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If you’ve never been through the home-buying process, some of the terminologies can seem a bit foreign. One of the many phrases you might come across is earnest money.

When making an offer on a home, it is often encouraged to include earnest money with that offer. Earnest money is a payment of 1-3% of the offer price that is intended to show the seller your interest in their property. Earnest money is a deposit made to a seller that represents a buyer’s good faith to buy a home. The money gives the buyer extra time to get financing and conduct the title search, property appraisal, and inspections before closing. In many ways, earnest money can be considered a deposit on a home put up in good faith. The amount isn’t set in stone and it usually depends on the market. So how is that money used?

When you make it to closing, that earnest money will be directed towards any closing costs, down payments, or other items you would typically pay out of pocket. It is treated as a credit toward any expenses that come up in the process and is in no way a bribe for the seller. The earnest money is held by the title company and not by the seller.

There are a few situations where your earnest money will be refunded if you don’t make it to close. This usually requires a stipulation or clause to be added to your offer, and those can vary. Financing not going through, the seller not being able to close, and an unacceptable home inspection are all reasons that if you are protected in your contract, you should receive your earnest money back. If you do decide to back out of the contract for no real reason other than changing your mind, the seller may be able to keep it.