Property Tax Payment Option Benefits Property Owners and Counties, Even During COVID-19
Property taxes have been in the news as of late as many of those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic worried how to meet the twice-annual deadline, the most recent being April 10.
But of the numerous articles that ran, one important success story was missed. The CSAC Finance Corporation rolled out its Easy Smart Pay property tax payment program in Kings County in time for the April 10th deadline to allow a one-time online payment option during a time of crisis.
Easy Smart Pay is a product of a corporation formed by the CSAC Finance Corporation to help California property owners streamline their property tax payments. It began in San Luis Obispo County when residents approached Supervisor Bruce Gibson to determine if there were any opportunities to make more frequent, monthly property tax payments.
Counties collect property taxes twice a year — on December 10 and April 10 — and a significant percentage of mortgage holders “collect” and distribute property taxes directly to the county through an impound escrow account that includes their monthly loan payment. About 70 percent of property owners, those without mortgages or impound accounts, have to plan on two big annual bills, as county billing and collection systems are not designed with monthly payments in mind and reconfiguring would be prohibitively costly and time consuming for counties.
Wanting to address constituent concerns, Supervisor Gibson approached the CSAC Finance Corp to determine if any other systems existed to allow for monthly property tax payments. Realizing that no such systems existed, Easy Smart Pay was born. In counties that offer the Easy Smart Pay solution, taxpayers can choose to create an Easy Smart Pay account and pay property taxes monthly with a credit/debit card or directly from their checking account. Many property owners without impound accounts are over age 65, so stretching two large bills into monthly increments can be much easier for budgeting purposes.
Kings County Solution
Paying bills online with a credit or debit card has become commonplace, but that option has not been available for property tax payments in Kings County. Faced with the looming April 10 payment deadline and the physical distancing order from the state, Kings County Director of Finance James Erb had real concerns: “I didn’t want to have a line of people coming into the office to pay their property taxes because of COVID-19 concerns. It wasn’t right for my staff, not right for our community.” Erb reached out to Easy Smart Pay and was able to secure a one-time credit card payment arrangement by the end of March. After sending a letter announcing the program, more than 300 Kings County property owners signed up for Easy Smart Pay online payments. Moving forward, monthly payment options will be available to those who chose to pay online in April.
“Easy Smart Pay solved an existing need in Kings County at a time of crisis and will provide benefit into the future,” said Erb. “Property owners can now make monthly payments online, and the pressure is off of the county to come up with a new payment system.”
Now, paying property taxes online in monthly installments isn’t the only benefit of the Easy Smart Pay program. With 12.6 million parcels in California, taxpayers who own properties in multiple counties are faced with multiple billing statements to keep track of. Furthermore, property owners who use credit cards to make their property tax payments twice a year are assessed between a 2.25 percent and 4 percent fee, which varies by county. No matter what the county, the credit card fee is 2.25 percent with Easy Smart Pay.
Currently, Easy Smart Pay is available in Kings, San Luis Obispo and Yolo Counties. A recent partnership with the National Association of Counties (NACo) may help extend the reach even further. And what’s the benefit to Counties? There’s no cost to the county and no need to develop a new system or software. Easy Smart Pay integrates seamlessly with existing County systems.
“Counties across the country are seeing costs skyrocket and revenues plummet as a result of the coronavirus pandemic,” said National Association of Counties Executive Director Matthew Chase. “Now more than ever, we need convenient, safe options for residents to pay property taxes that support our COVID-19 response efforts. Easy Smart Pay has many benefits for counties and taxpayers year-round and especially during a time of crisis.”
For more information on the Easy Smart Pay program please contact Alan Fernandes, Chief Executive Officers of the CSAC Finance Corporation.