STEELE: Dispelling property tax myths in Gwinnett

Richard Steele

Richard Steele

Though it’s typically not the most anticipated piece of mail to show up in mailboxes each year, most Gwinnett property owners have received their 2013 county tax bills by now. This year, taxes are due on Oct. 3 in a single installment. A small portion of properties that have been involved in valuation appeals may have a later due date of Nov. 1.

There’s a lot of information on the front and back of the tax bill, and there’s even more included on the inserts that were mailed with the bill. I strongly encourage you to review that information, and then call us or email us if you have any questions.

With all that said, there are a few myths regarding property taxes that I think are important to clear up:

Myth No. 1: Your tax bill goes to your mortgage company.

This is false. Georgia law requires that I send the tax bill to the person or entity that owned the property on Jan. 1. If the property sold after that date, a tax bill is also sent to the new owner. Regardless, tax bills are mailed to owners, not mortgage companies, so that you receive all the important information above. Mortgage companies are given access to electronic files to find and pay taxes on the properties they service. That’s how, in most cases, your mortgage company pays your taxes for you. It’s not an absolute guarantee, however. If you have an escrow account, keep an eye on whether the taxes get paid, especially if your mortgage company has recently changed.

Myth No. 2: If you sell your property after Jan. 1, you’re off the hook for the taxes.

This is also false. Under Georgia law, the person or entity that owns the property on January 1 is responsible for the taxes that year. Of course, properties sell every day, not just on Jan. 1, and in most cases, property taxes end up getting prorated at the closing. However, if you are the seller, make sure the taxes get paid on time, because a delinquency could still mean a tax lien filed in your name. Here’s how to avoid that – by the 90th day after the tax due date, provide the Tax Commissioner’s Office with closing papers or a contract that shows the tax liability was transferred to the new owner. That is the only way the law allows you to get off the hook for the taxes and have any necessary liens filed in the name of the new owner instead.

Myth No. 3: You automatically receive a senior homestead exemption when you turn 62 or 65.

This, too, is false. A sub-myth is that we know how old you are. In some cases, we do. In many cases, we have no way of knowing. There are several different homestead exemptions available in Gwinnett County, including those for seniors. Each has different eligibility requirements, but all share one common requirement that is perhaps the most important – you have to fill out an application for each. You can’t get a senior exemption simply by turning a certain age. Without an application, you are not eligible for the exemption. Refer to our website or call us for information so that you don’t let them pass you by. Exemptions can’t be granted retroactively, so apply as soon as you can.

Paying property taxes is not fun, but it should be as painless as possible. The more you know about it, the easier it will be. Check out www.GwinnettTaxCommissioner.com, email us at Tax@GwinnettCounty.com, or call us at 770-822-8800.

Richard Steele was sworn in as the Gwinnett County Tax Commissioner on May 1, 2011, and was elected to his first full term in 2012. He earned his bachelor of ccience degree from the University of Georgia, and is a graduate of Leadership Gwinnett. He currently serves as the chairman of the Tax Commissioners’ Technology Development Council of Georgia (TCTech), and is a member of the Rotary Club of Lawrenceville in which he chairs the Community Service Committee. He lives in Buford with his wife and two children.