Howard County, MD property tax installments

Background: My home county bills my property tax in two semiannual installments. The first installment is always larger than the second installment. But I’ve never been able to ascertain the formula they use for figuring the amount of the first installment vs. the second installment. The other day I spent a half hour or so playing with the amounts, and couldn’t figure out how they were arriving at the numbers.

Today, I finally found the magic formula on Howard County’s web site. It’s not particularly easy to find stuff on their site: I dunno if it’s because it’s badly laid out, or if it’s just that I tend to look for obscure info that the webmasters don’t see fit to post prominently. But regardless, it seems like when I need to find something there, I have about a 50% success rate, and the info is never where I expect to find it. But I digress.

From the Howard County Property Tax FAQ:

Under the semi-annual payment schedule, the first installment consisting of one-half of County, State, Fire, Ad Valorem, Mid-Patuxent levies and the full amount of Front Foot and Trash Fees is due by September 30th. The second installment consisting of the other half of the levies is due December 31st.

So there you have it.

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So why do I care about this? Being a self-professed financial geek, I like to project future bills as far in advance as possible. I’ve already figured out how to compute my total property tax bill for a given year. And since I’m stuck with an escrow account on my current mortgage, I’ve also figured out the formula my mortgage company uses to do escrow analysis. If I can project my property tax installment schedule, I can do a full projected escrow analysis for the current year, and figure out what my monthly mortgage payment will be next year (and whether I’ll be getting a refund check).

Sometimes I wonder if I’m in the wrong field..

6/16: Well, I found out my tax bill for 2006 (haven’t gotten the mailing yet, but it’s online at Howard County’s Property Tax Lookup page), and, it’s within a penny of the amount I predicted. OK OK, you can stop applauding now. Our ever-escalating assessments are keeping the bill on a steady rise, but this year’s increase was the smallest in the past 4 years, thanks to token cuts in the tax rates by both the county and the state. That, combined with the homestead exemptions, is keeping the bill from bankrupting us, but it’s still going up faster than the rate of inflation (and is pretty much guaranteed to keep doing so for the next several years). We need to pressure our elected officials to keep nudging the tax rates down to compensate. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

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