Are your 2007 property taxes paid?

January 15, 2008 2:50:00 PM PST
Thousands of Harris County home owners may think their property taxes for 2007 have already been paid, but they are mistaken.Even if you have an escrow account that pays the bills every year, this time things are different.

Rick Russell knew something was not right when he got a bill from his municipal utility district that showed his taxes for 2007 are still not paid.

"Saturday I got this letter for the MUD taxes and talked to my wife about this and said is this a bill or has that been paid," said Russell.

Like most home owners, Russell has an escrow account with his mortgage company. Typically Russell's mortgage company used the escrow account to pay tax bills by the end of December, but when Russell checked this week he found the property tax, school tax and MUD taxes were not paid, and now it's the middle of January. He has some advice for other home owners.

The mortgage company says it will pay the bills. What worries Russell is that home owners whose taxes are not paid may get hit with penalties and fees that the home owner is responsible for paying, not the mortgage company. If Russell did not check his accounts he would not have known the bills were not paid.

"I would immediately check with the county. If they don't get paid, it is my responsibility for everything, taxes, penalties, everything," said Russell.

The problem is not limited to Russell. Harris County Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt says thousands of tax records have only recently been certified and some bills have not even been sent out yet. The reason? A record number of property tax protests in 2007.

"When those accounts are protested, they get certified late, which means the bills go to the mortgage companies late, so there is more chance for error," said Bettencourt.

Bettencourt adds some mortgage companies are only now getting 2007 tax notices, for those home owners, the bills still need to be paid before the end of January to avoid fees. Some home owners' tax bills are just now be mailed out.

"We are going to be mailing out what we call our mortgage drop letter, which basically says, we can't find your payment, your mortgage company has not paid. If you get one of those letters, you call right away," said Bettencourt.

There is something else the late bills will affect -- your income taxes. if you itemize your income tax deductions on your tax return, you will not be able to deduct property taxes paid for 2007 if they were not actually paid in 2007. For some people that could put them in a higher tax bracket.

To see if your tax bill has been paid, click here.

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