Category: Taxes


Source: AlterNet

Nearly a dozen major banks and hedge funds, anticipating quick profits from homeowners who fall behind on property taxes, are quietly plowing hundreds of millions of dollars into businesses that collect the debts, tack on escalating fees and threaten to foreclose on the homes of those who fail to pay.

The Wall Street investors, which include Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase & Co., have purchased from local governments the right to collect delinquent taxes on several hundred thousand properties, many in distressed housing markets, the Huffington Post Investigative Fund has found.

In many cases, the banks and hedge funds created new companies to do their bidding. They gave the companies obscure, even whimsical names and used post office boxes as their addresses, masking Wall Street’s dominant new role as a surrogate tax collector.

In exchange for paying overdue real estate taxes, the investors gain legal powers from local governments to collect the debt and levy fees. At first, property owners may owe little more than a few hundred dollars, only to find their bills soaring into the thousands. In some jurisdictions, the new Wall Street tax collectors also chase debtors over other small bills, such as for water, sewer and sidewalk repair.

Some states allow the investors to tack on as much as 18 percent interest and a passel of legal fees and other charges. When property owners fail to make full payment, the investors can sue to foreclose – in some states within as little as six months.

In June, Bank of America snatched up liens on properties in Florida owned by low-income residents and nonprofit public interest groups, including a Salvation Army shelter, a preschool and a wildlife rescue group involved in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill cleanup, the Investigative Fund found in its examination. Bank of America also bought liens on properties of the wealthy, including a professional basketball star with the Los Angeles Lakers, Lamar Odom.

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Source: Yahoo.com

President Barack Obama suggested Wednesday that a new value-added tax on Americans is still on the table, seeming to show more openness to the idea than his aides have expressed in recent days.

Before deciding what revenue options are best for dealing with the deficit and the economy, Obama said in an interview with CNBC, “I want to get a better picture of what our options are.”

After Obama adviser Paul Volcker recently raised the prospect of a value-added tax, or VAT, the Senate voted 85-13 last week for a nonbinding “sense of the Senate” resolution that calls the such a tax “a massive tax increase that will cripple families on fixed income and only further push back America’s economic recovery.”

For days, White House spokesmen have said the president has not proposed and is not considering a VAT.

“I think I directly answered this the other day by saying that it wasn’t something that the president had under consideration,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters shortly before Obama spoke with CNBC.

After the interview, White House deputy communications director Jen Psaki said nothing has changed and the White House is “not considering” a VAT.

Many European countries impose a VAT, which taxes the value that is added at each stage of production of certain commodities. It could apply, for instance, to raw products delivered to a mill, the mill’s production work and so on up the line to the retailer.

In the CNBC interview, Obama said he was waiting for recommendations from a bipartisan fiscal advisory commission on ways to tackle the deficit and other problems.

When asked if he could see a potential VAT in this nation, the president said: “I know that there’s been a lot of talk around town lately about the value-added tax. That is something that has worked for some countries. It’s something that would be novel for the United States.”

“And before, you know, I start saying ‘this makes sense or that makes sense,’ I want to get a better picture of what our options are,” Obama said.

He said his first priority “is to figure out how can we reduce wasteful spending so that, you know, we have a baseline of the core services that we need and the government should provide. And then we decide how do we pay for that.”

Volcker has said taxes might have to be raised to slow the deficit’s growth. He said a value-added tax “was not as toxic an idea” as it had been in the past.

Since then, some GOP lawmakers and conservative commentators have said the Obama administration is edging toward a VAT.

Source: ABC News

Never judge a house by its tax bill. That’s the lesson Don Newby, 65, is learning.

As the April 15 deadline looms, Mellody Hobson offers income tax tips.

The construction manager from Gibbsboro, N.J., is paying boom-era property taxes on a home that has lost 20 percent of its value in the past three years. He blames the Gibbsboro tax authorities, who haven’t reassessed property values in the town since 2003.

“That’s absurd,” says Newby, who pays $14,000 a year in taxes on a four-bedroom, bi-level modern house in the New Jersey township near Philadelphia. Newby, who was unemployed for a year after the economic collapse, says he believes the government is intentionally delaying new assessments to benefit from the lag as long as possible.

“When you watch how property values have come down, it appears I could save almost $2,000 in taxes,” he says.

Costly Lag in Assessing Property Values

Americans grumble that local tax assessors haven’t caught up with the real estate downturn, leaving homeowners with unfairly high property taxes. Many disgruntled homeowners including Newby are challenging authorities, either by appealing their tax bills or mobilizing groups to push for tax-law overhaul.

The National Taxpayers Union, a Washington-based advocacy group, estimates that 30-60 percent of homeowners are over-assessed each year.

“This is a big frustration,” says Peter Sepp, the group’s policy and communications director.

The problem stems largely from a simple technicality: Home values in most states are reassessed every few years, according to data from Therese McGuire, real estate professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

In Nevada, for example, one of the states hit hardest by the housing crunch, the average time between assessments is five years, while in Connecticut the average cycle is 10 years. Although most New Jersey townships reassess once a year, Gibbsboro has no set schedule, which means residents have to wait for tax commissioners to set a date.

Nationally, the average lag is three to four years.

U.S home prices, meanwhile, have plunged in the past four years. The median sale price of a single-family home has dropped 29 percent to $164,300 from the market peak in July 2006, according to the National Association of Realtors.

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