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Even as home values have fallen in many areas of the country, property taxes are on the rise. According to the National Taxpayers Union, a nonprofit group that promotes lower taxes, as many as 60 percent of properties are over-assessed. Could you be paying too much?
Here are some facts about property taxes and what you can do to lower your tax bill:
HOW ARE PROPERTY TAXES DETERMINED? Typically, property tax rates are set by school boards, town boards, village boards, or county legislatures, not by assessors. Assessors are responsible for determining your property assessed value based on the estimated market value in your area. Your tax bill is then calculated by multiplying the value of your home by the tax rate set by your local government.
WHAT CAN YOU DO IF YOU THINK YOUR BILL IS TOO HIGH? First, request a copy of your property's assessment to make sure that all the recorded information about your home is accurate. Then compare the value of your home to similar properties in your area. You can also hire an independent appraiser, but this can be costly and some property tax assessment offices will not accept outside appraisals. If you have recently refinanced your home or taken out a home equity loan, you may already have a professional appraisal available.
LOOK FOR EXEMPTIONS. Exemptions can lower the assessed value of a property, but they are not automatic; you will have to file to receive them. Check with your assessor's office to see if you qualify.
FILE AN APPEAL. You cannot contest the tax rate in your area, but if you believe that your tax bill is too high, you can file an official appeal to lower your home's assessed value. Only two to three percent of homeowners attempt an appeal, but of those who do, at least 20 percent and as many as 40 percent are successful in getting a reduction.
It is important to point out that while lowering your home's assessed value can reduce the amount of property taxes owned, it can also make it more difficult to sell the property in the future.