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How to lower your property taxes in four easy steps

Paying property taxes is not one of the joys of homeownership.

Those necessary — but often hefty — payments cost the average American household $2,127 a year, and helps to fund local governments and schools.

That annual levy is even higher in states such as New Jersey or Illinois, which are among the highest average tax rates.

No matter where you live, you likely wish you paid less. Here are a few steps you can take to cut your property taxes.

1. Contact your local tax office

Ask the tax man what steps you need to take in order to appeal your current bill. Remember, you're going to be arguing for a lower assessed value, not a lower tax rate, so ask for a copy of your property's current assessment.

2. Review your home's assessment

Once you have that document, look for discrepancies. Check the basics first, such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms or square footage. From there, look over other items such as finished basement, pool or notes on your home's structural condition and take notes on any differences.

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3. Get an independent appraisal

Hiring someone to independently value your home may cost you money up front but can possibly save you in the long run. An appraiser will come to your house, inspect it and provide a detailed report, which will include photos, measurements and listings of comparable homes in your neighborhood. If you find more valuable homes that pay less, you certainly have good reason to appeal.

4. Present your case — with facts

Once you're armed with information, it's time to head back to the tax office to present your case as clearly and professionally as possible. The local tax office may have forms you have to fill out. Make sure you organize photos and documents neatly, and highlight key findings.