Sacramento residents pay their taxes early

Sacramento County homeowners head to the tax collector's office to prepay their April 10 property tax installment.
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Sacramento County homeowners head to the tax collector's office to prepay their April 10 property tax installment.
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Residents line up to pay tax bills early after Trump tax plan alters deductions

By Hudson Sangree

hsangree@sacbee.com

December 26, 2017 06:05 PM

Residents lined up before the doors opened Tuesday at the Sacramento County Administration Building to do something people aren’t normally so eager to do: pay their taxes early.

Many were intent on saving money while they can.

The Republican tax plan signed by President Donald Trump last week limits deductions of state and local taxes to $10,000 starting next year. It also nearly doubles the standard deduction for single filers to $12,000 and for married couples to $24,000.

That means some who itemize won’t be able to deduct all their property taxes – and many others will no longer file itemized returns because their deductible expenses don’t exceed the new standard deduction.

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Quite a few of those affected believe they can save by paying the April installment of their property taxes before the end of the year, allowing them to deduct the payment on their 2017 taxes.

For instance, someone in the 25 percent federal tax bracket (individuals earning between $37,950 and $91,900 in taxable income in 2017) might save about $500 by paying a $2,000 property tax installment this week instead of in April.

“My accountant told me it was the thing to do,” said Steve Sheffield, a Sacramento-area retiree who stood in the cashier’s line Tuesday, tax bill in hand. “Next year I probably won’t be able to itemize.”

Tax professionals warn that it won’t make sense for everyone to make an early payment and say those considering it should check with their accountants.

Plenty of people seem to think it will help.

On Tuesday morning, lines spilled out of the county tax collector’s office into the lobby. Sometimes there were 50 or 60 people waiting in line; at other times, just a few.

County officials have urged residents to make their tax payments in person, if possible, or through the county’s website to make sure the payments are recorded before the new year.

“If you mail your payment now, it won’t be processed until after Jan. 1,” said Larry Grose, with the Sacramento County Assessor’s Office.

The county charges nominal fees to pay tax bills online by electronic check or debit card, but a 2.29 percent “convenience fee” is added to credit card payments. That’s more than $45 for a $2,000 payment.

El Dorado, Placer and Yolo counties also have online payment systems.

Yolo County offices are closed this week, though a recorded phone message at the tax collector’s office said there’s a drop box in the county administration building in downtown Woodland.

Placer County’s tax collection office is open normal business hours and can accept payments in person or online.

A recording at the El Dorado County tax collector’s office Tuesday said it was closed because of the holiday, but it was unclear if the office would reopen this week.

Though it might not be the best option, sending a payment by mail remains workable, according to some tax professionals.

Eric Waidmann, assistant treasurer-tax collector for Placer County, said his office will accept payments through a mail system that provides proof of delivery.

Federal tax rules provide that a payment postmarked by Dec. 31 will qualify for the 2017 tax year, said Marianina Godinho, a certified public accountant in Sacramento’s North Natomas neighborhood. However, it might become a headache later without proper documentation, she said.

“The IRS would accept the postmark, but it would be the homeowner’s burden to show it was mailed in a timely manner,” Godinho said. Sending it by a method that provides proof of mailing and delivery, such as certified mail via the U.S. Postal Service, probably would be best, she said.

Godinho said she encourages her clients to pay online and print out a dated receipt.

For those whose mortgage servicers normally pay their property taxes from an escrow or impound account, paying early may mean having to wait months for reimbursement by the servicer, she said.

In the meantime, county collectors will likely remain busy this week helping taxpayers who want to get the benefit of an early property tax payment.

Waidmann said the Placer County tax collector’s office in Auburn processed about 300 transactions Tuesday and was as busy as it normally would be on the days that taxes are due: Dec. 10 and April 10.

“It’s usually very quiet this time of year,” he said.

Hudson Sangree: 916-321-1191, @hudson_sangree