The Truth About Taxes

By Gerri Willis

Have you ever noticed that taxes move in one direction: Up. And, so it is with property taxes. During the housing bubble, taxes rose as values climbed and in many parts of the country they are still stuck in the stratosphere, even after prices have plunged. Fortunately, you can do something about it.

In fact, Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union says that high property taxes are a rare example of levies that taxpayers can reduce this year as investment and income grow like topsy.

Contesting your home’s assessment is a tried and true method of cutting your property taxes if those taxes are stuck at nosebleed levels. Start by reviewing your home assessment for errors. The dirty little secret is that many local governments use real estate software to assess properties. In other words, local tax officials may never have as much as driven by your house. Errors are common. Your first stop is the property assessor’s office where you’ll ask for the “property card” that describes your home in detail, including square footage, bathrooms and the like. Look for errors. Then pull your neighbors’ property cards, especially those with houses that are similar in features and age as yours. Look at as many as a dozen to find out whether your home’s assessment is significantly higher than the others. Even a 10 percent difference can be the basis for a case. Online resources are like can be valuable as well.

Typically you can appeal your bill 30 to 60 days after receiving it. Ask for an administrative review and gather evidence to support your claim that your home isn’t worth as much as the local government says it is. If you don’t get a resolution you like, you can typically appeal. If you don’t have time to go through the process yourself, you can typically hire a local expert to help, but don’t pay too much for the service. After all, you don’t want to give away all your tax savings to somebody else.

Don’t miss our special User’s Guide to Taxes on The Willis Report tonight 6pmET on FOX Business.