Tax breaks for seniors
If you’re age 65 or over, you’re likely quite familiar with the many advantages you can receive for having reached that milestone. A number of agencies responsible for administering these benefits (e.g., Social Security, Medicare) expend significant amounts of time and money on education and outreach efforts to help ensure awareness among those persons eligible to take advantage of their programs. In California, however, many local taxing authorities miss the mark when it comes to publicizing critical eligibility and application information with regard to certain local property tax exemptions available to those who are 65 years old, on limited income, or both. As a result, it can take a great deal of effort to learn how to take advantage of these benefits, especially as local standards and procedures can vary greatly.
After the passage of Proposition 13 by the voters in 1978, local jurisdictions across California resorted to a number of different methods permitted under state law, including assessments and parcel taxes, to make up for tax revenues eliminated as a result of that historic law. To meet their specific revenue needs, many of these agencies (primarily counties and specialized service districts) sought to impose parcel taxes dedicated to particular purposes (most notably education, but for other uses as well, including environmental protection and improvement), which required approval by local voters.
Exemptions for persons over 65
In order to garner the necessary votes for adoption, many taxing authorities included provisions in their proposed parcel taxes to allow certain exemptions for persons over 65 (who are presumably retired) or of limited means. The precise qualifications, amounts, and application procedures for these exemptions may vary greatly between these various parcel taxes, however, and there is no clearinghouse or central repository to collect and maintain this information on a statewide basis. In response, the California State Tax Foundation has attempted to assemble a comprehensive list of the available exemptions and has posted this list on its website.
While the most common (and highest dollar amount) exemptions available to seniors have been granted with respect to parcel taxes for educational purposes by school districts and related taxing authorities, other agencies have also established similar exemptions with respect to their special assessments. For example, the Santa Clara Valley Water District adopted the Clean, Safe Creeks special parcel tax in 2000, which exempts seniors who make less than 75% of the state median household income. This exemption does not require taxpayers to file an application each year; rather, once an application has been filed, the District contacts the taxpayer by mail asking if he or she still qualifies.
Review your tax bill carefully
My recommendation is to review your tax bill carefully to see which parcel taxes or special assessments you are paying, as your tax bill lists each special parcel tax or assessment separately. You should then contact the taxing authority directly (by phone, mail or electronically) to inquire about any exemptions for which you may qualify. Finally, do not delay in doing this, as some agencies have set a limited annual time window to accept and process applications for exemption.