WESTMINSTER -- In recent years, there have been many programs developed to help the state's senior citizens, but the renters' tax-credit program is one of those with a very low public profile.
Last year, $3.2 million in renters' credits were distributed to 12,343 applicants. In Carroll County, 315 residents received $68,356, according to the state Tax Credits Office, part of the Department of Assessments and Taxation.
But people working with the elderly believe that a lot of them are not taking advantage of the opportunity.
"This is a wonderful program for our seniors, but there are many of them who don't know it exists," said Liz Passman, who heads the county Department of Aging's Office of Information and Assistance.
Modeled after the homeowners' tax-credit program, the renters' credit allows Maryland residents who are 60 years or older to receive a credit designed to cover the property taxes they indirectly pay.
The program is also available to people under the age of 60 who are totally disabled.
In 1982, the General Assembly enacted the measure to give elderly renters a benefit similar to the tax credit homeowners receive for their property taxes. The thinking was that about 15 percent of the renters' annual payment to their landlords is used to pay real estate taxes.
The level of credit depends on the amount of income the renter receives and the amount of annual rent that is paid.
For example, a renter who pays $300 a month and has an annual income of $11,000 can receive a tax credit of $275.
The maximum amount of the credit is $600.
Under the provisions of the law, the rented dwelling may be a house, apartment, condominium, duplex unit, co-op, house trailer a mobile home pad.
The credit is not available to people who rent from city or state agencies that do not pay property taxes. This restriction applies mainly to Baltimore, where many of the elderly live in public housing, according to Joan B. Cook, of the Tax Credit Office.
The law requires that the rental unit must be the principal residence of the applicant. The applicant must also have lived in it for six months of the year.
"We have had instances where someone lived in their apartment for seven months, and then were put in a nursing home for the remainder of the year," said Passman. "They are eligible to receive the credit for the seven months in the rental unit."
To receive the credit for this year, applications have to be submitted by Sept. 1.
The applications require that all the questions be answered and rTC that all income received be reported, including earned income, interest payments, Social Security payments and alimony.
The credit can be given to people who rent from relatives as long as there are a lease and monthly rental payments.
Applications are available at the Carroll County Office of Aging, Carroll County libraries and at the State Office of Assessments and Taxation.
Forms can also be obtained from the Tax Credits Office. Its phone number is 1-800-492-3790.
"For a lot of our seniors, the amounts they receive can be put to a good use like buying medicine, paying for medical costs or even having a good time," said Passman. "We know of a lady in Taneytown that used her $200 credit to pay for a 100th birthday celebration."