Understanding property tax breaks

Seven On Your Side
December 1, 2011 8:15:56 PM PST
The mailing offered potentially hundreds in property tax savings to homebuyers.

But there was an expensive catch for a couple trying to save money which cost them big bucks.

Before you sign anything offering to lower your property tax you'll want to know what to look for.

"These are all my engagement cards, this is my fiancé and I," said Nina Rinaldi, the homeowner.

She's got a ring on her finger and just purchased and renovated a new home with her soon-to-be husband..

Everything was going great for this twenty-something, until she says, the new homeowners made a costly mistake.

"We feel that we were victims, we were misled, and we're just really upset," Rinaldi said.

Last year the young couple got a letter in the mail.

They thought they were signing up for STAR, or New York State School Tax Relief Program, a tax break offered to homeowners statewide.

"We thought it was from the county!" Rinaldi said.

But she was wrong.

Instead, she signed an agreement with a private business called Star Exemption Advisor.

According to the contract, that Rinaldi didn't read fully, Star Exemption is not a government entity.

And she was paying them to simply forward on her paperwork to the county.

Star Exemption's fee, when they get their tax break, one year of property tax savings, in this case is more than a thousand dollars.

"Originally they charged us $1,128.40. I called them and I explained to them, 'I thought this was something from the town. I didn't realize you were a third party company,' and they said, 'We're sorry, we will reduce your payment to $1,000," Rinaldi said.

What the homeowners didn't know is they could've downloaded the exact same form and submitted it to the state in just minutes for free.

"Some companies charge half, some a full year of your full exemption," said Madalyn Farley, the Nassau County Consumer Affairs Commissioner.

The Nassau County Consumer Affairs Commissioner says her office is looking into if anything could be changed to make Star Exemption Advisor's contract clearer to the consumer, but no laws are being broken by companies filing for homeowners.

"The terms of the contract are clear, that you don't need them that they're not affiliated with any government entity," Farley said.

We talked to the head of Star Exemption Advisor who told 7 On Your Side the company offered a discount and a payment plan and is holding her to the signed agreement.

"We feel we were taken advantage of as new homeowners, you know we're inexperienced we're just starting out," Rinaldi said.

Once again, what this company does is fully legal.

It's just something you can easily do yourself in minutes.

The big takeaway is that you need to read all contracts carefully before signing and just keep in mind that no government agency is going to solicit you to save money on your taxes or debts.


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