Sunday, October 28, 2012

Texas Homestead Exemption Property Taxes for Senior Citizens over 65

Alert red shouldered hawk looking out for himself from a tree
Be a Hawk About Your Money
Texas Property Taxes for Seniors 

Once you arrive at the wise old age of 65, you get a break in Texas on property taxes if you own your residence and are living in it. This is not the same as the homestead exemption that you claim for your residence at any age.

You can also pay your taxes in 4 installments if you choose, once you reach 65. You must pay at least 1/4 of the tax amount before February 1 of the following year, and additional payments by April 1, June 1 and August 1. The penalty is 6 percent plus 1 percent a month if you're late, so if you might forget to make the payment, you're risking extra fees.

Hubby and I turned 65 this year, and we had our birthdates listed with the homestead exemption. When we got our tax notice (arriving about October 15 each year), the discount should have been calculated automatically. We did not see any discount on the form. Of course this prompted me to take the information to the Tax Appraisal District to see what was up. 

Trip number 1: 
The gal indicated that we qualified for a discount and a freeze if we completed an application and proved that the property was our homestead. Proof was to be the remainder of the form for our automobile registration sticker for the current year -- you know, the one everyone throws away as soon as they peel off the sticker. 

Trip number 2: 
I returned to the Tax Appraisal office with auto registration form for my vehicle that I had miraculously saved. (It's good they didn't ask for Hubby's vehicle, too. I didn't locate that one.) The gal made a copy of this and a copy of my driver's license. Now, I was all set to pay the reduced amount. However, she said I would need to pay the entire amount and get a refund in a couple of months.

Waiting for a refund from a government office is one of those things I've probably cautioned you about, so you know I wasn't agreeable to that. The alternative was to turn our "case" in to have the taxes recalculated, and she couldn't guarantee me that it could be done by the end of October. Of course, the end of October is a magic date, since Texans who pay early get a little discount. I decided to take my chances. She took the form, gave me nothing in return and said it would be a week or so. I could come back then. I asked for a copy of the paperwork before leaving the office. You know the importance of having a copy.

Trip number 3:  
Back to the Tax Appraisal office to see if I could pay the newly-calculated property taxes. Well, I couldn't, because they hadn't been calculated yet -- but I could pay the full amount and get a refund.  Ha ha. 

Trip number 4: 
I stopped by the Tax office to pay, since the October window of opportunity is closing fast. She pulled the information up on the computer and it had just been recalculated that day. Of course, the recalculation is done by someone sitting two desks away from the front desk, and when I realized that, I waved to the gal and thanked her for recalculating my taxes before the end of the month. 

Was It Worth It?
Yes, seniors, it's worth it. I drove 12 miles 4 times, so that's 48 miles in gas and about 3 hours of my time. Where else can you make $100 an hour? You must apply the year you're 65 to get the benefit for that first year.

It looks as if the savings is about $300 on $2,000 in property taxes in our area. Plus, it should trigger the freeze on your taxes for the future. You get the advantage of freezing your taxes at the rate you pay when you're 65 so long as you live in the house. Since taxes are high in Texas, this makes living here affordable for senior citizens. If taxes decrease, you get the advantage of the reduction as well. If your spouse dies, you may have to prove your homestead entitlement again under 9.415 of the property tax rules. You can read the Texas property tax rules here: 

Of course, the recalculated form didn't show that our taxes are frozen for next year, so we'll have to check again next year to make certain we get our taxes frozen. Maybe I'll get to see these nice people at the Tax Appraisal Office again next year.

Take care of little paperwork issues as they come up; call and ask questions. You may surprise yourself at the savings you can get from being a savvy consumer. Taxes, banking and insurance are three areas you can understand and make a difference in your annual expenses.

See you next time!