Paying online makes it easy for taxpayers

Published on Saturday, 25 January 2014 21:53 - Written by By Adam Russell arussell@tylerpaper.com

Like everyone else, David Maples, of Flint, hates the inevitability of paying property taxes.

Maples, 43, said he is also a bit of a procrastinator. He’s lived in Smith County for nine years and typically stood in long lines at the Cotton Belt Building to pay by check just before the deadline.

But for the past three years, Maples has forgone the lines. He’s forgone driving across town. Instead, Maples paid his taxes by electronic check, and the switch has added ease to the process and even lessened his penchant for waiting.

“The process took about 60 seconds total,” he said. “I wish more places would offer payment by electronic check.”

The tax office accepts cash, check, money order, credit card, debit card and electronic check payment.

Tax statements are due upon receipt but the deadline for payment is Friday.

Smith County Tax Assessor/Collector Gary Barber said he wanted to emphasize the easiest, cheapest way to pay property tax statements — online by electronic check.

Taxpayers who typically wait until the last minute should pay online to avoid missing the deadline and facing penalties, he said. Payments must be postmarked Jan. 31 or before to prevent penalties.

Barber said he has noticed postmarks take later to post since the U.S. Postal Service closed its processing center near Tyler.

Barber said he would personally extend the hours for drop-off payments until 7 p.m. Friday. He said he would accept drop-offs in the Cotton Belt Building parking lot.

“I want to make it as convenient as possible and I want to make sure people avoid penalties,” he said.

But Barber said electronic checks allow taxpayers to pay for free and without driving across town or standing in lines. Taxpayers can also print receipts so they are sure the balance is paid, he said.

Barber said more and more residents are using electronic checks to pay tax bills and he hopes the trend continues.

Credit card payments include a convenience fee of 2.5 percent of the balance. The convenience fee would cost $125 on a $5,000 tax bill. The convenience fee for using debit cards is $3.95.

Taxpayers can access their tax information at smith-county.com. Taxpayers can post payments and print receipts from the site.

Barber stressed that only a postmark before the deadline would prevent penalties. Putting the tax bill in the mailbox does not guarantee it will be postmarked by the deadline, he said.

“Pay online because you get a receipt and know it’s taken care of,” he said. “We have people miss the deadline every year and are hit with the 7 percent penalty.”

The tax office accepts partial payments on current and delinquent taxes.

Residents 65 and older or disabled residents qualify for quarterly payments. No penalties or interest are assessed if payments are received on time for homesteads.

Residents must file for this exemption and make the first payment on or before Friday.

Physical and technological improvements at the main tax office also will benefit taxpayers and tax office staff this year, Barber said. Walk-in customers will have three additional teller windows this year.

“Self-serve” payment kiosks, with touch-screens and multiple payment options, will allow customers to access their tax information and pay. Staff will be on hand to assist taxpayers, he said.

Barber said the options should make the process easier.

Penalties begin at 7 percent on Feb. 1 and increase 2 percent per month until it reaches 18 percent by July 1 in addition to a 15 percent collection fee. Penalties continue to escalate in 1 percent increments after that.

The main tax office is in the Cotton Belt Building, 1517 W. Front St. in Tyler. Office hours are from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Taxpayers also can make payments at the office in Lindale, 2616 S. Main St., from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.