Locals questioned at year’s end as tax overhaul approaches

In this Dec. 26, 2017 photo, people line-up at the Town of Hempstead tax receiver’s office to pay their real estate taxes before the end of the year, hoping for one last chance to take advantage of a major tax deduction before it is wiped out in the new year. The tax overhaul signed last week by President Donald Trump puts a new $10,000 limit on the amount of state and local taxes people can deduct from their income when calculating their federal tax liability. (Howard Schnapp/Newsday via AP)

The phones were ringing at property tax collection offices in area counties, but the answer was the same.

 

“You cannot pay taxes before you’ve gotten a bill,” says the law in Georgia, as well as South Carolina, officials with the tax commissioner’s offices in Richmond and Columbia counties and Aiken County treasurer were telling callers Thursday.

Nationwide, many property owners were lining up to pre-pay their 2018 property taxes ahead of a 2018 cap on deductions included in the tax overhaul passed by Congress and signed by the president. The cap limits the federal income tax deduction for state, local and property taxes to $10,000.

Richmond County Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick said his office had received maybe 100 inquiries about paying early.

The Georgia Department of Revenue does not allow counties to collect taxes until they issue a bill, he said. Counties can’t issue tax bills until they compile and submit annual tax digests to the state, have them approved by the revenue department and set school board and local government tax rates, Kendrick said.

“I’ve been asked every year for nine years – can I pay in advance?” he said. “But it’s not legally possible. We could figure out a way to do it if the law permitted it.”

Wayne Bridges, tax commissioner for Columbia County, said state penalties are steep for accepting tax payments early.

“We got a lot of calls. The bottom line is we can’t do it,” he said. “If we were to accept a $100 check, the state would fine us double that.”

The Internal Revenue Service issued an advisory Wednesday stating that prepaid property taxes may be deductible if they are both paid in 2017 and assessed prior to 2018. The dates that taxes are assessed are set by state and local laws, and Georgia requires the tax digests be approved beforehand.

Tax offices aren’t the only places experiencing a year-end rush tied to the national tax overhaul. Charitable organizations and churches are seeing a rise and encouraging donors to give before Jan. 1.

“We’re seeing a slight uptick but the next three days we’ll probably see a big increase,” said Jim Stiff, president of Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia and the CSRA.

The tax overhaul doubles the standard federal income tax deduction to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for couples, so many taxpayers who currently itemize deductions – including charitable donations – may find it no longer beneficial to do so when they pay taxes on 2018 income.

“We need people to give all year round to sustain the mission, but we are encouraging people, if they ask us, to please maximize their gifts now because it can benefit you,” Stiff said.

Year-round, Stiff said only about 60 percent of people who donate material items such as clothing ask for a receipt for tax purposes.

 

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