Yellow or Green? What you need to know.

Yup, it’s that time of year. The days are getting shorter, leaves are falling and, if you own a home in Oregon, you’ve opened your mailbox and discovered your annual property tax statement.

 

Is It Yellow or Green?
Tax statements in Oregon are color-coded. This is county’s cryptic way of telling you whether or not you need to write them a check, but I like to think of this as part of my “keep in touch program”, as we get more than a few calls from anxious-sounding clients every year that go something like this:

Oh, hey, hi. So, um, I just got this tax statement in the mail. I thought I was paying taxes in with my mortgage. Do I have to pay it?

I always answer this question with a question: “Is it yellow or green?”

If your statement is yellow, you’re good (one might even say… “golden”) (heh) (sorry). A yellow bill denotes that your mortgage company has requested a copy and plans to pay the bill for you (or the State, if you have a senior tax deferral).

But the confusion is legitimate. The darned thing looks like a bill… even says, “please make payment to:” and has a box for “amount paid”. You really have to slow down and scan it closely, to spot the box (about halfway down on the left, just above “tax payment options”) that tells you “a mortgage company has requested your statement for payment”.

It’s Green, So I Need to Pay Up
If your statement is green, the county does expect you to pay. To avoid late fees and interest you must pay at least ⅓ of your bill by the 15th of November (or the next business day if the 15th falls on a weekend). If you pay ½ of your bill by the 15th, you get a 1.33% discount on your total bill. If you pay the bill in full by the 15th, you get a 3% discount. Incidentally, if your mortgage company is paying for you, they are responsible for paying, in full and on time, so that you get that 3% discount.

But It Should be Yellow and It’s Green
A handful of times a year, I find out one of our clients got a green (“pay up”) bill even though their loan is setup to include their tax payment. If this happens to you, what to do?

First, check your mortgage statement (or log in to your loan servicer’s site) and look for the word “escrow”. If you pay taxes in with your monthly payment, your monthly payment will include an amount (broken out separately) for your “escrow”. There are various things “escrow” can mean, but in this context your escrow is the savings account you’ve been paying property taxes into. If you see “escrow” anywhere on your statement with a dollar amount next to it, your mortgage company has been collecting money from you to pay taxes. We just need to make sure they pass along the money you’ve been giving them to the county.

If you purchased your home this fall (especially in September), dig out your closing documents and look for the “Closing Disclosure”. Do you see a “hold and pay” or “tax holdback”? Yes? Then all’s well. At closing, the title company collected money from you to pay this year’s taxes. They’ve probably already mailed the check. And I have a little bonus good news for you. Since back when you closed, the title company didn’t know how much the bill was going to be, they (purposefully) collected too much. You are due a refund of the excess funds. Keep an eye on your mailbox and have fun spending your little windfall. (Dinner out maybe? New light fixture?)

If your payment includes an escrow but your closing statement doesn’t show a tax holdback, it’s time to call your loan servicer. Let them know you got a copy of the tax bill they and see if they need you to send a copy.

Brand New Home This Year?
The method by which new homes are brought onto the tax roll can result in some funky stuff the first tax year or two. Hop over here for some more information. This is an especially important read if taxes are escrowed into your payment and you get a surprisingly low tax tax bill.

‘Bout that QR code
This year, for the first time, I noticed a QR code on my tax statement…“Pay Online:”, it says. Check you out, Multnomah County, getting all 21st century on us! Ever the curious monkey, I grabbed my iPhone and took their QR code for a spin. The reader popped me over to “OfficialPayments.com”. (Is it just me or does “OfficialPayments.com” sound a little… phishy?) Only briefly distracted by the ads scrolling at the bottom of the page (Note to Amazon: not really into Dial soap, but thanks!), I tried clicking on both of the payment link options provided and both times landed on a page saying “too many HTTP redirects”.  They might have a few kinks to work out.

That said, you can pay online. And Multnomah County does use OfficialPayments.com (and their site looks a lot less sketchy when access it in a regular browser and and not your phone).

Still have questions?
Be sure to head over to the handy-dandy Links Library on our site and open up the “Property Tax Information” menu for a growing catalog of links to the county assessors’ sites and other useful property-tax related information. We’ve posted some general information about property taxes and escrow accounts for your reading pleasure.

And of course, call or text us anytime: 503-799-3711. We’re at your service would love to answer your questions!

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