INVERNESS, Ill. — Carl Schrock has been living in Cook County since 1983. Like many other homeowners, taxes are always on his mind. To see how much his tax bill has gone up in 35 years? Frustrating.
“I’m just kind of rolling with the punches,” Schrock said standing outside his Inverness home.
Recently, Carl learned that he was qualified for property tax exemptions that could save big money off of his bill - but he wasn’t taking them.
Analyst Andrea Raila has been working in tax law for three decades, and says the unused exemptions are "big money."
"Exemptions for properties are key to controlling your property taxes. Unfortunately, new homeowners, people who buy condos, and seniors don't understand that this is something that they have to apply for when they first purchase the house,” Raila said. “Seniors have to apply every year.”
Raila said property tax exemptions can save the average homeowner about $710 off of their second installment bill, and seniors can save about $500 more. Combine those two, and senior-aged homeowners could save up to $1,200 on average.
If your single family home, townhouse, or condominium you own is your primary residence, you can save hundreds to thousands of dollars a year with the standard homeowner exemption. And once you qualify for the exemption, it automatically renews every year.
Things are more difficult for seniors, who have to apply for a senior exemption every year.
Despite the savings, many homeowners in Cook County haven’t applied for these exemptions. That leads to about $200,000,000 in exemption savings that is currently unclaimed, according to an analysis by Matt Myjak of EntitledRefunds.com.
"These are clear-cut benefits that homeowners quality for,” Myjak says. “If they're missing them, they should correct it and get their money back."
The good news? Homeowners in Cook County can correct their missed exemptions for up to three prior tax years and receive a refund from the county. In August through December, after the second installment of a tax bill is paid, homeowners can correct exemptions in the current year for a refund as well.
Myjak created Entitlement Refunds to help these homeowners get their money back and to make the process easier. Simply type in your address and they`ll figure out if you have any money that’s owed to you by the county. They will do the work to get your exemption, and your refund, and you never have to leave the house.
"We're helping the assessor by informing homeowners that homestead exemptions exist,” Myjak says. “By submitting clean and complete filings for easy processing by the county, that will ensure homeowners get their refunds as easily and quickly as possible.”
Entitled Refunds is a for-profit company. They’ll let you know if you’re owed a refund free of charge, but if you want them to get that refund for you, you’ll have to pay a one-time 20 percent fee of whatever that refund turns out to be. You will continue to get your homeowner exemption moving forward with no fee. Active military, veterans and their spouses receive the service free of charge.
"Within 24 hours I learned that I was owed $987 from the county because I missed the senior citizen exemption for two years,” says Carl Schrock, that Inverness homeowner we told you about earlier. “I just turned 67. Five weeks later I received my check. We cashed them and went on a spring vacation."
Right now EntitledRefunds.com is only servicing Cook County residents, but Myjak said they could expand the service to other counties some day.
"Right now we're on a mission to solve the homestead exemption problem in Cook County and 100% of the fees we collect goes towards helping other homeowners."