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Assess Your Chances of Tax Savings

June 28, 1996|KATHY M. KRISTOF

Homeowners, pull out your property tax bills.

Now is the time to determine whether your home is worth as much as the County of Los Angeles says it is. If it's not, the 2 1/2-month window between July 2 and Sept. 15 is your last chance to get the assessed value changed for 1996.

This process, called an assessment appeal--filed with the Assessment Appeals Board in downtown Los Angeles--takes roughly a year and will require you to appear in person to state your case to the board. That case must be documented with sales prices of at least three comparable homes in your neighborhood.

You can get the assessment appeals application by mail by calling (213) 974-1471. However, appeals officials suggest you pick up applications in person, simply because the phones are inundated at this time of year. The office is located in the Hall of Administration, 500 W. Temple St., Room B-4, in downtown Los Angeles.

FOR THE RECORD - Correction
Los Angeles Times Friday July 19, 1996 Home Edition Business Part D Page 3 Financial Desk 2 inches; 63 words Type of Material: Correction
A recent Consumer Checklist about property tax appeals incorrectly said that refunds for successful appeals would be applied to next year's property tax bills. If an appeal is approved in the current year, the bill will be adjusted to reflect the reduced tax. Otherwise, county auditors will send a refund check. Don't delay sending tax payments because you expect a refund, auditors caution. If your payment is late, you'll be subject to tax penalties.

The advantage to picking up the application, aside from avoiding busy signals and long waits on hold, is that the Assessment Appeals office is just down the hall from the county assessor's office, where you can look up the prices of recent sales of comparable homes. A person who wants to spend a minimum of time can pick up the application, fill it out and document her or his case in one trip.

Due to the volume of reassessment appeals, the board estimates it will take approximately one year to review cases submitted this summer. At that point, you'll be notified and asked to come in with your documentation and state your case in person before the board.

The process is cumbersome but often worthwhile. Angelenos typically pay annual property taxes equivalent to 1% of the assessed value of the home. Some school and water districts tack on taxes, also based on the county assessor's determination of your home's value.

Consequently, if the assessed value is overstated by even $20,000, you'd save a minimum of $200 annually if you got the value corrected. And in pricier parts of town, where market prices have dropped by $50,000, $100,000 or more, the savings can amount to literally thousands of dollars annually.

If the Assessment Appeals Board rules in your favor--that happens in roughly half the cases heard--they'll credit your refund to next year's property tax bill. If the refund exceeds the amount of your next tax bill, the difference will be refunded. But don't hold your breath. It typically takes another six months for county auditors to cut the refund checks.

Notably, the process is similar for residents of other California counties. You can get further details by calling your local county assessor's office. In Orange County, the number is (714) 834-2727; Riverside, (909) 275-6200; San Bernardino, (909) 387-6730; and Ventura, (805) 645-1307.

Get free legal and investment advice.

* In honor of its 25th anniversary, Berkeley-based Nolo Press is giving away "Nolo's Little Law Book," a 92-page tome that provides legal answers to questions ranging from what to do if your lawyer overcharges you to what rights you have as a tenant. To get your free copy, call (800) 992-6656.

* Think your stock investments ought to have a heart? Good news. Not only are there plenty of socially and environmentally friendly mutual funds and investment companies, they're putting out free booklets to guide investors on what to look for and what to do without. Co-Op America, inspired by Earth Day, has issued a 32-page "Financial Planning Handbook for Responsible Investors." In addition to explaining how to invest in environmentally friendly ways--avoiding "toxic stocks"--the booklet explains the differences among financial advisors and discusses investing basics. For a free copy, call (800) 713-8086 or write to Financial Planning Handbook, Co-Op America, 1612 K St. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20006.

* The Domini Social Equity Fund is offering voting guidelines for investors who want to screen their company and fund managers based on corporate governance and social issues. For a free copy of the 24-page booklet, call (800) 762-6814.

Check the Web for lowest credit card rates

Three questions: Are you wired? Do you carry a credit card balance or pay annual credit card fees? If so, would you like to check for the latest, lowest rates and fees online?

If you would, Ram Research, the Frederick, Md.-based publisher of credit card newsletter CardTrak, has got the Web site for you. At Ram's put an abbreviated version of its monthly newsletter online and added a host of bells and whistles, including direct links to issuers, where you can apply for a low-fee card online, and an interest rate calculator. With the calculator, you can plug in the name of your current credit card issuer (or your current credit card interest rate) and the amount of your revolving balance.

Think about home improvements

About 40% of Americans plan to make home improvements this year, ranging from minor repairs to major remodels, according to a recent survey sponsored by American Express. More than half the spruce-ups will be done by homeowners themselves, but if price were no object, the hammer would swing the other way--only 10% would still go it alone.

Consumer Checklist is a new feature covering a range of pocketbook issues that are of interest to Californians. To contribute information about new legislation, products, services or surveys, write to Kathy Kristof, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053; or e-mail to

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