Hamilton County residents who try to pay property taxes online may experience some sticker shock when they see how much convenience can cost.
Tax bills will be arriving in mailboxes soon and people can start paying them Oct. 1, according to Trustee Bill Hullander. His office also collects property taxes for Collegedale, East Ridge, Lakesite, Red Bank, Ridgeside, Soddy-Daisy and Walden.
Residents will have a few payment options -- some more costly than others.
Along with the tried-and-true methods of paying in person at the trustee's office or spending 46 cents for postage, residents can pay the taxman online. But plastic users beware: Convenience has a price. It's 2.75 percent of the bill, nearly 3 cents on the dollar, to pay online with a credit card.
That means someone paying taxes on a $200,000 property, which yields a $1,383 bill, would pay an additional $38 to file with a credit card online.
Internet users are better off using an electronic check, Hullander said, which carries a flat fee of $2.75 for each transaction.
"It doesn't matter if it's $30 or $3,000 in taxes," Hullander said.
The convenience fee isn't an additional tax, he said. In fact, the money doesn't go to Hullander's office or anywhere in Hamilton County.
Fees for paying taxes online go to Business Information Systems, a Piney Flats, Tenn., company that provides credit card processing for the vast majority of counties in Tennessee. Its customers include trustee offices, county clerks, court clerks and other fee-collecting government agencies.
In 2012, Hullander said the county generated $248 million of property tax. Of that, only $3.1 million was paid online, generating $69,000 in fees paid to the company, he said. Online fees represented 3,798 of the county's 168,000 parcels, he said.
It's a pretty good deal for Hullander and other government agencies -- they don't pay a dime for the service. But Hullander said he is going to look around for a better deal for taxpayers in January, when his office's four-year banking contract is up.
"That 2.75 percent is something they charge, and we never see it," he said. "We have everything in the world we can think of so they don't have to use a credit card."
The trustee's office has been working with BIS since before Hullander took office in 2010.
According to David Stone, Henry County trustee and president of the Tennessee County Trustees Association, many offices in the state have been working with BIS for some time.
"Back in 2005, [BIS] worked with the trustees association about hosting a website ... that allows for every county to collect property taxes online. They don't charge anything to the counties. However, when you do pay your taxes online, you do pay a 2.75 percent fee. ... They [BIS] are the ones who manage the website and update it," Stone said.
Some counties absorb the fee, but many don't because so few residents pay property taxes with a credit card.
This way, only taxpayers who use the service are paying for it, he said.
Stone said people who use credit cards to pay taxes are usually in a business that requires them to travel, or don't have the money to pay the full tax debt.
But the system is convenient for more than taxpayers, he said.
"It does help the title companies and people who are researching properties. Because they used to have to come to the public access office and look that stuff up," he said.
The company did not return phone calls for comment Friday.
Hullander said property taxes will be due Feb. 28, 2014, and residents will be able to make partial payments. Balances that are late will incur 1.5 percent interest each month after February, he said.
Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at 423-757-6481 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...