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Tax deadlines can trip up anyone

By Kay Bell · Bankrate.com
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Posted: 3 pm ET

Property taxes are a pain for every real estate owner, especially legislators.

Usually they catch flack from constituents about the property tax rates and collection process.

At diverging ends of this debate are the city of Philadelphia and state of North Dakota.

The City of Brotherly Love's mayor wants to redo the city's system so that real estate taxes are based on properties' actual values. In North Dakota, voters will decide whether to do away with property taxes altogether.

But sometimes property taxes get downright personal for lawmakers.

Just ask Sen. Claire McCaskill. She was several weeks late in paying her property taxes on a Washington, D.C., condominium.

The Democratic senator from Missouri missed the fall 2011 property tax deadline on her Washington, D.C., condominium by about three weeks, according to The Kansas City Star.

See, legislators are human after all.

McCaskill's explanation for missing the tax payment was that the District bills property owners twice a year instead of just once as do most jurisdictions. The half-year's bill of $1,514 simply "slipped through the cracks," said McCaskill.

Of course, that oversight cost her. When she did pay the bill late, she also handed the D.C. tax collector an additional $197 in penalties and interest.

The late fees and interest were almost identical to what McCaskill paid in 2010 when she was late on the spring payment of taxes on her condo in the nation's capital.

She's also paying a political price. Republican challengers for her U.S. Senate seat are having a field day, charging that McCaskill, a former state auditor, doesn't follow her own talk about accountability and fiscal oversight.

Will her apparently lackadaisical attention to property tax payments cost her a second senate term? Perhaps.

But at least she's offering a good lesson now as many of us property owners are getting our annual appraisal announcements. Pay attention to deadlines.

Not only must you pay your property tax bill on time or face potentially costly consequences, you also have deadlines to meet if you disagree with the assessment of your property.

Your tax bill is based on what your local tax assessor says your house if worth. That's always been a big bone of contention, and it's gotten more debatable in recent years as the housing market has struggled. A growing number of property owners are contesting the price put on their homes for tax purposes.

When you can show that your home is overvalued, an appeals board will generally revise the assessment downward, meaning a smaller tax bill.

But if you missed the deadline for filing an appeal, the facts don't matter. You can't present your case and are stuck with the too-high assessment.

So if you cast your assessment notice aside when it arrived, thinking you'd contest the valuation later, pull that document out now and look at the deadlines for filing a protest. Later might be much closer than you think.

And if you miss it, you'll literally end up paying.

Unlike your tax bill deadlines, it's easier to keep up with general tax news and tax-cutting tips by subscribing to Bankrate's free Weekly Tax Tip newsletter.

You also can follow me on Twitter @taxtweet.

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