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With a Dec. 31 deadline looming, eight employees in the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation are being swamped with more than 4,000 calls a day regarding a new rule affecting the Homestead Tax Credit — and only about 10 percent of the calls are getting through, a department official said.

There is a lot of confusion about who has to apply for the tax credit, and homeowners are scrambling to obtain information, said Michael W. Griffin, associate director of taxpayer services at the department. “Every single person in our department who has any knowledge of homestead has been on the phone,” Griffin said.

As it happens, many of the inquiries are from residents who don’t have to reapply for the Homestead Tax Credit if they have applied in the past five years. Still, for others, the applications must be postmarked by Dec. 31, or the homeowners will not be eligible for the credit in the 2013 tax year.

State lawmakers are blasting their constituents with emails reminding them to file for the tax credit, which limits the annual increase in taxable assessment to 10 percent. While the assessed value of a home may rise, the portion of that additional value that can be taxed is capped at 10 percent, although many local jurisdictions set lower caps.

The urgency around the deadline is causing some confusion, Griffin said.

“A lot of people think they need to reapply, and our phone and email systems are overwhelmed,” Griffin said. About 75 percent of the calls coming to the department are from homeowners who already have applied or are looking to confirm their application, he said.

Homeowners can check to see if their application has been filed during the five-year grace period by going to www.dat.state.md.us or calling 410-767-2165. Filing an application online requires an access code, which was sent with notifications of a property’s assessed value.

The application also can be downloaded and sent to the department, although staff will be unable to confirm that the application has been received.

Griffin said the department has about 100,000 applications waiting to be opened and verified.

Thus far, the department has received about 1 million applications, and Griffin estimates that 1.5 million properties are potentially eligible for the credit.

But this credit applies only to homes used as the primary residence of the homeowner.

In 2007, the General Assembly passed a law requiring homeowners to submit a one-time application for the credit, to ensure that each homeowner was getting only one credit.

Prior to 2007, there was no application process to verify that a property was occupied by the homeowner, and the credit was automatically granted to properties that were not designated as a vacation or rental property.

Griffin estimates that about 100,000 to 125,000 homeowners will lose their credit due to disqualification.

hnunn@gazette.net