You Could Be Paying Too Much in Property Taxes

You may be owed thousands of dollars, and you don't even know it.

All across the state, Texans are receiving letters that say just that. And often, it's real and it's legal.

The letters are being sent by asset recovery companies, which help you get your claim overpayments or other unclaimed property. But should you pay an asset recovery company to get money that is rightfully yours?

Keller resident Melvin Brackeen received one of those letters. The 67-year-old Brackeen is an ordinary retiree doing what he does on an ordinary day, sorting through bills and junk mail, when he found a letter that was far from ordinary. It said he was owed more than $2,400 because he made an overpayment.

"I was surprised because I didn't have any knowledge of any money I'd left on the table anywhere," he said.

It was the second notice he'd gotten from Recovery Specialists of Texas. The first said he was owed more than $1,600. He was very suspicious, and contacted Deanna Dewberry and NBC 5 Responds.

Dewberry called the number on the notices. The woman who answered said her name is Vilma and confirmed she was the same Vilma who signed the notices. She wouldn't reveal her last name or the organization that Brackeen had overpaid, but she echoed the company's letter stating she had discovered the "overpayment to Texas based agencies" "by researching public records."

"You're saying that he's overpaying some organization of which there is a public record - property taxes?" Dewberry questioned.

Vilma admitted Dewberry was right. Homeowners who live in their homes get a tax break called a homestead exemption. If you're older than 65, you get a bigger tax break.

A public records search revealed that Brackeen had not yet filed a homestead exemption for people older than 65. Vilma insisted her company was providing a service by submitting the paperwork and that the company's fee for that service was half the taxpayer's refund.

Tarrant County tax assessor Ron Wright pointed to a 3-inch stack of papers on his desk. They were forms from another asset recovery company.

"We received all of these in one day. This is a huge issue statewide," he said. "Frankly, I don't trust them. They can claim to be helping these people. One can make the argument they're preying on these people."

Asset recovery companies ask the taxpayer to sign a document authorizing it to submit the homestead exemption and collect the taxpayer's refund. The company then typically takes half the refund as payment. It is all perfectly legal, but the Wright strongly encourages taxpayers to simply file their exemptions themselves. He said his office is there to help.

"They need to contact the tax office or the appraisal district," he said. "We'll help them for free."

That's great news for Brackeen, who learned he'd be getting a property tax refund of about $2,000. He plans to use the money to get new windows for his home.

While no one from Recovery Specialists of Texas would talk to us on camera, Vilma, the employee I spoke with by phone, insisted the company is providing a valuable service to taxpayers because those who don't know about the homestead exemption would continue to overpay were it not for their company.

If you haven't filed your homestead exemption, do it on or before Feb. 1. You can get a refund for 2015 and 2014 property taxes you overpaid.

You only need to file your general homestead exemption once. When you turn 65, you need to file another exemption. If you can't remember whether you filed an exemption, you can check your county's tax assessor website. If you've not filed the exemption, you'll need to download the form from your county's appraisal district.

If you receive an asset recovery letter and you've filed your homestead exemption, you should also check the state and national unclaimed property websites.

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