Overview of California Taxes
California’s overall property taxes are below the national average. The average effective property taxrate in California is 0.81%, compared with a national average of over 1.1%.
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To calculate the exact amount of property tax you will owe requires your property's assessed value and the property tax rates based on your property's address. Please note that we can only estimate your property tax based on median property taxes in your area. There are typically multiple rates in a given area, because your state, county, local schools and emergency responders each receive funding partly through these taxes. In our calculator, we take your home value and multiply that by your county's effective property tax rate. This is equal to the median property tax paid as a percentage of the median home value in your county.
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Jennifer Mansfield Tax
Jennifer Mansfield, CPA, JD/LLM-Tax, is a Certified Public Accountant with more than 30 years of experience providing tax advice. SmartAsset’s tax expert has a degree in Accounting and Business/Management from the University of Wyoming, as well as both a Masters in Tax Laws and a Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University Law Center. Jennifer has mostly worked in public accounting firms, including Ernst & Young and Deloitte. She is passionate about helping provide people and businesses with valuable accounting and tax advice to allow them to prosper financially. Jennifer lives in Arizona and was recently named to the Greater Tucson Leadership Program.
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California Property Taxes
Property taxes in California are limited by Proposition 13, a law approved by California voters in 1978. The law has two important features. The first is that it limits general property taxes (not including those collected for special purposes) to 1% of a property’s market value. The second is that it restricts increases in assessed value to 2% per year. Those two rules combine to keep California’s overall property taxes below the national average. The average effective property tax rate in California is 0.81%, compared with a national average of over 1.1%
How Property Taxes in California Work
California property taxes are based on the purchase price of the property. When you buy a home, the assessed value is equal to the purchase price. From there, the assessed value increases every year by the rate of inflation (change in the California Consumer Price Index), with a cap on increases of 2%.
This means that, for homeowners who have been in their house a long time, assessed value is often lower than market value. The same is true of homeowners in areas that have experienced rapid price growth, as in San Francisco or San Jose in recent years.
Homeowners in California can claim a $7,000 exemption on their primary residence. This reduces the assessed value by $7,000, saving you at least $70 per year. You only need to claim this exemption once and it’s important to do so shortly after you buy – the due date is February 15th.
If you are considering buying a home in California with a mortgage, you’ll want to take look at our guide on mortgage rates and getting a mortgage in the Golden State.
California Property Tax Rates
Property taxes are applied to those assessed values. Each county collects a general property tax equal to 1% of assessed value. That general tax is the single largest tax, but there other smaller taxes that vary by city and district.
Voter-approved taxes for specific projects or purposes are common, as are “Mellos-Roos” taxes. Mellos-Roos taxes are voted on by property owners and are used to support special districts that finance services or improvements.
A good rule of thumb for California home buyers who are trying to estimate what their property taxes will be is purchase price x 1.25%. This incorporates the base rate of 1% and additional local taxes, which are usually about 0.25%.
The table below shows effective property tax rates, as well as average annual property tax payments and average home value, for each county in California. Assessed value is often lower than market value so effective tax rates (taxes paid as a percentage of market value) in California are typically lower than 1%, even though nominal tax rates are always at least 1%.
|County||Median Home Value||Median Annual Property Tax Payment||Average Effective Property Tax Rate|
|San Luis Obispo||$426,600||$3,120||0.73%|
Los Angeles County
Los Angeles County is the most populous county in both the state of California and the entire United States. The average LA County homeowner pays $3,301 annually in property taxes. Along with the countywide 1% tax rate, homeowners in different cities and district pay local rates.
The city of Los Angeles has a city rate of 0.0298%. The rate for the Los Angeles Unified School District is 0.1756%. In the city of Bell, which part of the LA Unified School District, there is a city rate of 0.34%, and the total rate is nearly 1.57%, among the highest in the county.
San Diego County
The average effective property tax rate in San Diego County is 0.78%, lower than the national average.However, because assessed values rise to the purchase price when a home is sold, new homeowners can expect to pay higher rates than that.
Rates homeowners can expect to pay vary by city. In the city of San Diego, property tax rates are around 1.179%. In Chula Vista, which sits to the south of San Diego, the rate is lower at 1.118%. In Oceanside the rate is 1.062%, not very much higher than the baseline rate of 1%.
The median annual property tax paid by homeowners in southern California’s Orange County is $3,703. That is the eighth highest amount in the state and $1,500 more than the national median. The main reason total taxes in Orange County are so high is that home values are high. The county’s median homevalue was $519,600 as of 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The average effective property tax rate in Riverside County is 1.13%, highest in the state. While that is the rate paid by a typical homeowner in the county, it is not necessarily what a new homeowner will pay. Since assessed values rise (or fall) to equal purchase price when a home is bought or sold, homeowners in Riverside County can expect to pay 1% plus the sum of local voter-approved rates. In the city of Riverside, total property tax rates range from 1.07% to 1.20%.
San Bernardino County
San Bernardino County is the fifth largest county in California by population and the largest county in both the state and the country by area. It has a land area of 20,057 square miles, making it slightly larger than Costa Rica. The average effective property tax rate in San Bernardino County is 0.92%, 15th highest in the state.
Santa Clara County
The median home value in Santa Clara County is among the highest in the nation, at $645,900 in 2013. That ranks fourth in California and ninth in the U.S. Because of those high home values, annual property tax bills for homeowners in Santa Clara County are quite high, despite actual rates near the state average. The median annual property tax in Santa Clara County is $5,121, second highest in the state.
Situated on the eastern shore of the San Francisco bay, Alameda County contains the cities of Oakland,Berkeley and Fremont (among others). For 2014-2015, the total tax rate in Oakland is 1.4376%. The rate in Berkeley is 1.2447%. The rate in Fremont is 1.1787%. Those rates apply to assessed value, which is equal to the sales price of recently purchased homes but is otherwise generally lower than actual value.
Sacramento County is located in northern California and has a population of nearly 1.5 million. It is also home to the state capital. The county’s average effective property tax rate is 0.95%, 12th highest in the state. At that rate, the total property tax on a home worth $200,000 would be $1,900. New homeowners in Sacramento County can expect to pay higher rates than that however, between 1% and 1.5% depending on where in the county they live.
Contra Costa County
The median property tax paid by homeowners in the Bay Area’s Contra Costa County is $3,883 per year, sixth highest in California. That is nearly double the national median property tax payment.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median home value in Fresno County is $195,400, 45% lower than the state median. That means that, while property tax rates in Fresno County are similar to those in the rest of the state, property taxes paid in dollar terms are far lower. The median annual property tax in Fresno County is $1,726, more than $1,000 below the state median.
Property Tax: Which Counties are Getting the Best Bang for Their Buck
SmartAsset’s interactive map highlights the places across the country where property tax dollars are being spent most effectively. Zoom between states and the national map to see the counties getting the biggest bang for their property tax buck.
Our study aims to find the places in the United States where people are getting the most for their property tax dollars. To do this we looked at school rankings, crime rates and property taxes for every county.
As a way to measure the quality of schools, we calculated the average math and reading/language arts proficiencies for all the school districts in the country. Within each state, these schools were then ranked between 1 and 10 (with 10 being the best) based on those average scores.
For each county, we calculated the violent and property crimes per 100,000 residents.
Using the school and crime numbers, we calculated a community score. This is the ratio of the school rank to the combined crime rate per 100,000 residents.
We used the number of households, median home value and average property tax rate to calculate a per capita property tax collected for each county.
Finally, we calculated a tax value by creating a ratio of the community score to the per capita property tax paid. This shows us the counties in the country where people are getting the most bang for their buck, or where their property tax dollars are going the furthest.
Sources: US Census Bureau 2016 American Community Survey, Department of Education, Federal Bureau of Investigation, State Police or Justice Department websites