I teamed up with "Good Morning America Weekend" to present surprising savings ideas you may never have heard of before. They come from my new book, "Save Big: Cut Your Top 5 Costs and Save Thousands," which focuses on big savings -- more than a thousand dollars -- rather than the small savings ideas we so often hear about. Click here to read an excerpt.
In this tight economy, many people are already doing all the small things and it's not enough. So our mission was to find big, unusual savings strategies that can make a difference in peoples' lives. Our top five costs are houses, cars, credit, groceries and healthcare. When you know where you spend big, you can figure out how to save big, so those are the areas we targeted.
Sample Savings: $5,000
It's your home sweet home, but you might be downright bitter if you knew that 60 percent of houses are over-valued for property tax purposes, according to the National Taxpayers Union. In other words, the local government says they are worth more than they actually are. It's especially true right now when so many properties have fallen in value, but local governments haven't kept up with reality.
"They've been showing the house continuing to go up since 2006," Stu Sendell of New Jersey told us. "In fact, the market cratered in the middle of 2006." Sendell is one of only two percent of homeowners who fight back. If he wins his appeal, he figures he'll save $5,000 in taxes each and every year. And here's the good news: the vast majority of homeowners who bother to appeal their assessments win at least a partial victory!
So here's how you do it:
Act quickly. Once you receive your property tax assessment, you typically have just 30 to 120 days to appeal it.
Understand your assessed value. Some jurisdictions use market value as assessed value. Others use a percentage of market value. If yours uses the latter, make sure you grasp the formula, because that's the only way to know for sure if you've been over-assessed.
Consider hiring help. If you are too busy, there are attorneys who will handle your appeal for you on contingency. They typically charge 30 percent to 50 percent of the amount they save you in taxes the first year.
Get the government's documents. Your local government should provide you with its notes on your property and the others it used as comparisons.
Craft your argument.. The two main arguments are that the assessor made a mistake -- like getting the number of bedrooms wrong -- or that the assessor compared your home to others that are not really similar.
Find alternate comparables. If the latter is true, you will want to find alternative comparables that are more favorable to you. You can see how much your neighbors are paying for their property taxes at www.zillow.com, in the charts and data section.
Make it official. You will complete your appeal either by putting it in writing or by attending a hearing. Total amount of work: five to 20 hours, depending on your case. If you win, you re-set your tax rate for years to come.
Sample Savings: $1,200
Automakers sometimes offer secret warranties where they'll repair customers' cars for free to avoid issuing a formal recall. The reason they're called "secret" warranties is that they don't tell you they will do this. You have to ask.