Paying property taxes is one of the less enjoyable aspects of home ownership, but at least you can deduct your property tax payments on your income tax return. Knowing exactly how much you've paid, though, can be a problem if you're one of the millions of homeowners who let their mortgage companies handle their tax payments for them.
Many homeowners don't pay their property taxes directly. Instead, their monthly mortgage payment includes an amount earmarked for property taxes. The mortgage lender collects that money each month, holds it in an escrow account, then uses it to pay the taxes when they come due. Each year, mortgage lenders are required by law to send you a copy of Internal Revenue Service Form 1098, which tells you how much you paid in mortgage interest. The lender can also use this form to tell you how much it paid out in property taxes on your behalf during the year. Check Box 5 of your 1098 for tax information.
If your mortgage company handles your taxes through escrow, check your monthly statements. The company may provide information about your escrow account, such as your payments into the account, the current balance and any items that have been paid out of the account. (Many borrowers have their homeowners' insurance paid through escrow as well.)
Property ownership, tax assessments and property tax payments are generally public record, and those records are increasingly available online. If your tax agency maintains a website of property information, you should be able to check there to see both your past payments and current assessments. When visiting a website, look for an option labeled "property search" or similar language. You'll usually enter the street address of the property, though some sites allow you to search by the name of the property owner or the parcel or map number -- the designation used to identify the home in official property records.
If the agency that assesses your taxes doesn't put property information online -- or doesn't even have a website -- then you can try calling the office or visiting in person to get tax information. Property taxes are typically assessed by county governments, but depending on where you live, assessments may be handled by a city office or some other agency. The agency will usually be called the assessor's office, but it might go by a different name, such as the department of tax administration.
Escrow vs. Payment
If you're having your property taxes handled by your mortgage company, be aware that, in any given year, the total amount you paid into escrow for property taxes may not be the same as the amount the mortgage company actually paid to the taxing agency on your behalf. Mortgage companies are allowed to require you to pay a little extra so that there's a "cushion" in the escrow account, and you may also have paid money in that has not yet gone out in tax payments. On your income taxes, you can deduct only the actual tax payments, not the money you put into escrow.
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