Oak Park property tax bill updates

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Property tax bills due March 1
First installment property tax bills, mailed to Oak Park property owners in the last week of January, are due on March 1, according to a press release from Oak Park Township Assessor Ali ElSaffar. Property taxes are paid in two installments, so the first bill is one-half of the total property tax bill for the previous year.

"If a bill is not paid or postmarked by March 1, the amount due will increase at a rate of 1.5 percent per month on any unpaid taxes," ElSaffar said.

Property owners who do not have their mortgage companies paying their taxes can make tax payments in person, by mail or online at the Cook County Treasurer's website. In-person payments are accepted at the Treasurer's downtown office at 118 N. Clark St. and at any Bank One branch in the Chicago area. Bank One branches most convenient to Oak Park residents are located at 800 Madison St., 933 Madison St. and 1048 Lake St. in Oak Park, and 630 N. Harlem Ave. in River Forest. Payments are no longer accepted at LaSalle Bank.

Online payments can be made through March 1 by selecting "online payment" at www.cookcountytreasurer.com. There's a $1 fee for paying online.

If money for property taxes is paid into an escrow account with a mortgage company, the mortgage company should receive the tax bill electronically. Homeowners with these escrow accounts who receive copies of their bills should not pay the property taxes themselves. "The Oak Park Township Assessor's office can help taxpayers obtain refunds for overpaid taxes. But it is better for taxpayers with mortgage escrows to avoid this situation altogether by taking care not to make double payments," advises ElSaffar.

To verify that mortgage companies collecting tax escrows are making tax payments, ElSaffar suggests that taxpayers check Cook Country Treasurer Maria Pappas' website at www.cookcountytreasurer.com shortly after the March 1 due date. Just log on and enter the property's Permanent Index Number (PIN). Taxpayers without Internet access can call the Oak Park Township Assessor's office at 383-8005 for help.

If taxpayers did not receive their property tax bills, ElSaffar can pick up duplicates at the County Building.

Tax relief available for seniors

Senior citizens struggling with property tax bills can enroll in a program that will permit them to pay no property taxes at all, according to a press release from Oak Park Township Assessor Ali ElSaffar. Under the Senior Citizen Tax Deferral Program, qualifying seniors can defer payment of their property taxes until their homes or condos are sold.

To qualify, seniors must have an annual household income of less than $40,000, equity in their homes that exceeds the sum of property taxes deferred, and have lived in their homes for three years.

Applications for the program, administered by Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, are due on March 1.

The tax deferral program is essentially a loan from the state that must be repaid with annual interest of 6 percent when the house is sold. To ensure the money is repaid, a lien is placed on the senior's home that will prevent it from being sold without full repayment.

ElSaffar encourages Oak Park senior homeowners with financial problems to consider the program, but cautions that seniors should consider discussing the matter with legal advisors, financial advisers or family members. He's available to help seniors who wish to apply, but encourages them to apply early, since it's difficult to put everything together at the last minute.

There are also other tax benefits available to senior citizens. "If you are eligible for the deferral, you are probably also eligible for the senior freeze and the senior homestead exemption," said ElSaffar. "By applying for the other senior benefits, you will reduce your property tax liability, which reduces the deferred tax that will eventually be
repaid."

Seniors interested in additional details should call the Oak Park Township Assessor's office at 383-8005 or the Cook County Treasurer's office at (312) 603-5034.

?#34;Laura Stuart

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