Bud Kennedy

It's true: In Texas, if you're 65, you don't have to pay property taxes. But it's better if you do.

Property Taxes 101: What is the 'homestead exemption' and how does it work?

Star-Telegram engagement/opinion editor Shelley Kofler sits down with Jeff Law, chief appraiser for the Tarrant Appraisal District, to explain what a 'homestead exemption' is and how it works.
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Star-Telegram engagement/opinion editor Shelley Kofler sits down with Jeff Law, chief appraiser for the Tarrant Appraisal District, to explain what a 'homestead exemption' is and how it works.

Lupe Valdez is more than $7,000 behind on her property taxes, which is bad form for political candidates, even by Texas standards.

The Dallas Democrat owes it and paid $4,700 Friday on what had been a $12,000-plus debt, according to the deft work by the Houston Chronicle.

But that also brings up an oft-forgotten clause in Texas tax law:

If you're 65 or older — Valdez is 70 — you don't ever have to pay property tax on your own home.

That tax bill? Ignore it. Just file an affidavit instead.

Sure, the taxes will be collected later. But not until the house is transferred or sold. (Along with interest.)

Texas law allows seniors and the disabled, among others, to file a form that stops tax collection.

At least one tax official said everybody should file the form, just in case you get a little behind.

"I recommended it to my father," said Randy Riggs, the McLennan County (Waco) tax assessor-collector and secretary of the state tax assessors' association.

"He pays his taxes. But if something happened and he missed a payment, there wouldn't be any penalty."

Politicians don't say much about this little pay-later plan.

There's a reason.

"They don't really want too many people to know," Riggs said.

"If there's less tax revenue because of deferrals, then they have to raise the rate. But the Legislature doesn't want that. They're in a pickle."

In Tarrant County, 3,379 homeowners have filed the paperwork to stop tax collections on their homestead. (A second state law allows other homeowners to defer paying the added taxes from rapidly rising property value.)

"It's pretty simple — they complete the form and that stops any collection efforts," said Jeff Law, chief appraiser for the Fort Worth-based Tarrant Appraisal District.

"They still get a tax bill, and a lot of them still pay. Or they can pay later."

Tax consultant Randy McKechnie of Arlington said the pay-later plan might be good for someone with a fixed income and a small house, but not a homeowner with a big house and big tax bill that would gather interest.

"It's not designed for people with plenty of money who can afford to pay," he said.

"Most people who can pay their taxes pay them. They don't want their heirs or children strapped with debt."

This doesn't work for everybody. If you're still paying off your home, lenders want you paying taxes. Some homeowners associations do, too.

None of this applies to Valdez, who owes the back taxes on several other Dallas and Ellis county properties, not her Oak Cliff home.

If you sign up to run — you'd better be paid up.

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