Tax Tips for Homeowners Looking Ahead to 2010 Returns

The Charleston, South Carolina area is a great place to live or have a vacation home.  The weather is great, the beaches are fantastic, golf courses are abundant, there are many historical sites, the architecture is unbelievable, the dining is unbeatable, and the people are the friendliest in the country.  It is because of these reasons that I believe Charleston SC Real Estate is truly unique.  I look forward to helping you with any of your Charleston SC Real Estate needs in Charleston, Berkeley, or Dorchester counties. Today’s article is titled:

Tax Tips for Homeowners Looking Ahead to 2010 Returns
By: Mike DeSenne

Published: February 22, 2010

From energy tax credits to vacation home deductions, check out these tax tips for homeowners looking ahead to 2010 returns.

Claim remaining energy tax credits

It's time to get cracking if you didn't exhaust your full allotment of residential energy tax credits during 2009. Although tax credits for big projects like residential wind turbines and solar energy systems have no upper limit and are good through 2016, energy tax credits capped at $1,500 expire at the end of 2010. Eligible capped projects include new windows and doors, insulation, roofing, water heaters, HVAC, and biomass stoves.

Here's how it works with capped federal credits: You can earn energy tax credits worth 30% of the cost of qualifying improvements, but the total tax credits can't exceed $1,500 combined for 2009 and 2010. So if you only took, say, $700 worth of capped energy credits on your 2009 tax return, you're still due for another $800 in credits in 2010. Some projects include the cost of installation–a furnace, for example–while others, such as insulation, are limited to the cost of materials.
Max out tax benefits of a vacation home
Use a vacation home wisely, and it'll provide a break from taxes as well as the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The rules on tax deductions for vacation homes can get a bit tricky, but understanding and adhering to them can yield many happy tax returns.

If your vacation home is truly a vacation home meant for your personal enjoyment, as opposed to a rental-only income property, you can usually deduct mortgage interest and real estate taxes, just as you would on your main home. You can even rent out the home for up to 14 days during the year without getting taxed on the rental income. Not bad.

Now, let's say you want to rent out your vacation home for more than 14 days in 2010, but also use it yourself from time to time. To maximize the tax benefits, you need to keep tabs on how many days you use your vacation home. By restricting your annual personal use to fewer than 15 days (or 10% of total rental days, whichever is greater), you can treat your vacation home as a rental-only income property for tax purposes.

Why is that a big deal? In addition to mortgage interest and real estate taxes, rental-only income properties are eligible for a slew of other tax deductions for everything from utilities and condo fees to housecleaning and repairs. Deductions are limited once personal use exceeds 14 days (or 10% of total rental days), so get out your calendar now to strategically plot your vacations.

Take advantage of tax breaks for the military

In salute to members of the armed forces serving overseas who want to purchase a home, the IRS is extending a lucrative tax perk for military personnel. If you spent at least 90 days abroad performing qualified duty between Jan. 1, 2009, and April 30, 2010, you have an extra year to earn a homebuyer tax credit. In addition to uniformed service members, workers in the Foreign Service and in the intelligence community are eligible.

Thanks to this extension of the homebuyer tax credit, qualifying military personnel have until April 30, 2011, to sign a contract on a new home. The deal must close before July 1, 2011. Just like non-military buyers, first-time homebuyers can earn a tax credit worth up to $8,000, and longtime homeowners can earn a credit of up to $6,500. The same income restrictions and $800,000 cap on home prices apply.

Military personnel can also get a break if official duty calls and they're forced to move for an extended period. Normally, the homebuyer tax credit needs to be repaid if you sell your home within three years, but this requirement is waived for uniformed service members, Foreign Service workers, and intelligence community personnel. The new extended duty posting doesn't need to be overseas, but it must be at least 50 miles from your principal residence.

Challenge your real estate assessment

You can't do much about the rate at which your home is taxed, but you can try to do something about how your home is valued for taxation purposes in 2010. The process varies depending where you live, but in general local governments conduct a periodic real estate assessment to determine how much your home is worth. That real estate assessment figure is used to calculate your property tax bill.

You can usually appeal your real estate assessment if you think it's too high. Contact your local assessor's office to find out the procedure, and be prepared to do some research. There's often no charge to request a review of your assessment.

Look for errors. You probably received an assessment letter in the mail, and many local governments provide the information online as well. Make sure the number of bedrooms and bathrooms is accurate, and the lot size is correct. Also check the assessed value of comparable homes in your area. If they're being assessed for less than your home, you might have a case for relief.

Even if your assessment is accurate and comparable homes are being taxed at the same rate, there might be another route to tax savings. Ask your assessor's office about available property tax exemptions. Local governments often give breaks to seniors, veterans, and the disabled, among others.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but is not intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

Mike DeSenne is Online Managing Editor for taxes, finances, and insurance at HouseLogic.com, and the former Executive Editor of SmartMoney.com. He likes to do his taxes by hand, much to the dismay of his accountant.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated.

Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC Real Estate needs or questions.

See Charleston SC Real Estate Blog for local attractions and current Charleston events.

Look at Charleston SC Real Estate homes anywhere in the tri-county area.

View my entire inventory of VisualTours of Charleston SC Real Estate homes at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

 

South Carolina Has 6th Lowest Property Taxes in the United States

The Charleston, South Carolina area is a great place to live or have a vacation home.  The weather is great, the beaches are fantastic, golf courses are abundant, there are many historical sites, the architecture is unbelievable, the dining is unbeatable, and the people are the friendliest in the country.  It is because of these reasons that I believe Charleston SC Real Estate is truly unique.  I look forward to helping you with any of your Charleston SC Real Estate needs in Charleston, Berkeley, or Dorchester counties. Today’s article is titled:

South Carolina Has 6th Lowest Property Taxes in the United States

Using U.S. Census data, the nonprofit Tax Foundation has uncovered where the highest property taxes in the country are paid relative to the median value of the homes. Some of the locales may surprise you.

New Jersey came in first — no surprise there — but New Hampshire, which has no state income tax and prides itself on that, had the next-highest real estate taxes as a percentage of home values.

Louisiana had the lowest median taxes compared to property values, another ho-hum finding. But the second-lowest taxes compared to values are in pricey Hawaii.

The national median for real estate taxes is 1.04 percent of a property’s value. Here’s the list of the top 10 states with the highest median real estate taxes as a percentage of median home value as well as the ranking of states with the lowest:

States with the highest property taxes:

1. New Jersey (1.89 percent of property value)
2. New Hampshire (1.86 percent)
3. Texas (1.81 percent)
4. (tie) Wisconsin (1.76 percent)
4. (tie) Nebraska (1.76 percent)
6. Illinois (1.73 percent)
7. Connecticut (1.63 percent)
8. Michigan (1.62 percent)
9. Vermont (1.59 percent)
10. North Dakota (1.42 percent)

States with the lowest property taxes:

1. Louisiana (0.18 percent)
2. Hawaii (0.26 percent)
3. Alabama (0.33 percent)
4. Delaware (0.43 percent)
5. West Virginia (0.49 percent)
6. South Carolina (0.50 percent)
7. (tie) Arkansas (0.52 percent)
7. (tie) Mississippi (0.52 percent)
9. New Mexico (0.55 percent)
10. Wyoming (0.58 percent)

Source: 2009 U.S. Census Data and Tax Foundation calculations

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated.

Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC Real Estate needs or questions.

See Charleston SC Real Estate Blog for local attractions and current Charleston events.

Look at Charleston SC Real Estate homes anywhere in the tri-county area.

View my entire inventory of VisualTours of Charleston SC Real Estate homes at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Make Your Case for a Property Tax Reduction

To successfully challenge a real estate assessment and lower your property tax bill, you need to do a bit of sleuthing first.
 
Owning a home is an expensive proposition. There's maintenance, landscaping, utilities, renovations, and, of course, taxes. It's your civic duty to pay the latter, but it's also your right not to yield a penny more than your fair share.  To successfully challenge a real estate assessment and lower your property tax bill, you need to do a bit of sleuthing first.

It's possible to trim your property taxes by challenging the assessed value of your home. But making a convincing case against your real estate assessment, the basis for your property tax, requires doing a bit of homework first. Initial research can be done online or by phone over two or three days, but the process can stretch out for months if you're forced to file a formal appeal.

Read your assessment letter

A real estate assessment is conducted periodically by the local government to assign a value to your home for taxation purposes. An assessment isn't the same as a private appraisal, and the assessed value of your home isn't necessarily how much you could sell it for today. Real estate assessment letters are mailed to homeowners annually, or perhaps every two to three years, depending where you live.

The letter will include some information about your property, such as lot size or a legal description, as well as the assessed value of your house and land. Additional details-number of bedrooms, for example, or date of construction-can often be found in the property listing on your local government's website. Your property tax bill will usually be calculated by multiplying your home's assessed value by the local tax rate, which can vary from town to town.

If you think your home's assessment is higher than it should be, challenge it immediately. The clock starts ticking as soon as the letter goes out. You generally have less than 30 days to respond, though the time frame varies not just between states, but within each state. Procedures are often outlined on the back of the letter.

Gather evidence

Start by making sure the assessment letter doesn't contain any mistakes. Is the number of bathrooms accurate? Number of fireplaces? How about the size of the lot? There's a big difference between "0.3 acres" and "3.0 acres." If any facts are wrong, then you may have a quick and easy challenge on your hands.

Next, research your home's value. Ask a real estate agent to find three to five comparable properties-"comps" in real estate jargon-that have sold recently. Alternatively, check a website like Zillow.com (http://www.zillow.com/) to find approximate values of comparable properties. The key is identifying properties that are very similar to your own in terms of size, style, condition, and location. If you're willing to shell out between $350 and $600, you can hire a private appraiser to do the heavy lifting.

Once you identify comps, check the assessments on those properties. Most local governments maintain public databases. If yours doesn't, seek help from an agent or ask neighbors to share tax information. If the assessments on your comps are lower, you can argue yours is too high. Even if the assessments are similar, if you can show that the "comparable" properties aren't truly comparable, you may have a case for relief based on equity. Maybe your neighbor added an addition while you were still struggling to clean up storm damage. In that case, the properties are no longer equitable.

Present your case

Once you're armed with your research, call your local assessor's office. Most assessors are willing to discuss your assessment informally by phone. If not, or if you aren't satisfied with the explanation, request a formal review. Pay attention to deadlines and procedures. There's probably a form to fill out and specific instructions for supporting evidence. A typical review, which usually doesn't require you to appear in person, can take anywhere from one to three months. Expect to receive a decision in writing.

If the review is unsuccessful, you can usually appeal the decision to an independent board, with or without the help of a lawyer. You may have to pay a modest filing fee, perhaps $10 to $25. If you end up before an appeals board, your challenge could stretch as long as a year, especially in large jurisdictions that have a high number of appeals. But homeowners do triumph. According to Guy Griscom, Assistant Chief Appraiser of the Harris County (Texas) Central Appraisal District, of the 288,800 protests filed in his Houston-area district in 2008, about 58% received reduced assessments.

How much effort you decide to put into a challenge depends on the stakes. The annual U.S. median property tax (http://www.taxfoundation.org/taxdata/show/1888.html) paid in 2008 was $1,897, or 0.96% of the median home value of $197,600. Lowering that assessed value by 15% would net savings of about $285. In some parts of New York and Texas, for example, where tax rates can approach 3% of a home's value, potential savings are greater. Ditto for communities with home prices well above the U.S. median.

There are a few things to keep in mind as you weigh an appeal. The board can only lower your real estate assessment, not the rate at which you're taxed. There's also a chance, albeit slight, that your assessment could be raised, thus increasing your property taxes. A reduction in your assessment right before you put your house on the market could hurt the sale price. An easier route to savings might lie in determining if you qualify for property tax exemptions (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/common-property-tax-exemptions/) based on age, disability, military service, or other factors.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but is not intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Readers should consult a tax professional for such advice, and are reminded that tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

Barbara Eisner Bayer has written about mortgages and personal finance for the past 15 years for Motley Fool, the Daily Plan-It, and Nurse Village, and is the former Managing Editor of Mortgageloan.com and Credit-land.com. She has successfully challenged her real estate assessment.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com

Cut your Charleston SC County Property Taxes!

Do you own and reside in your home?

1.  If you are over 65 years of age, or certified totally and permanently disabled or blind, you may qualify for the Homestead Exemption. Up to the first $50,000 of your home's appraised value could be totally exempt from taxes. Call (843) 958-4220 for further information.

2.  If your home qualifies as your primary residence, contact the Assessor's office at (843) 958-4100 to apply for the four percent Primary Residence assessment ratio if your property is not already classified as QR-Qualified Residential. Also, the agricultural farmland use assessment is determined by the Assessor's Office.

3.  Homeowners who have qualified for the four percent Primary Residence assessment are automatically eligible for state Property Tax Relief. No application is necessary.

4.  If you are a military veteran who is totally disabled from a service-related cause, the surviving spouse of a military person who was killed in the line of duty or totally disabled from a service-related cause, you may be qualified for exemption from property taxes on a house and up to one acre of land on which the house is located. Application should be made through the S.C. Department of Revenue (DOR). There is a local DOR Service Center at 3 Southpark Center, Suite 202, next to Citadel Mall (Phone: 843-852-3600).

5.  If you are a paraplegic or hemiplegic, or their surviving spouse, you may be qualified for exemption from property taxes on a house and up to one acre of land on which the house is located. Application should be made through the S.C. Department of Revenue. There is a local DOR Service Center at 3 Southpark Center, Suite 202, next to Citadel Mall (Phone: 843-852-3600).

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.  To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Appealing Charleston County, South Carolina Real Property Taxes

If, after receiving your tax statement, you disagree or have questions concerning the new value assigned your property, you have the right to appeal.

You have until January 15th to submit a signed Letter of Objection to the County Assessor’s Office stating why you believe the assessed value is incorrect.  Note that electronic submissions of appeals and/or applications are not allowed, nor are faxed submittals acceptable.  All the applications require an original signature.  Therefore the original must be sent in or delivered.

The Assessor will review your letter and take one of the following actions:

1.  If your letter contains enough information regarding your appeal, such as owner’s opinion of value and evidence to support that value, the Assessor’s Office will review the appraisal of your property in light of the information provided in the letter. After the review is complete, the Assessor will notify you of the results via a reassessment notice.

2.  If your letter does not contain information sufficient to conduct an appraisal review, the Assessor’s Office will, within 30 days (or as soon as practical), schedule a meeting with you to discuss your concerns. The appraiser will review your property record with you and give you information about the appraisal on your property.
If your concerns cannot be resolved by the Assessor’s Office, you may appeal to the Charleston County Board of Assessment Appeals. If you disagree with the Board’s decision, you can further appeal to the S.C. Administrative Law Judge Division.

To be sure your reassessment is fair and correct, you should verify: that any items that affect market value, such as size, number of baths, etc., are correct; that your property is not appraised more than recent sales of comparable properties; and that your property is equally appraised when compared with like surrounding properties.
Refer to www.charlestoncounty.org for additional information.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.  To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

5 Property Tax Questions Buyers Should Ask

 

1. What is the assessed value of the property? Note that assessed value is generally less than market value. Ask to see a recent copy of the seller’s tax bill to help you determine this information.

2. How often are properties reassessed, and when was the last reassessment done? In general, taxes jump most significantly when a property is reassessed.

3. Will the sale of the property trigger a tax increase? The assessed value of the property may increase based on the amount you pay for the property. And in some areas, such as California, taxes may be frozen until resale.

4. Is the amount of taxes paid comparable to other properties in the area? If not, it might be possible to appeal the tax assessment and lower the rate.

5. Does the current tax bill reflect any special exemptions that I might not qualify for? For example, many tax districts offer reductions to those 65 or over.

To determine South Carolina property taxes by county go to this link:
http://www.sccommerce.com/docdirectory/ResearchFolder/Property%20Tax%20Rates%20by%20County%20in%20South%20Carolina%202008.pdf

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

 

How to Save Money on Your South Carolina Property Taxes

 1. Homestead tax exemption program is for home owners who are age 65, or older, totally disabled, or blind. The program exempts op to $50,000 of the value of the home including up to five acres around the home. The homeowner must have been a legal resident of SC for at least one year as of December 31st of the year prior to the exemption and the property must have the primary residence assessment rate of 4%. To claim the exemption the homeowner must file an application with the County auditor.
 
2. The multiple lot discount is for undeveloped acreage that has been subdivided in to ten or more lots and the conditional or final plat was recorded at the County on or before December 31st. The owner must file a written application with the Assessor by May 1st of the year requesting the discount.
 
 3. Requesting agricultural zoning on a tract of real property as of January 1st of the current year and it was used to “raise crops, harvest crops, feed, breed, or manage livestock, or to produce plants, trees, fowl, or animals useful to man” may qualify for a discount in the appraisal/assessment. There are no residency requirements. An application must be filed before the first penalty date for taxes due.
 
4. Owner-occupied residences that are your legal residence are eligible to file for a special assessment ratio that will reduce your taxes. An application must be applied for before the first penalty due for taxes.
 
As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.
 
“Carolina Joe”