Jan. 6, 2018.
It sounds complicated, which may be why many homeowners forget to add it to their new home to-do lists. But the homestead exemption is quite simple once you break down its purpose. In many states, you can apply for a homestead exemption on your home, a.k.a. your principal residence. Applying for a homestead exemption removes a portion of your home’s value from taxation and lowers your property taxes.
How does a homestead exemption work?
“A homestead exemption allows the homeowner to protect their home, usually their most valuable asset, from creditors and from certain property taxes,” Allison Bethell, a staff writer at Fit Small Business who specializes in real estate investment, house-flipper of over 100 residential and commercial properties, and licensed Florida realtor, says.
Essentially, filing removes part of your home’s value, Bethell explains. So, taxes are calculated on a lower home value to save you money on property taxes. As an important note, appealing your property tax bill (and often the appraised value on your house) can be another helpful way to reduce annual property taxes.
Bethell adds, “Certain criteria need to be met in order to qualify for a homestead exemption. Including that the property must be your primary residence.”
Homestead exemptions may be available for:
- School taxes.
- County taxes.
- Homeowners ages 65 and over.
- Homeowners who are disabled.
- Optional percentage exemptions determined by a school, county, city, or special district.
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Filing deadlines, as well as the amounts for the exemption, will vary by state. “Some states offer more protection for married couples and others don’t,” Bethell says. “Some states offer 100 percent homestead protection, while other states provide little to no protection. For example, New Jersey offers no homestead exemption, but New York offers an exemption amount up to $165,500, though exact amounts vary by county.” You can find out three important facts about filing for the homestead exemption here.
What if you forget to apply? Take these 4 steps next
Enough homeowners let the homestead exemption deadline slip that problem-solving internet forum threads abound with potential solutions. Your loan officer, as well as your realtor, can also give you guidance on what to do if you miss the homestead exemption deadline in your state.
Rather than lose out on tax savings, there are four proactive steps you can take:
Ask for an extension.
Normally, the homestead exemption filing deadline falls in the spring, and a first-time homeowner or applicant will need to have occupied their property as a principal residence as of January 1 for that tax year. Property tax payments may be due in the fall or by the end of the year, though due dates again vary by state.
Missing the deadline for the homestead exemption is common. So common that many states have late filing applications just for this purpose. “There’s a homestead exemption deadline and then an appeals deadline in most states. In Texas, this deadline is April 30. So, your application must be postmarked between January 1 and April 30,” Bethell says. In a state like Florida, the homestead exemption deadline is March 1. Late filing is permitted by law through early September. Even after September, late filing may be available until January of the next year, with a nonrefundable fee of $15.
It’s simple but oh-so-effective. You may have missed multiple deadlines for your homestead exemption, but it’s still worth trying to get in touch with your state’s comptroller or property tax office to ask for leniency. “In some states, if you file a letter of good cause as to why your homestead exemption letter was late, they will still accept it,” Bethell says. Missed exemptions can often be corrected years after the fact – up to three years, in some states.
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Examples of extenuating circumstances within this grace period may include a personal crisis or family emergency, physical or mental illness, or another unforeseen event that could cause a time delay.
Ask about changes in your circumstance.
As described above, each state’s homestead exemption laws have different requirements — and different benefits for homeowners facing life’s difficulties. In a state like California, homesteading laws shelter widows and widowers by protecting them against losing their home. As long as they are living there as a primary residence. For those who have recently lost a spouse, the protection — and the savings — are immeasurable, Denise Supplee, realtor, investor, and co-founder of SparkRental.com, says.
A state like Illinois also offers a home improvement exemption and a senior citizen “assessment freeze” exemption that can minimize or decrease an annual change in taxes, even as surrounding property values increase.
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Ask if it’s already been filed.
And then we have the situation where homeowners believe they’ve forgotten to file their homestead exemption, only to find out it’s been filed for them. Filing may have been done automatically or by an accountant years before. Some counties, Matt Myjak, licensed CPA and co-founder of Entitled, an online service that helps homeowners fix missed tax exemptions in Cook County, Illinois, explains, apply exemptions automatically. Other counties require you to apply for the exemption once, and still others require an annual application.
In states where homestead exemptions are thought to be automatic, it’s still important to check whether an exemption has already been filed on your behalf. But in rare cases, finding out that a homestead exemption has been filed — or renewed — for you automatically can feel like a happy accident.
Quick-click: Where to find homestead exemption applications by state
Cornerstone Home Lending, Inc., is now lending in 40 states. Click below to find the homestead exemption application information in one of the states we lend in:
- Arizona – Automatic
- Delaware – No homestead exemption; partial tax exemptions may vary by county.
- District of Columbia
- Michigan – Now called the Principal Residence Exemption (PRE).
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Tennessee – No homestead exemption; property tax rebates may be available for low-income elderly, disabled persons, and disabled vets.
- West Virginia
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For educational purposes only. Please contact a qualified professional for specific guidance.
Sources are deemed reliable but not guaranteed.