How To Get Help Paying Property Taxes

Family of four playing in yard in front of their house
•••

akurtz / Getty Images

Becoming a homeowner isn’t cheap. Those who have chosen to invest in a home can tell you—from leaking roofs and appliance replacements to mortgage insurance and basic monthly payments, the costs of owning a house are not for the faint of heart.

Perhaps one of the more frustrating aspects of homeownership is property taxes. They are levied annually, and can range into the thousands of dollars, depending on where you live. Although they can be a major burden, they don’t have to be. Let’s explore what you can do when you need help paying property taxes.

When Property Taxes Can Cause Problems 

Property taxes are a part of life, but they don’t always have to be a problem. Many people choose to have a mortgage escrow account into which they also pay for their property and homeowners insurance in monthly installments. This means they’re never faced with a large lump-sum tax bill.

However, your property taxes can still go up regularly, when your property is reassessed—even if your income is not moving in the same direction. If the county decides the value of your home has increased, your taxes will rise accordingly.

Some counties conduct property reassessment on a yearly basis. It can also occur when a house is sold or new construction is completed.

Let’s say you’ve just bought your first house. Online records show the property has previously been assessed and taxed at a value of $150,000. However, the real estate market is competitive, and homes in your area are selling at high prices, so you’ve paid $250,000 for the house. The county may use the higher sale price of your home as part of its assessment the next time your property taxes roll around.

This hike in taxes can be especially challenging if you’ve opted to pay them all at once in a lump sum rather than through an escrow account.

Consider Challenging Your Tax Assessment

Did you know that you don’t have to accept the county’s assessment of your home? The National Taxpayers Union Foundation estimates that between 30% and 60% of taxable property in the U.S. is overassessed.

If you think your home’s latest assessment value is too high, you can file an appeal that challenges your tax assessment.

The process to do this may vary, but a good checklist can help you get on your way. Be aware, however, that some counties will charge a fee to file the appeal. Although the process—which likely will include coming up with “comparables” of similar properties at lower prices, photos of your own home, or other evidence to support your argument—may be time-consuming, the majority of those who file an appeal win at least a partial victory, which means this is a good option to consider.

Property Tax Assistance Programs

If your appeal doesn’t work or isn’t an option, there are still a few different ways to get help when your property taxes come due.

Abatements

Property tax abatements limit or sometimes even eliminate taxes on your home. They’re location-dependent, but some programs help those facing hardship or poverty. Others are meant to incentivize buying or renovating property in specific areas. For example, the state of California offers the Mills Act, which provides tax abatements to those renovating historic homes.

Deferrals

Some states have programs that allow you to defer your tax payments. Eligibility for these programs differs, but some qualifications may include disabilities, low income, and age.

Be aware that depending on the program, you may owe deferred taxes with accrued interest when the property in question is no longer your primary residence.

Repayments

If you can’t pay your taxes all at once, you may be able to sign up for a payment plan that allows you to pay in installments. Depending on the state, these programs may mean you can complete the payments without incurring fees or interest.

Exemptions

Property tax exemptions are exactly what they sound like. They alleviate the tax burden on homeowners for a variety of reasons. Check with your local government on the details, but good examples include homestead exemptions for primary residences, agricultural property tax exemptions, and disabled veteran exemptions.

Some military veterans may be eligible for a complete exemption from property taxes, depending on their Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability rating. This can save them thousands of dollars each year.

Other Ways To Deal With Rising Property Taxes

If lowering your property taxes isn’t an option, you’ll need to consider other ways to help manage those taxes. You can try cutting your spending or reorienting your life to lower your cost of living. If you really need an injection of cash, you can opt to try to find a second job that will help cover those expenses. Selling your home may be a last-ditch option; you can move to a location with lower property taxes or search for a home that offers abatements.

What Happens If You Don’t Pay Property Taxes?

Property taxes are a necessary evil. Skipping them may seem like a good idea in the beginning, but there are big consequences for failing to pay. In the short term, you may face fines and penalties for nonpayment. Depending on how long it’s been since you’ve paid your taxes, your property can even go into foreclosure and you may be evicted or lose your home.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When are property taxes due?

Property tax due dates vary; you’ll need to check with your individual county to learn when yours are due.

How are property taxes calculated?

Property taxes are “ad valorem” taxes, which means they’re calculated according to the value of your property. Once that’s assessed, the value is multiplied by your local effective tax rate.

How do I find out how much I’ve paid in property taxes?

There are some easy ways to figure out how much you’ve paid in property taxes:

  • Check Form 1098 from your mortgage company. Box 10 will contain the information detailing how much you’ve paid.
  • Search for property records via your local county tax assessor’s website.