Since homestead regulations vary by state -- and some states don't allow homestead exemptions -- get started by finding out the law and requirements in your state. In most states, the county tax assessor or appraiser handles homestead exemption paperwork and filing, so that's the place to begin.
Homestead exemptions fall into two categories, and not every state offering a homestead exemption permits both types. Tax exemptions reduce the value of a homestead by a specific amount, so that the homeowners pays less in school or property taxes. Creditor exemptions protect a certain amount of equity in the property from a court judgement. In some states, filing a homestead declaration protects the legal equity limit on your home. In New York, the amount of the homestead exemption depends on your county of residence. A few states, such as Florida, have an unlimited exemption amount, so a even a mansion owner can't lose his home to a judgement creditor.
Make sure your property qualifies as a homestead. While statutes vary, what constitutes a homestead is quite standard. To qualify for a homestead exemption, the property must be your principal residence and owned by you or jointly owned with your spouse.
Certain states, such as Texas and Florida, allow most homeowners to file for a homestead exemption for their primary residence, while others restrict a homestead allowance only for particular categories of homeowner. In Ohio, for example, the 2015 income threshold for able-bodied homeowners under age 65 to qualify for the exemption is $31,000. State categories generally depend on:
- Age -- residents over the age of 65 may claim a homestead exemption
- People with disabilities
- Disabled veterans or their surviving spouses
- Surviving spouse of a member of the armed forces killed in action.
You can only file for a homestead exemption in one state. If you and your spouse jointly own properties in different states, you can't file for a homestead exemption in each state, with you claiming the exemption in one state and your spouse in the other.
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Filing for a Homestead Exemption
You can download the appropriate forms from your county assessor's website. Your local tax assessor may also have forms available. Be sure to file the forms by the date required in your jurisdiction. Although forms will differ, certain information is necessary. Besides the owner's name and residence address, you must provide:
- Driver license or official state identification numbers
- Social Security numbers
- Birth dates
You may need to provide proof of residency, such as:
- voter registration card
- utility bill
- tax returns
- mortgage payment records
If you are eligible for the homestead exemption because of a disability or similar qualification, you must provide proof, such as a Veterans Administration disability ratings letter. You may need to sign the homestead exemption form in front of a notary public.
Once your homestead exemption is approved by the county assessor or appraiser, you should begin receiving any tax benefits offered by the exemption. These are reflected in your next tax bill. If you receive your annual tax bill and the exemptions have not been credited, contact your county assessor for an explanation.