June 14, 2024

Eye On Illinois: Seniors worried about losing eligibility for property tax break

Social Security benefits went up 3.2% in 2024, a cost-of-living adjustment affecting more than 66 million people.

The average increase clears $50 per month. That’s not huge, but for some Illinoisans, it could be enough to pose a problem. K.A., of Woodstock, emailed his concerns Monday:

“Many retired seniors, especially those in Lake, Kane and McHenry counties, rely on various exemptions to help keep their home property taxes within their annual budgets so that they can continue living in their homes. One key exemption specifically geared toward our retired senior citizens is the Illinois Senior Property Tax Freeze.”

Under the program, according to the Department of Revenue, those 65 and older with total household income up to $65,000 can have the equalized assessed value of their primary residence frozen upon qualifying. Although total obligation will increase as various taxing bodies adjust levies – or if home improvements increase value – the idea is guarding against inflation in home values.

Seniors must certify eligibility annually. K.A. said he and his wife now collect too much to qualify. He expressed concern that House Bill 3504, which would adjust the income cap to $85,000, seems stuck in the Rules Committee. It’s joined there by House Bill 1074, which would adjust the figure to $73,700, and House Bill 2382, which would change the limit each year equal to any percentage increase in the federal Employment Cost Index.

Another plan, House Bill 1219, has been in committee since Jan. 31, 2023. That would’ve allowed seniors to deduct Medicare premiums from their income when applying for a freeze. House Bill 1274 – sponsored by many of the same lawmakers as HB 1074, sets a $75,000 cap and also adjusts the maximum reduction for senior homestead exemptions to $8,000 statewide, as it’s currently $5,000 outside Cook and its collar counties.

All of which is to say the Statehouse isn’t short of ideas, or even willingness to cooperate on this front. The cap was $55,000 just a few years ago, so lawmakers haven’t ignored the issue. Yet absent a quick coalescing around one plan, the status quo seems likely to remain.

The assessment freeze is apart from the Senior Citizens Real Estate Tax Deferral Program. Qualifying seniors (also under a $65,000 cap) can have the state pay up to $7,500 of their property taxes annually in exchange for a lien on the property and 3% simple interest (it was 6% through tax year 2022) with the borrowed amount due upon sale or transfer of the property or within a year of the homeowner’s death.

None of these options are perfect and all are subject to factors outside state control. But if lawmakers don’t act this week, they should expect constituent pushback.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Local News Network. Follow him on X @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.