Ask Roberta: Keep a Watchful Eye on Your Property Tax Bills

By Roberta Kleinman, BAPA Property Preservation

Q: My property taxes are paid through my mortgage lender. Should I been monitoring how these important bulls are paid?

A. The first of two installments of Cook County property taxes for the 2016 tax year was due on Mar. 1, which makes the subject a timely one for this month’s edition of The Villager. The subject of property taxes in the County of Cook can be a bit confusing. Here in Cook Country residential property taxes are billed in two semi-annual installments,, during the calendar year following the tax year to which the taxes pertain.

Since the majority of homeowners who have mortgages on their properties pay their property taxes indirectly through escrow accounts maintained by their mortgage lenders, and therefore may not even see their tax bills, it might be tempting for many homeowners to forget about their property tax bills. But it would be a mistake for several reasons not to review your bill to ensure the taxes are paid up to date and properly credited by each due date to the correct Property Index Number (PIN) for your residence, since errors have been known to occur when a third party handles these payments on a resident’s behalf.

Such errors may include a failure to make the payment, under- or over-payment of the amount due, misapplication of a payment to the wrong PIN, failure to receive all the property tax exemptions to which a homeowner is entitled, and failure to file a timely appeal challenging the assessed valuation assigned to the property by the Cook County Assessor during the triennial reassessment cycle or the two calendar years between such cycles.

Late payments incur stiff interest penalties of 1.5% per month, and a failure to pay two sequential property tax installments will trigger a tax sale that could eventually cost you your home, and at minimum could add hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, to the total amount of your property tax arrears.

If your mortgage lender doesn’t provide you with a copy of your paid tax bill, a duplicate can be requested from the office of Maria Pappas, Cook County Treasurer, by calling 312-443-5100. Also, as a public service, the Cook County Treasurer now allows each property owner to make an online property tax payment, or check the status of his/her tax payment, by visiting cookcountytreasurer.com/payment.

To take advantage of the online payment feature, you must pay your own property taxes (i.e., not have your property taxes escrowed through a mortgage lender,) in which case you may have the payment deducted directly from a checking or savings account or charged to a debit or credit card right up to the last day the tax is due, a great option for chronic procrastinators.

All online payments are subject to a convenience fee that varies depending on the payment method selected, but can be a time-saving alternative to mailing in a payment or standing in a long line at one of the County’s satellite service centers or a Chase Bank branch, the Cook County Treasurer’s designated property tax collection agency.

Taxpayers with access to email may now request to receive electronic tax bills in lieu of mailed paper bills. To sign up, visit cookcountytreasurer.com/signupforelectronicbilling. You will need the PIN number of the property, which appears on your tax bill or may be obtained by visiting cookcountytreasurer.com/locatingyourpin.

Besides appealing one’s assessment in the hope of reducing the amount of property taxes owed in a given year, the second most important way to save money on property taxes is to ensure you are receiving all the exemptions and credits to which you are entitled. If you live in a home in Cook County and it is your primary residence, you should only have to apply once to begin receiving the Homeowner’s Exemption on every future tax bill. However, there are a number of other countywide and state programs that offer property tax reduction opportunities for which you may qualify, each with its own separate rules and restrictions. For more information, visit cookcountytreasurer.com/exemptions. I plan to write in greater depth about the process of appealing one’s property taxes and claiming appropriate property tax exemptions in a future Villager article.