Do It Yourself: Beat the System

Some DIY tips on how to appeal your property taxes, expedite your passport application and make it through airport security.

Lettering and illustration by Angela Southern

Last October, according to the most recent figures from the Transportation Safety Administration, 97 percent of domestic passengers with TSA precheck waited in airport lines less than five minutes. So why wait? Go to tsa.gov/precheck and fill out the online form. It takes five minutes. To complete the process, you make an appointment for a 10-minute, in-person interview and digital fingerprint scan at a local airport or enrollment center. (It can take a week or two to get the appointment, so plan ahead.)

Certification ($85 for five years) means you zip through security without removing shoes, belts, laptops, jackets and 3-1-1 compliant liquids. If you travel a lot internationally, it’s worth going through the more rigorous screening to secure Global Entry certification ($100 for five years; globalentry.gov).—EL

Lettering and illustration by Angela Southern

It happens to the best of us (including yours truly): You show up at the airport ready for your next adventure abroad, only to discover your passport has expired, or will expire within six months. Normally, it takes four to six weeks to get a new passport. By paying an additional $60 for expedited service, you can have your new passport in two to three weeks. And in extreme cases—like mine—it can be done in a single business day at a passport agency.

If you do make the mistake I made and are able to rebook your flight for the following day, get a copy of the new boarding pass as proof of “immediate international travel.” Life-or-death emergencies also qualify.

The closest passport agencies to New Jersey are the New York Passport Agency (376 Hudson Street, Manhattan) and the Philadelphia Passport Agency (200 Chestnut Street). An appointment is required. You will need a passport photo (AAA locations offers them free of charge for Plus and Premier members); your appointment confirmation number; the expedite fee; and supporting documents (including expired passport if you have it and birth certificate or other proof of citizenship). Typical turnaround time for emergencies is three hours—although that’s not guaranteed.— JB

Lettering and illustration by Angela Southern

As a DIY exercise, fighting city hall over your taxes is not easy. “You have to follow a unique set of rules, and if you don’t follow them, your case could be dismissed,” says Anthony Della Pelle, an attorney with the Morristown firm McKirdy and Riskin, P.A. More often than not, he adds, people who take the DIY route are unsuccessful, because the rules are mind-boggling. But if you are determined to go it alone, he has some advice.

First, familiarize yourself with local procedures. “In New Jersey, appeals generally must be filed on or before April 1, or within 45 days of the mailing of the Assessment Notice,” says Della Pelle. (Monmouth County is an exception; the deadline there is January 15. And in areas where a town-wide reassessment has been performed, the deadline is May 1.) Next, figure out whether your property has been over-assessed. For that, you’ll need your municipality’s equalization ratio (which you can find on the state treasury department’s web pages) to calculate whether your property has been over-assessed.

Next gather evidence. “It’s important to present the tax board with concrete reasons why you believe your property is over-assessed ,” says Della Pelle. “Did the assessor list your property at a greater square footage than it actually has? Are you being assessed based on a vibrant real estate market when in reality your area is experiencing an economic downturn?”

Della Pelle’s fourth piece of advice: Do yourself a favor, hire a lawyer experienced at such appeals. That part you can certainly do yourself. —TLG

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