Frequently Asked Questions about the Tax Foundation's Property Tax Statistics

1. Where do you get your numbers?
The figures come from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, which is a survey of households conducted annually by the Census Bureau. The data are used by government agencies in the allocation of federal funds, researchers, media, citizens, etc. The data we use come from the housing portion of the survey. The universe for our statistics is owner-occupied housing units.

Note that there is a margin of error in each of the statistics we show, which means that a given county or state rank may be slightly off. For information on accessing the data straight from Census, including margin of errors, see below.

2. My property taxes are different from the numbers you show. Why is that?
The numbers provided here are based on median figures provided by the Census Bureau. Median equals middle value, which means that half of the housing units are above the figure and half are below the figure. Note that the two statistics that are calculated by the Tax Foundation (tax as a percentage of home value and tax as a percentage of homeowner income) are not exact median statistics themselves given that it's possible for one with a higher income to pay smaller real estate taxes than a lower income person, or similarly, it's possible that one home with a high value could have a lower tax bill than another home with a lower value.

3. I don't trust these numbers. Where can I see them for myself?
Data is available at the Census Bureau's American Fact Finder website here. The following series' are used: B25102 (Mortgage Status by Median Real Estate Taxes Paid); B25119 (Median Household Income by Tenure); B25077 (Median Value for Owner-Occupied Housing Units)

4. Why are property taxes low or high in my area?
Property taxes are predominantly a local tax across the United States. There are two major factors driving property tax levels in a region: (1) overall local government spending, which makes higher taxes necessary and (2) reliance on property taxes relative to other taxes.

High local property taxes are not necessarily a bad thing if they finance quality government services, such as good schools. On the other hand, if people are paying high property taxes and the public services are mediocre or worse, that's probably a sign that the taxes are too high.

Furthermore, it may be the case that in some localities, costs are lower or higher as a result of other factors such as weather (e.g., Buffalo needing snow removal equipment/labor) or say the power of local teachers' unions (or lack thereof).

5. What is the Tax Foundation's position on property taxes?
The Tax Foundation views the property tax as a relatively good source of revenue for local governments. It is relatively stable and it tends to align well (not perfectly) with the benefit principle of taxation. Regardless of the Tax Foundation's position on property taxes, the data here come directly from Census along with a couple trivial Tax Foundation calculations (i.e., dividing tax by home value and income) that are standard measures of the property tax burden.