As any homeowner knows, property taxes are a very expensive part of owning a home. New Jersey residents pay some of the highest property taxes in the country.  Failure to pay property taxes can have devastating consequences on a family, including the loss of your home.  The money you pay in property taxes is used to fund your Township and County governments as well as the public school system. What very few homeowners know, however, is that there are steps you can take to keep your property taxes affordable.

1.         What are your property taxes spent on?

Your property tax dollars are sent to your three local governments.  More than half of the money you pay in property taxes is spent by the Board of Education to help fund the public school system. Public education is very expensive, but very, very important.  First, a good educational foundation is vital for our youth to succeed.  Additionally, in towns with good educational systems, resale value of homes is higher.

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The remaining amount of money is spent by your Township and County governments. For example, this money is spent on services such as local and county police, local fire department, snow removal, road repair, even the salaries of your elected officials, just to name a few.  All services that no city can exist without and every citizen needs.

2.         How are your property taxes calculated?

The Township Tax Assessor’s Office establishes a value for all the real property within the Township. Then they use a series of calculations to determine the value of your land and home.  Once that value is established, there is another set of calculations used to set the amount of money you need to pay in property taxes.  If you choose to reinvest in your property and improve it, the Tax Assessor has the right to assess your property at a higher number based on the improvements, which means you would pay even more in property taxes.

3.         What happens if you do not pay your property taxes?

Failure to pay your property taxes can cause devastating results, including loss of your home.  If there is a mortgage on your home, your property tax payments are typically included in your monthly mortgage payment or, in some cases, advanced property tax payments are held in escrow by the bank.  If not, it is a requirement of your mortgage that you pay your property taxes directly.  Failure to pay will result in a breach of your mortgage agreement (even if your mortgage payments are current) and the bank can foreclose on your home.

Additionally, failure to pay property taxes results in a tax lien being placed on your property by the Township. This lien is then sold by the Township to a company, bank or private citizen, all are strangers who now hold a lien on your home, which they can charge interest on, sell at a profit to someone else, or even foreclose on your home.  This lien must also be paid off before you can sell or refinance your property.

4.         What can you do about your property taxes?

The most important thing you can do is vote.  Remember, it is the Township Mayor and Council, Board of Education Commissioners and County Freeholders who spend each and every dollar you pay in property taxes. Voting is how you hold them accountable for how they spend your money.  If you do not like how it is being spent, vote for different people.  Ask questions about the budget and spending positions of candidates and elected officials.  Stay informed and involved.

Property tax payers should also know their rights and options. The State of New Jersey has enacted Property Tax Payer Bill of Rights.  Every city is supposed to have a copy available on their website. (www.edisonnj.org) All property tax payers should be familiar with these rights.

The State of New Jersey offers various tax relief programs, including those for senior citizens, disabled people, surviving spouses of veterans.  You should contact your tax assessor (Joann Jimenez at Taxassessor@edison.org  732-248-7211) to receive the applications and to ask about these programs and any others that are available.  Also, make sure that you are receiving any and all deductions on your income tax for the property taxes you pay.

You also have the right to challenge the assessed value of your property and home. As stated earlier, the assessed value of your home and property by the tax assessor is the basis for what you pay in property taxes.  This challenge is done by filing an appeal of the assessed value with the Middlesex County Tax Board on or before April 1 of each year.  There are several attorneys who file tax appeals on behalf of homeowners.  Tax payers should speak with an attorney they are comfortable with and seek their advice. Ultimately, the Middlesex County Tax Board hears and decides all properly filed and supported tax appeals.

Lastly, no property tax payer needs to be reminded that property taxes are a huge expense every three months. Tax payers should stay informed, involved and active in the community.  In these times, every penny counts.

TAPinto Edison’s legal analyst, Frank C. Fusco, Esq. is a private attorney with a general practice.   The information provided in this column is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice.