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Here’s how to pay your property taxes now (if you want) — 3 months early

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas | Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas | Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

If you want to pay your property taxes early, you can now go online, find out how much you owe and pay them off months before the due date — even though paying before the end of the year won’t have the same financial benefit it had last year.

The Cook County treasurer’s office posted the first installment of property tax bills for 2018 on its website Tuesday, nearly three months before the bills are due on March 1.

The decision to post the bills now is in response to a large number of requests from taxpayers, accountants and tax advisors, the treasurer’s office said in a press release. This is the earliest that first installment payments have been accepted by the county.

Treasurer Maria Pappas said making the tax bills available this far in advance makes the process easier and more transparent and gives taxpayers more time to get questions answered — particularly about the federal tax law that went into effect earlier this year.

Before that law, all local income and property taxes were deductible from income taxes. Now, there is a $10,000 cap on deductions for state and local taxes.

“If they want to pay now, they can, and if they want to go to an accountant to understand the new Trump law, they can,” Pappas said.

Pappas said 144,000 people paid their taxes early last year. That high demand led her to decide to put bills online early going forward to make sure “nobody waits for a bill anymore, nobody has to guess what their bill is going to be and nobody can complain they didn’t get a bill.”

Still, Geoff Harlow, a tax partner at Wipfli LLC, said that since the $10,000 cap has already gone into effect, he doesn’t expect a big rush of people paying early since the vast majority won’t benefit.

“It makes sense for county to try to do this because it’s better to get the money sooner rather than later, but the same thing happened a year ago but with a different motivation,” Harlow said. “At that point, there were a lot of people trying to pay March 2018 tax in 2017 because they knew about the cap. A year ago, there was a tremendous incentive to prepay real estate taxes because they could be deducted.”

Now Harlow recommends property owners take a look at the amount they’ve paid in state and local income taxes. If they’ve already paid $10,000 or more, there’s no reason to pay the bill before the end of the year, Harlow said. If the amount is under $10,000, homeowners should consider itemizing their income taxes and paying their property tax bill by Dec. 31 so they could potentially deduct some or all of that bill from their 2018 taxes.

Residents can look up their tax bill on the treasurer’s website by using their address or 14-digit property index number. Property owners can pay in-person at the treasurer’s office, on the website or at a Chase or community bank.