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Programs provide property tax relief for seniors, veterans

Skyrocketing property tax assessments have some senior citizens on fixed incomes afraid they'll lose their homes - even though many paid-off their mortgages years ago.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Skyrocketing property tax assessments have some senior citizens on fixed incomes afraid they'll lose their homes – even though many paid-off their mortgages years ago.

Three tax-relief programs are aimed at helping seniors and veterans keep their homes. These programs are available statewide; for more information click here.

Officials, aware that the programs are being under-utilized, have scheduled information sessions to help educate the public about the programs.

“I think sometimes people may feel they have to cut through a lot of red tape to qualify for these programs,” Wake County Revenue Director Marcus Kinrade said.” I want them to understand we are very easy to get to, we are very easy to deal with and will help them if they need help. They just need to be proactive and contact us.”

Under the Elderly or Disabled Exclusion program, the first $25,000 or 50 percent (whichever is greater) of the assessed value for the permanent residence is excluded when a property tax bill is created.

To qualify for this program, applicants must be 65 or older or totally and permanently disabled, total income (including social security, pension, IRA distributions, etc.) for the  applicant and spouse must be $25,600 or less. Unmarried, joint property owners must apply separately.

With the Circuit Breaker Tax Deferment Program, taxes for each year are limited to a percentage of the homeowner’s income. Taxes above the limit are deferred until a future date. The last three years of deferred taxes become payable with interest if a disqualifying event occurs. Transfer of the property and death of the owner are two examples of disqualifying events.

Owners with income at or under $25,600 will have taxes limited to 4 percent of their income. For owners whose income is between $25,600 and $38,400, the owner’s taxes will be limited to 5 percent of their income.

Applicants must be 65 years of age or totally and permanently disabled. The previous year’s total income for both the applicant and spouse cannot exceed $38,400, according to the county’s Web site. Unmarried joint property owners must apply and qualify separately. All owners must have owned and occupied the residence for the previous five years.

Applicants must re-apply for the program annually.

The Circuit Breaker Tax Deferment Program is new. It was approved by the General Assembly for 2009. Kinrade described the program as “complex.”

“We’ve had very few applications for Circuit Breaker,” Kinrade said. “I don’t know if it’s because people don’t understand it or they don’t know about it.”

The third program – the Disabled Veteran Exclusion – is available to honorably discharged disabled veterans with total or permanent service related disabilities or their unmarried surviving spouse. Certification of the disability must be provided. There is no age or income limitation.

The program excludes up to the first $45,000 of the appraised value of the permanent residence. The program was recently changed to include all homes, not just those specially adapted to include items like a ramp. Those approved do not need to reapply unless their disability or benefit status changes.

Participants who also qualify for the Elderly or Disabled Exclusion cannot participate in both programs.

John Hagler said he purchased his Wake County home in 1964 for $15,000. Now it's valued at $386,000. Afraid he may lose his home, Hagler attended an information session on Tuesday at the Wake County Commons Building in Raleigh. Hagler said his pension and Social Security income put him over the limits to qualify for the programs.

Other sessions are planned for March 31 at the Eastern Regional Center, 1002 Dogwood Drive, Zebulon; April 8 at the Holly Springs Cultural Center, 300 W. Ballentine St., Holly Springs; and April 21 at the Northern Regional Center, 350 E. Holding Ave., Wake Forest.


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