The state homestead exemption program provides an exemption from the first $50,000 of taxable value of homes for elderly, 100 percent disabled and blind homeowners, but too many people get lost in the process of applying. Applications for the exemption are made to your county auditor, but eligibility requirements follow state laws.
The most common area of confusion concerns timing. An applicant for the senior citizen’s exemption must turn 65 before Jan. 1 of the year in which the exemption is claimed. So imagine a set of twins, one was born on Dec. 31, 1948, at 11:55 p.m., the other on Jan. 1, 1949, at 12:05 a.m. The first twin would be eligible for the homestead exemption for the year just ended, but the second one would not be eligible until tax year 2015.
Qualification for the disability exemption must be certified by an authorized state or federal agency. Qualification based on blindness requires documentation by a licensed ophthalmologist. In both cases, the certification date must have been before Jan. 1 of the tax year in which the exemption is claimed.
Another area of confusion concerns new residents. A 2013 attorney general’s opinion says an applicant must have been an S.C. resident for at least one year prior to Dec. 31 of the previous year. So even though they have lived in the state for all of 2014, a family who moved to South Carolina in mid-December 2013 unfortunately would not be eligible for a 2014 exemption because they needed to have been a resident for a full year by Dec. 31, 2013.
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Some additional confusion comes from the term “homestead exemption” itself. That’s because in many states, the term “homestead” is used for what we in South Carolina refer to as “legal residence” — a category of property that is taxed at 4 percent rather than 6 percent of its value. This special tax rate is available to any full-time legal resident of South Carolina, although an application for “Legal Residence” must be completed and approved by the county assessor in order to receive this special assessment. For those who qualify, the homestead exemption is available in addition to the legal residence classification.
The application process for the homestead exemption is fairly simple. Applicants must have legal ownership of the property and a picture ID such as a driver’s license. Age-based applicants also need to provide a copy of their birth certificate or Medicare card.
Lexington County Auditor