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Not too late to pay property taxes

By submitted, 11/26/20 7:58 AM

LITTLE ROCK – We’ve talked a lot lately about the deadline to pay property taxes, but sometimes, life gets in the way. Maybe you weren’t able to pay those property taxes, and now you feel overwhelmed.

It’s not too late. You can still pay.

Delinquent real estate taxes can seem unfathomable and confusing. Welcome to our explainer.

Just like income taxes, property taxes are paid one year behind. Taxes are payable from March 1 to Oct. 15, and are considered delinquent after Oct. 15.

Taxes aren’t immediately certified to us the day after the deadline. Right now, you can still contact your county collector’s office to pay.

There will be a penalty for late payment, and interest has begun accruing. And most counties will not accept checks for delinquent taxes.

Behind the scenes, county collectors are preparing lists of property owners with delinquent taxes. For many owners, this is the first year they’ve missed. For others, it’s the second year of delinquency, and these are potential certifications. Many collectors’ offices will attempt to notify the delinquent property owners – by postcard, letter, or phone call – that their taxes are overdue.

For those who forgot the deadline, that contact is a welcome reminder. The message is simple: “Your taxes have not been paid. We will publish a list of delinquencies in the local newspaper on (date).”

If it’s the second year of delinquency, there’s more to the message: “Since your taxes are two years delinquent, we will certify your real estate taxes to the state on (date).”

When the property owner receives this notice and pays promptly, that’s the end of it. Everything is in good standing, and the owner’s name will not appear in the published delinquency list.

But left unpaid, it goes public: at some point, the county will post a legal notice with the names of property owners owing delinquent taxes and a deadline to pay those taxes.

And you still have time to pay.

More happens behind the scenes then: the real estate parcels whose taxes are two years delinquent go onto the certification list. Before finalizing that list, the collector sends it to the assessor’s office. The assessor verifies legal descriptions and signs off on the list before returning it to the collector.

And THEN it is certified to the Commissioner of State Lands.

At that point, the county cannot accept payments on the certified property.

“But when exactly is that point?” you ask.

It depends.

We know that’s not what you wanted to hear. Here’s why: counties are required to certify by July 1 next year. Some counties will certify before the end of this year. Others will wait until late June 2021, giving their residents the maximum amount of time to pay.

When the COSL receives the certification, we begin processing it. Most counties certify electronically now, which simplifies the process. Back when every county sent a physical paper list, it took a long time to manually enter data into our system. It’s much faster now, but it’s not instant.

That means when you request a petition to redeem, we may tell you it’s not ready yet. Or when you try to pay online, the system may tell you there’s no such parcel. If you have requested a petition to redeem, we will send it to you as soon as we have processed the certification. Or you can check back on the online system periodically.

When we complete a redemption, we send a redemption deed to the circuit clerk’s office. The circuit clerk and assessor update county records, and the property goes back onto the active tax rolls.

Sometimes the owner redeems property and then goes to the courthouse to pay current taxes, before the county has been able to completely update its records. Different counties have different ways of handling this. One collector has an employee monitor our website for redemption or sale updates. Another calls us if county records still show delinquency when a customer says they’ve redeemed. We welcome either. This allows the county to accept payments even if the redemption hasn’t officially been processed at the county yet. It also means that the owner can pay improvement taxes and other fees that the COSL office doesn’t collect.

If you were unable to pay property taxes this year, check with your county collector’s office. Right now, you can probably still pay at the county. And if you already have property certified to this office, we’ll be glad to help you with the redemption process.