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Two scams homeowners need to avoid

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POSTED March 6, 2009 5:08 a.m.
There are two scams you need to look out for if you’re a homeowner looking to reduce property taxes or someone trying to stay above water. One is trying to get you to fork over $179 to have your property taxes lowered and the others are popping up since President Obama’s administration unveiled Wednesday how they are going to help homeowners who are current but are struggling to make mortgage payments.

First and foremost the mortgage loan modification program is clear. You can only deal directly with the lender who holds your mortgage. That means you have to contact the lender directly or the firm that is servicing the loan. You can find the contact number on your payment coupon.

No one else can help you, period. Also, don’t expect your lender to call you. You have to call them. Don’t send anyone money to help you take advantage of the program. It’s fraud, pure and simple.

The program‘s cornerstone with qualified borrowers is to reduce their monthly housing payment to no more than 38 percent of the household’s monthly income. There are more details to it than that, but that is the biggie. It does it through reducing interest rates to the point that the payment is equal to 38 percent of the income. You have to be current, you have to have a life changing event such as reduced pay, reduced hours, job loss, or something major such as significant medical costs or another dependent in the household.

Again, do not pay anyone a fee to help you with this. You have to call your lender directly. End of story.

The other scam involves firms such as one that goes by “Property Tax Reassessment.” They offer to file with the Assessor’s Office a “Request for Review” form of a homeowner’s property for a fee of $179. The mailing further refers to deadlines for filing and threatens to impose a $30 late fee. Property assessments and assessment reviews are free services offered by the County Assessor’s Office and property owners do not need to pay for a service to file a request.

San Joaquin County taxes are reviewed on a regular basis by the county assessor. Last year the office reviewed approximately 75,000 properties and lowered over 50,000 assessments. They are currently reviewing the market value of most single-family homes in the county, as of January 1, 2009, for the taxes that will become due next October and April 2010.

Owners of property with resulting reduced assessments will receive a letter by early July 2009 notifying them of the results. Owners who disagree with the results or didn’t receive a reduction may call the Assessor’s Office at 209-468-2630, make contact through the website (www.sjgov.org/assessor/), or file an application for a reduced assessment between July 2 and November 30, 2009 with the Clerk of the Board’s Office located on the 7th floor of the San Joaquin County Courthouse in Stockton.

Again, it is easy to do, you can do it yourself, and you don’t need to spend $179.
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