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Property Tax-Aide Aims to Uncover Savings

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Elizabeth Hughes Hitomi leads Nancy Strathman through a survey to see if she and her husband qualify for a property tax refund. Photo by Ackerman + Gruber
Ackerman + Gruber

By Pamela Schmid

Elizabeth Hughes Hitomi points to the Big Lake couple she helped last year as a case study of Minnesotans who have no inkling that they may qualify for a property-tax refund.

The parents of two young children had been preparing their taxes for years before dropping by an AARP Foundation Tax-Aide site for free help.

“We don’t qualify for anything there,” Hitomi recalled them saying when asked if they had their property-tax bill.

The Tax-Aide volunteer crunched the numbers anyway and discovered the couple were entitled to a $1,400 refund—plus another $1,200 from 2017.

“That’s an extra $2,600 they didn’t have when they came in,” said Hitomi, 62, of Fridley. “But we know that when we find one person like that, there are others who don’t believe they qualify for a rebate who do. They aren’t being served.”

Fewer than 1 in 10 low- and moderate-income older adults nationwide make use of property-tax-relief programs, according to AARP Foundation.

In an effort to boost those numbers, the organization is launching a new service called Property Tax-Aide, to help homeowners and renters determine if they are eligible for refunds.

The program is an offshoot of AARP Foundation’s widely popular Tax-Aide, which last year served more than 2.5 million Americans, garnering them $1.3 billion in refunds.

Although geared toward older taxpayers, both tax programs are open to all.

Property Tax-Aide will roll out this year in Minnesota, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia, with plans to expand to more than a dozen states by 2020.

Increasing awareness

Minnesota is one of a handful of states that provide property-tax relief to both homeowners and renters, according to Dan Soliman, director of housing impact at AARP Foundation.

The state’s homestead credit is aimed at residents whose property taxes are considered high relative to their incomes.

Last year more than 471,000 Minnesota homeowners received refunds averaging nearly $900 based on 2017 property taxes, and nearly 325,000 renters received credits averaging about $650 based on 2016 rent paid.

Hitomi, the Tax-Aide state coordinator for southern Minnesota, said she believes that the number of people served would be higher with increased awareness and accessibility.

Property taxes are due Aug. 15 in the state. But many counties don’t send out tax bills until after April 15, when most Tax-Aide sites have already closed.

AARP Foundation estimates that more than 9 million low-income homeowners and renters nationwide who are 55 or older are potentially eligible for property-tax-relief programs but don’t apply, with many not knowing these exist.

Last year all 88 Tax-Aide sites in southern Minnesota provided limited service after April 15 to help residents complete their property taxes.

This year the launch of Property Tax-Aide means that every site in the state, staffed by more than 1,000 volunteers, can choose to stay open through July.

Learn about free property-tax services at aarp.org/propertytaxaide or call 833-263-9014.

Pamela Schmid is a writer living in St. Paul.

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