Homeowners are being encouraged to pay the second installment of their 2017-18 property taxes by Dec. 29 to maximize their tax benefits in the wake of the new federal tax code passed by Congress. Photo: Gina g10

Local homeowners have been besieging Alameda County tax officials with questions about the best way to handle their property taxes under the new federal tax code passed by Congress.

In response, the tax collector’s office is encouraging homeowners to pay the second installment of their 2017-18 property taxes by Dec. 29 to maximize their tax benefits. Unfortunately, taxes for the 2018-19 fiscal year can’t be paid in advance.

The new legislation passed by Congress sets limits on the amount of state and local taxes homeowners can deduct. Beginning in 2018, couples filing jointly will be limited to an annual deduction of no more than $10,000 worth of state and local income, sales and property taxes.

At present, there is no limit on the deduction, but that will change under the new tax laws.

Obviously, this change is a blow to people living in California and other high-tax states.

Property tax bills generally go out in the fall, with half the taxes due by early December and the other half due by April. People whose state and local taxes will be greater than $10,000 could pay the second installment bill before the end of this year and should still be able to deduct it on 2017 taxes when they file in the spring, if they itemize.

Henry Levy, the Alameda County Treasurer-Tax Collector, is encouraging homeowners in this county to go this route. The tax collector also noted that it’s important for homeowners to consult with their tax advisers on the best steps to take.

Since Friday, Dec. 29 is the last business day of this year, the tax collector’s office must receive the payment by Friday before 5 p.m., said Chief Deputy Tax Collector Julie Manaois.

Because the timing is so tight, homeowners are advised to show up at the office, Manaois said.

“In order to ensure that your payment will be received by the end of 2017, your best option is to pay in person,” Manaois said. She noted: “If you pay in person, you will receive a receipt you can use for income tax purposes.”

“Our full staff will be on the job Dec. 29 to handle the (anticipated) number of homeowners coming in to make payments,” the deputy tax collector said.

The tax collector’s office is at 1221 Oak St. in Oakland and is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for holidays.

Homeowners still officially have until April 10, 2018 to pay the second installment of the 2017-18 fiscal year property tax. However, the new income tax law will limit the amount of the itemized deduction for property taxes paid after Jan. 1, 2018.

2018-19 property taxes can’t be prepaid

Many homeowners are wondering if they can prepay their 2018-19 property taxes. Unfortunately, this can’t be done, the tax officials said.

This is because property taxes are based on the assessed value of the home, and the Alameda County assessor has not yet made those assessments for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

“Bills for that year will not be prepared until September 2018,” Levy said in an advisory message.

Consult a tax advisor

It’s important to consult a tax advisor on these issues, as circumstances vary from one individual to another, the tax officials said. Some taxpayers, who are subject to the alternative minimum tax, for instance, won’t benefit by prepaying their property taxes.

Paying the second installment of 2017-18 property taxes before Dec. 29 is not the only step people can take to maximize new advantages and minimize the potential hit from other changes. Since most of the revisions to the individual code are effective Jan. 1, it’s a good idea to research other options online or consult with an advisor and take action by the end of the year.

Janis Mara has worked at the Oakland Tribune, the Marin Independent Journal, the Contra Costa Times, Adweek and Inman News, an Emeryville-based national real estate trade publication, winning California...