Estimated Tax Bills Confound Residents, Council Members
Many residents have incorrectly calculated their annual tax burden by multiplying their third quarter estimated tax bill by four.
If after the first glance at your estimated third quarter tax bill it appears that, after multiplying by four, your taxes for the year have risen precipitously, don't panic.
You performed the calcuation wrong.
"That’s not the way you do it," tax assessor Tim Henderson said Wednesday. "You always pay more in the third and fourth quarter than you do in the first two quarters.”
Henderson said the most common mistake residents make when calculating their annual tax burden is multiplying their estimated third quarter tax bill by four.
"That’s been the biggest thing we've been questioned about," he said. "People look at their new estimated bill and say, 'Oh geez, my taxes are going up this amount of money.'"
That's exactly what happened to resident Thomas Lombardo, who spoke at Tuesday's council work session.
"I didn't understand it, I multiplied it by four," he said. "I faxed it to my bank, they read it, discussed it and they did the same thing."
If you were one of the many residents fooled by the tax calculation, don't feel bad. Deputy Mayor Ed Trawinski, the Bergen County administrator, didn't get it either.
"The first thing I did when I saw my son and daughter’s tax bills was multiply it by four," Trawinski said Tuesday. "I was a real estate attorney before I became the county administrator and I didn’t understand it.”
While this non-intuitive tax calculation isn't new, and residents have been calling the borough confused about it for years, this year's bill caused extra consternation for some residents because it represented the most dramatic tax increase they had seen.
"It was more profound this year because of the reassessment," borough manager Tom Metzler explained. "[Residents] saw this massive number, and of course right away it’s like 'Holy!' and then it’s times four.”
Council discussed the confusing estimated tax bills at Tuesday night's meeting and decided that any future estimated tax bills should include literature that explains how to perform the proper calculation.
"If we ever send out an estimated bill in the future, we need to send it with an explanatory note," Trawinski said.
Metzler and the rest of council said they couldn't agree more.
So how does one actually perform the calculation using an estimated third quarter tax bill? It's best explained using real numbers. Bear with me here.
Let's say that after the reassessment your property is valued at $576,000.
- Multiply your assessed value by the tax rate -- $576,000 * .03004=$17,303.04
- Then take the amount in taxes you paid for the first and second quarter of this year and add them (they will always be the same number) -- $3,959 + $3,959=$7,918
- Subtract (2) from (1) -- $17,303.04 - $7,918 = $9,385.04
- Divide (3) by 2 -- $9,385.04 / 2 = $4,692.52 (this should be your estimated third quarter tax bill)
- Your fourth quarter tax bill, which has yet to be finalized, will likely be extremely close to (4). For our purposes, let's say that it equals (4) or $4,692.52
- Now you take (1), which is just all four of your quarterly bills from 2012 added together -- $3,959 + $3,959 + $4,692.52 + $4,692.52 = $17,303.04 and you divide it by four -- $17,303.04 / 4 = $4,325.76 (this represents your first and second quarter tax bills for 2013)
- Add your third and fourth quarter bills for 2012 and your first and second quarter bills for 2013 to get your total tax burden for the next year - $4,692.52 + $4,692.52 + $4,325.76 + $4,325.76 = $18,036.56
- Finally, to calculate the difference between your real tax burden for the next year and what you would have gotten had you just by calculated your estimated third quarter tax bill by four, you take -- $18,770.08 - $18,036.56 = $733.52 (this is how much more you would have thought you owed in taxes had you done the calculation wrong and just multiplied your estimated third quarter tax bill by four)
- If your brain isn't scrambled by now, just plug in your own numbers to find out how an incorrect calculation may have affected your bill.
- Breath a sigh of relief that your taxes, while still high, aren't as bad as you thought they were.
- Of course, if your taxes actually went down this year and you calculated them by mutiplying your estimated third quarter bill by four, then you're actually losing money by calculating properly.