UPDATE: After you read this, check out our new 2015 article on lowering your taxes!
Filing a tax protest (actually, protesting your property assessment) online using eFile is just getting launched in a big way this year. It had been available to a limited number for the last few years. Once the program is established, the offer you get back from them online (is it by email?) *IS* the informal ARB hearing. If you decline that offer, then the formal ARB hearing at TCAD is the next step. They’re working out the bugs so they’re letting people drop out of eFile so they can also have an informal ARB hearing this year. It’s temporary.
You cannot use eFile and have a tax preparer (ProTax, etc.) represent you – at the same time. A tax preparer is a low-risk way of improving your chances for lowering your taxes. If you sign on with a tax preparer before the filing deadline, you can’t use eFile after that. However, and this is a bit of a confusing point, if you decide to use eFile, and refuse the eFile offer, you MAY then have a tax preparer represent you at the formal ARB hearing. However, tax preparers may not have the resources to take you on at that time, and they don’t have to take any customers whose odds are poor for a successful reassessment.
I’d encourage folks to go with a tax preparer. They make it even easier than signing up for eFile. They know all the angles, and how to compellingly present your property’s condition to TCAD. They’ll use pictures and repair estimates and whatever else you give them. Have a chat with some of them before the yearly deadline. If they don’t seem eager to take you on, this tells you that they’re looking at your numbers, but not seeing a good opportunity to earn their commission. Start with ProTax. They appear in person at TCAD ARBs to represent their clients individually. They have the highest success rate, possibly because they decline doubtful opportunities. Another firm may still take you on. It’ll save you a lot of paperwork, and one or more trips to TCAD early on a work day morning.
If you’re good with face-to-face presentations, file manually. You’ll have the most success at the informal ARB where you’ll sit down with just one person, and s/he has the leeway to help you quite a bit.
Filing by eFile may be little more than the easiest way to send a message to the County that you don’t like your taxes, but it’s also quick and painless. You can still retrieve your Evidence Packet and send photos, documents, letters describing your reasoning, etc. You can do most everything from the comfort of home, at 3 AM, in your bathrobe. =)
Here’s that page I slapped together with explanations about the process, links, TCAD contact info, etc.: