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Online option makes redemption easy during time of COVID

Tommy Land
Commissioner of State Lands

You’ve had a few rough months. It’s 2020, which has come to mean pandemic and lockdowns and  distancing. You’re thankful to still have a job and income. But this year has become a monster of added stress, so you’ve lost focus and have let a few things slip by.

And maybe you’ve actually had a few rough years. You got behind on some bills. Now you’re getting caught up. And last night you opened the mail and found a notice: your late grandmother’s property has been certified to the Commissioner of State Lands for delinquent taxes.

Thinking back frantically, you realize: yep, you skipped that payment. (Property taxes or groceries? Taxes or lights and heat? We get it.)

But now, you have the money and want to get it paid. Right now. Today.

Normally, you’d drive to the Commissioner of State Lands Office to pay in person.

But it’s 2020, which means pandemic and distancing. And you’re medically compromised. Your mother is battling cancer. Your child is severely asthmatic. You’ve been working at home for months now, to avoid being out in public and risking exposure to contagion. Not to mention, the COSL office hasn’t been accepting walk-in customers for months.

You can pay those delinquent taxes from the comfort and safety of your own home. Just go to https://www.cosl.org and pay by credit or debit card. We do the back-end processing in our office, and the property is redeemed.

We introduced online payments in January. By March, when the COVID-19 crisis hit, it was gaining popularity. Through the end of May, customers have gone online to redeem almost 1,100 parcels of property totaling more than $880,000.

Once upon a time, redeeming delinquent taxes was complicated. If you were the owner, it was just a single form to complete and have notarized. But if you wanted to help a family member by redeeming their property, you couldn’t do it anonymously as a gift. You’d have to give them the money, because the owner had to sign the petition to redeem.

And if it was, say, your grandmother’s property, it got outright painful. Only the owner or a direct descendant could pay the taxes, so you had to have grandma’s death certificate, and your parent’s (grandma’s child) birth and death certificate, and your own birth certificate. You had to have legal documents showing the change of names if you or your parent weren’t using your birth name. And if you were a woman who’d had a couple of marriages without going back to your maiden name between those marriages, you needed each marriage license and each divorce decree.

Complicated.

Painful.

Pointless.

We worked with the legislature to change the law in 2019 so that we could change internal procedures. Now the petition to redeem doesn’t have to be notarized. Anybody can redeem any property’s taxes, because it doesn’t change the ownership. And you can pay online, via credit or debit card.

The COSL office only collects delinquent taxes. After paying those back taxes to us, your property will be current with your county collector’s office. You’ll still need to pay current taxes at that office.

Anyone can redeem delinquent property. This pays delinquent taxes, making taxes current and active on the county’s tax rolls again. It does not change ownership. If you’re redeeming your late grandmother’s property, you must still go through the probate process to become the record owner – but you don’t have to worry about it being auctioned because you can’t find all the documentation to redeem.

Although this year’s auction season was canceled due to the health crisis, owners should still pay delinquent taxes as soon as possible. Interest and fees continue to accrue on delinquent amounts, so paying quickly helps keep those costs down.  The online payment portal makes that convenient and secure. So log on, pay those taxes, and stay healthy!

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(Tommy Land is Arkansas Commissioner of State Lands. Questions may be addressed to commissioner@cosl.org)

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