Kevin Nerwinski: Do you pay your property taxes with online bill payment? | Laurent Gazette
For those who don’t have time for all my words (people say I’m a little “talkative”), I’ll start with my conclusion so you can get on with your day. If you have a strict deadline for paying your bills, DO NOT use your online bill payment feature with your private bank.
There is no guarantee that your physical check will be sent in time to meet the deadline (even after doing your calculations and concluding that the date you select is more than enough). And if you’re using your online bill pay feature to pay your property tax bill in Lawrence Township, understand the risk involved.
If the municipality does not receive your check on time (which always includes a grace period), interest and a penalty will be charged. Ok, if you want the full version and long why, keep reading.
It appears that around the same time each year (3rd quarter tax payments), the Lawrence Township Tax Collector and her staff receive angry and frustrated taxpayers who have received notice that their tax payments land were late and interest and penalties are imposed (as required by NJSA 54:4-66).
It doesn’t matter if the interest is 0.08 cents or $25 or more, the degree of owner anger and disrespect towards the tax collector and his staff is the same. And when they hear the interest and penalty won’t be waived, the level escalates, and then I get the phone call. The conversation I have with the callers does not give them the relief they are asking for, as the waiver of interest and penalty is not optional.
Callers offer all sorts of excuses and some ask the municipality to prove that their check was received late. A policy that allows a municipal employee to exercise discretion over the cancellation of interest and penalties creates an unrealistic situation to manage.
Undoubtedly, those turned down will feel unfairly treated, and accusations of wrongdoing and favoritism will abound, wasting even more time and resources. It just won’t work. So, I thought, why not write a blog post about this issue and hopefully come out ahead of the issue for the next round?
About 90% of the time, late payment involves the taxpayer using the online bill payment facility offered by their private lender. The taxpayer believes his payment was mailed on the due date. This may be the case, but that does not mean that the check will be received before the deadline.
What people don’t know or realize, despite their bank’s notice that they don’t guarantee delivery of payments on a specific date, the thousands upon thousands of online banking payments are physical checks issued by their bank on the expected day but are apparently sent to a clearinghouse and eventually collated and posted in bulk—not necessarily on the day you expected it to be sent.
When tax payments are due and collected, the tax collector’s office receives hundreds and hundreds of physical checks mailed in droves daily. These checks are often dated differently and days apart. This means that a check dated September 15 and a check dated September 20 are in the same bulk delivery to the township by US Mail. In particular, the day the check is physically received by the canton is the day it posts it to your account, without fail.
No check is left uncashed for a day or days at the tax office. It doesn’t happen. People seem to assume that their property tax payments are processed the same as IRS and state tax returns, with the date they are sent being the date that matters. It’s not true. The date the payment is received is the date that counts for the collection of property taxes everywhere, not just in the Township of Lawrence.
To help taxpayers make sure they meet the deadline (and the grace period), Lawrence Township offers four ways to pay your taxes:
(1) A taxpayer may make the short trip to the municipal building Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to make payment in person. The added benefit of this option is that you can offer warm greetings to city staff as you see them in the hallways;
(2) A taxpayer can make the short trip to the municipal building and use the secure black box located at the north entrance to make their payment. It is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a week. The box is checked multiple times a day and first thing Monday morning. The added benefit is that you can avoid all human contact and go about your business and track your day;
3) A taxpayer, comfortable with using an online payment option, can use our electronic check payment feature to ensure that the date you make the payment is the date they will be displayed on the account. The administrative fee for this is $2. And, no, it’s not a great plan to generate revenue for the township. This is a fee paid by the “user” of the service, the “municipality” deriving no benefit from it. Unlike your online bill payment option from your lender, this option is received and posted to your tax account the same day; and
(4) A taxpayer may pay by credit card. Some like to score points, I guess. But to use it, there are higher fees based on a percentage of the total payment made. If you are annoyed by the imposition of interest and penalties, this option is not for you!
Do your due diligence by contacting your bank to verify that online bill payment is working. You will most likely find the information on the site where you are using the feature. So if you have a strict payment deadline, don’t use your online bill pay feature!
Now, on a personal level, most of you may not understand the kind of verbal abuse (and, at times, threats) that our tax collector and his staff inflict on residents and business owners who do not take appropriate measures to ensure that they pay their taxes on time.
Trust me; it’s destabilizing, to say the least. We also have many saved envelopes with the most disgusting things written on them from people who take their anger out on “paying taxes” on our staff. Guess that makes them feel good – at the expense of the good people who work here.
As I try to do from time to time when writing on social media, I again want to remind you that all of us who work for the township are living, breathing human beings. Many of us live in cities. We are your friends, neighbors and family members. And, no, we’re not all working together to squeeze $10, $15, or $50 in interest from you in late fees. Contrary to some who believe in the worst, we are neither corrupt nor evil. We come to work every day and do the work that the community needs us to do.
Oh, one more thing, as far as I can remember, August tax payments are usually billed later than other quarters. We send the tax bills immediately after receiving the county tax rate from the county.
It’s just what it is (and it has nothing to do with us) – and all we can do is send invoices promptly when all information is received – and we do. We also offer an extended grace period when tax invoices are later than expected. Ok, no more “words” for now! have a great day everyone!
Kevin Nerwinski, a longtime Lawrence resident, is the Town Manager for the Township of Lawrence.