Several attorneys general are steaming about mortgage lenders' abuse of escrow accounts, but the frustrated consumer has little recourse.

Part of most homeowners' monthly payments enters an escrow account. Money that accumulates pays property taxes and insurance when they come due. No law requires homeowners to have an escrow account, but many lenders do, particularly for first-time home buyers.Late last month, attorneys general in seven states protested that lenders held too much money in the accounts.

Their estimate: $150 per account. In most states, the money stays in an interest-free account. The loss to the consumer is small, perhaps a dollar a month. Add it up, they say, and lenders are cheating homeowners out of hundreds of millions of dollars in interest.

But state and federal officials quibble over who should hold lenders accountable. Homeowners can complain to either, but unless their lender behaves egregiously, little will happen.

Lenders defend their practices. The accounts, they say, remove from homeowners the paper work involved and protect the lenders' investment. The accounts are monitored annually, they note. Any excess is refunded, and payments are adjusted.