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What if I can't pay my California property taxes?

Owning a home in California is an expensive proposition.

When you buy the house, you look at the monthly mortgage payment to make sure you can afford it. But don't just consider the amount of the principal and interest to determine your monthly house-related costs. Add in utilities and maintenance, plus plan for long-term improvements, such as a new roof.

And certainly, don't forget the property taxes.

California property taxes are capped by Proposition 13, which voters approved in 1978. It regulates the property tax rates, as well as the allowable amount of increase each year. Under Prop 13, the rules prohibit property taxes from rising wildly if the property value has a large increase.

Property owners in the Golden State receive their annual bills in two installments. One is due by Dec. 10 of each year, the other by April 10. If you disagree with the assessment of the property, you can appeal the rate that has been set with the county assessment appeals board. A successful appeal will reduce your property taxes.

If you don't have the funds to pay the bills, you might be eligible for some aid if you've been affected by a natural disaster, and there typically is some assistance available for seniors and disabled.

If you don't pay the first installment, the county will add a penalty. If you miss the second payment, you'll receive another penalty. And if the tax collector doesn't have the payment by June 30, the tax is declared to be in default and interest on the past due amount will accrue.

The county might be willing to accept a payment plan for the past due amount, but you will need to pay new tax bills as they arrive. And if the tax account is in default for five years, the county can auction off your property.

Property taxes are a serious commitment you take on when you buy your home. Not paying that bill can land you in some trouble, and a California attorney experienced in tax law can answer questions and help you move forward so that you can enjoy your home without a tax situation hanging over you.

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