimates you receive. Many homebuyers make the mistake of looking at just the principal and interest payment, leading to an unpleasant surprise when they learn their total monthly payment is much higher. You can find your estimated total monthly payment on page 1 of the Loan Estimate, in the “Projected Payments” section.

Many lenders require you to pay your taxes and insurance in advance using an escrow account, but not all do. If there’s no escrow payment listed on your Loan Estimate, these costs won’t be included in your monthly payment to your mortgage lender. Instead, you’ll have to pay property taxes directly to your state or local government and homeowners insurance directly to your insurance company. To make sure you can afford the mortgage, find out what your property tax and homeowners insurance bills will be, and calculate the total monthly payment yourself. Ask your real estate agent where to get this information.

If one lender requires you to pay taxes and insurance into an escrow account, but another doesn’t, compare the offers by looking at the principal and interest payment instead of the total monthly payment. Make sure to calculate the total monthly payment as well so you can be certain you can afford it.