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THE FINE PRINT

The deadline to file for a real estate tax abatement is Thursday. Here’s what to know.

Houses on Albion Street in Somerville.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

On Monday, Secretary of State William F. Galvin reminded homeowners that Thursday is the deadline to challenge your property tax bill in all but a few cities and towns. In order to be considered for a possible tax break, you must file the necessary paperwork with your city or town by the close of business on Thursday.

With the average property tax bill for a single-family home in Massachusetts now over $7,000, “homeowners may be looking for options to lower their bills, whether through an abatement, deferral, or exemption,” Galvin said in a news release.

Galvin’s tips on property taxes are here.

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Here are some things to know about tax abatements, deferrals, and exemptions:

What is a tax abatement?

If your municipality made an error in the way it computed your tax bill, the abatement process is the way to get it fixed. You can download the two-page application for an abatement here. It requires a short statement on why you should be approved and must be emailed, postmarked, or filed in person no later than Feb. 1.

To whom do I file my abatement application?

Email or mail it directly to the board of assessors or deliver it to the board in your city or town hall. Almost all boards across the state have a website with lots of useful information. Check out yours to make sure you understand the details of the abatement process. The state Department of Revenue, which oversees municipal tax collection, also has helpful information here.

How do I challenge my assessed value?

A little background: Tax rates are set on a per-$1,000-of-valuation basis. Let’s say a city sets the residential rate of $15 per $1,000 of valuation. If the city assesses your house at $450,000, your tax bill is $15 times 450, or $6,750.

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But what if your municipality overvalued your house by $50,000, due to a clerical or data processing error or some other reason? Your tax bill would be $750 ($15 times 50) higher than it should be.

You can’t just not pay your taxes, even if you think you have just cause. You could face expensive penalties if you do. To get the reduction in taxes you think you deserve, pay your quarterly taxes on time (the deadline is Feb. 1 in most municipalities), file for an abatement, and expect a refund if you win.

How do I show my property was overvalued?

You can begin by checking the assessed values of properties in your neighborhood. If the properties are comparable to yours in lot size, amount of living space, and general condition, they should be comparable to yours in assessed value. If yours is inexplicably higher, you’ve got a basis for an abatement.

How do I check values in my neighborhood?

Most municipalities have easy-to-use assessor maps online. You click on a lot in your neighborhood to get an assessed value, plus such details as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms from what’s called the property card. You can also check Zillow or other websites for recent sales of houses similar to yours, even if they are outside your neighborhood. If those sale prices are lower than your assessed value, you may have a case.

Can I appeal an abatement denial?

Yes, if the local board of assessors says no, based on your application, you can appeal to the state Appellate Tax Board, where you may get a hearing. You can find ATB forms and procedures here.

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Are municipalities limited in how much they can increase my taxes under Proposition 2½?

Municipalities can’t increase their total tax levy by more than 2.5 percent year to year, with some exceptions. But that doesn’t mean your tax bill can’t go up more than 2.5 percent in a year. The limit is on total municipal taxes, not individual taxes. There may be a good reason for a boost in your taxes, such as improvements to your house or market demand.

What is a tax deferral?

Retirees or others who want to stay in their homes but can’t afford to pay the taxes may seek an agreement with their city or town for a tax deferral. If approved, their taxes would not be reduced but they would be deferred until they sell their property or die. Then, the taxes would be paid from equity in the house. Under state law, a municipality can charge up to 8 percent interest on deferred taxes, but cities and towns have the option to charge less (and some do). There are age (65 and older) and income restrictions.

Anyone approved for a tax deferral must apply again every year. More information is available here.

What is a tax exemption?

Unlike a deferral, a tax exemption eliminates the need to pay all or part of a homeowner’s taxes.

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Who qualifies for an exemption?

Generally, those age 65 and older; the legally blind; widows, widowers, and minor children of a deceased parent; surviving spouses of a police officer and firefighter killed in the line of duty; disabled veterans and their spouses; and Gold Star parents. There are age, income, and asset restrictions. More information is available here.


Got a problem? Send your consumer issue to sean.murphy@globe.com. Follow him @spmurphyboston.