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1 DO HIGH INTEREST RATES ENCOURAGE PROPERTY TAX DELINQUENCY?*** LARRY DEBOER* AND JAMES CONRAD** ABSTRACT delinquency payments can help states set When the interest rate rises above the penalties. penalty rate on delinquent property taxes, taxpayers have an incentive to delay their Tax Delinquency and Interest Rates property tax payments, using their local Property tax delinquency rates are norgovernments as cheap credit sources. mally very small. Lake (1979) found that Property tax delinquency as a percent of delinquency averaged only 3 percent of the the tax levy should rise with increases in property tax levy in large U.S. cities over the interest rate. We test this proposition the period, while Groves (1980) using delinquency data for 12 large In- identified a delinquency rate above 5 perdiana counties during , and find cent as an indicator of fiscal problems. that a rise in the interest rate causes a sig But delinquency has at times much exnificant rise in the delinquency rate. We ceeded these low rates. In 1933 nearly 21 also find that higher unemployment in percent of the property tax levy went uncreases delinquency while higher inflation collected nationally (Woodworth, 1934). reduces it. Tax delinquency has also been high in some declining central cities in more recent times. In Newark, New Jersey in T has long been suspected that prop- 1970, for example, the delinquency rate I erty tax delinquency increases when the topped 12 percent (Sternlieb and Burinterest rate rises above the delinquen chell, 1973). The rate in Lake County, Incpenalty rate. When the interest rate exceeded 15 percent in 1984 and diana (including the city of Gary) ex- ceeds the penalty rate, a taxpayer can use the government as a source of credit The small existing literature contains cheaper than that available from convenrates on property tax delinquency. Swier- some discussion of the effect of interest tional lenders by delaying his property tax enga's (1976) study of the late 19th cenpayment. If such taxpayer behavior is common, the property tax delinquency rate tury Iowa frontier suggests that tax de- linquency was a source of capital for will increase when interest rates rise abov. e penalty rates. This paper presents eviduring the 1930s focused on the effect of farmers and other landowners. Research dence on the responsiveness of property the Depression, but several authors rectax delinquency to the interest rate, unommended that penalty rates be kept employment and inflation, based on data for 12 large Indiana counties over the above the rate of interest (Jensen, 1936; period. A study of delinquency is Simpson, 1933; Smith, 1936; Upson, 1934). worthwhile for several reasons. The prop- Studies of urban tax delinquency in the erty tax delinquency rate, delinquent taxes 1970s failed to find evidence of a link to the interest rate. Sternlieb's (1972) study as a percent of the tax levy, is used as an indicator of local government fiscal health of New York City and Lake's (1979) study (ACIR, 1985; Groves, 1980; Standard and of Pittsburgh specifically rejected the hy- Poors, 1983). Measures of the responsivesource of short-term capital for property pothesis that delinquency represented a ness of delinquency to the interest rate and owners, concluding instead that delinother economic indicators can be useful in local revenue forecasting. And evidence on quency was a step on the way to property the impact of the interest rate relative to abandonment by inner city landlords. Re- search by Sternlieb and Burchell (1973) *Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN for Newark and Olson and Lachman (1976) **University of Indianapolis, Indianapolis, IN for Cleveland supported this finding. 555

2 556 NATIONAL TAX JOURNAL IVol. XLI A Model of Property Tax dummy variable for the statewide reas- Delinquency sessment years is included to control for this possibility. A high interest rate should provide an The model of tax delinquency is incentive for tax delinquency when it exceeds the delinquency penalty rate. How- + + ever, we do not expect to find a discrete DELINQ F(INTPEN, UNEMP, jump in delinquency when the interestpenalty spread moves above zero. Instead, + delinquency is likely to rise as interest INFL, REASMT) rates rise, though perhaps most rapidly in where DELINQ the property tax dethe neighborhood of a zero spread. Tax- linquency rate, depayers may borrow at a variety of interlinquent taxes as a est rates. As interest rates rise, more tax- percentage of the payers will find delinquency attractive. tax levy; Taxpayers may respond differently to the INTPEN the interest-penalty social stigma and bad publicity associated spread, the interest with delinquency and may assess the risk rate less the annual of property loss in a tax sale differently.' percentage delin- Tax delinquency is also likely to vary quency penalty; with macroeconomic conditions, Higher UNEMP the unemployment unemployment should lead to greater de- rate; linquency. The experience of the Great INFL the inflation rate; Depression demonstrated that delin- and quency rises during severe economic REASMT - a dummy variable downturns. Campbell and Dietrich (1983) equaling one in and Peterson and Luckett (1976) identi- statewide reassessfied the unemployment rate as a deter- ment years. minant of consumer loan and mortgage delinquency. Signs above the independent variables Increases in the inflation rate should show their expected effects on delindecrease property tax delinquency. Asset quency. values rise during inflation, leading to fewer cash flow problems, fewer loan de- Data and Estimation faults and bankruptcies, and less property tax delinquency.' Getman (1986) Annual data on current year property blames the rapid rise of mortgage fore- tax delinquency from 1969 to 1986 for 12 closures in the 1980s on reduced inflation large Indiana counties were obtained from of home values. Campbell and Dietrich Indiana State Tax Board records. Current found the current loan to value ratio a delinquency, taxes unpaid in the current significant positive determinant of resi- year only, and not cumulative delinquent dential mortgage default. Similar debt- taxes, is used because it better reflects asset or debt-income ratios were found to annual changes in the model's indepenbe important determinants of personal dent variables. bankruptcies (Yeager, 1974; Sullivan, The dependent variable is the property 1983), auto loan delinquencies (Peterson tax delinquency rate, defined as the perand Luckett, 1976), and farm bankrupt- centage of the annual tax levy which is cies (Shepard and Collins, 1982). not paid by year's end. The delinquency Reassessment occurs statewide at long rate controls for the scale of county tax intervals in Indiana, and generates tax- effort and is a measure of fiscal health payer challenges to new assessed values. used by municipal credit rating firms Taxes are often classified delinquent while (Standard and Poors, 1983). The delinchallenges are litigated, so delinquency quency rate averaged 4.8 percent for the increases during reassessment years. A 12 counties and 18 years selected for this

3 No. 41 PROPERTY TAX DELINQUENCY 557 study, ranging from one percent in Del- The counties selected for analysis are aware County in 1969 to 19 percent in the central counties of the 12 Indiana Lake County in Metropolitan Statistical Areas existing in A short-term interest rate is appropri Large counties are chosen for sevate for construction of the interest-pen- eral reasons. The most recent evidence on alty spread, since delinquency may be used the interest rate hypothesis is for urban only as a short-term source of credit. Long- areas. Unemployment rates for larger term delinquency results in the loss of the counties are subject to smaller sampling property through a tax sale. The yield on errors. Delinquency rates for counties with three-month U.S. government securities larger property tax bases are less influis used. The interest-penalty spread is enced by unique, unpredictable events, constructed by subtracting the penalty on such as bankruptcies of single firms. And, current year (not accumulated prior year) these 12 counties contain 51 percent of the delinquency from the interest rate. In In- state's population and collect 59 percent diana the penalty was 8 percent until 1979, of the state's property taxes, so the reand 10 percent thereafter. The interest- sults are likely to be representative of the penalty spread averaged 1.24 over the state as a whole. period of study, with a low of 4.04 in Since only 18 observations are avail and a high of 4.10 in able for each county, the regression equa- The response of the delinquency rate to tion is estimated with pooled time-series the interest-penalty spread may not be cross-section data for all 12 counties. Inlinear. Changes in the spread when the tercept dummy variables are included for interest rate is well below the penalty each selected county to control for timeshould have little effect on delinquency. invariant omitted variables. Eleven county As the spread approaches and exceeds zero, dummies are included, with Marion however, the use of delinquency as a credit County (Indianapolis) excluded. The source should increase. When the interest equation to be estimated is rate is well above the penalty, most taxpayers likely to leave taxes unpaid will DELINQ ao + A,INTPEN have done so, and the impact of the spread + a2(intpen)2 + a3(intpen),' on delinquency should again be small. To capture this pattern, squared and cubed + A,UNEMP + a5lnfl + a6reasmt interest penalty spread terms are in- 17 cluded in the estimating equation. If the + al E COUNTY,, data reflect the above expectation, the 7 minimum point of the cubic "S curve" should be at a negative interest-penalty where COUNTY, represents the 11 county spread, the maximum at a positive point, dummy variables. and the inflection point near zero. Cross sectional observations are fre- Unemployment rates by county were quently heteroskedastic; time series data obtained from the Indiana Employment are often autocorrelated. To control for Security Division. The average unem- these problems, the pooled regression is ployment rate was 6.9 percent in our estimated using a cross sectionally hetsample, ranging from 1.2 percent for Tip- eroskedastic time-wise autocorrelated pecanoe County in 1969 to 17.1 percent in model (Kmenta, 1971). First order auto- Howard County in Annual percent- correlation parameters are calculated from age changes in the Consumer Price Index ordinary least squares (OLS) residuals for are used to measure the inflation rate. The each county, and the data are transinflation rate averaged 6.6 percent over formed to remove autocorrelation. Residthe period. It was lowest at 1.9 uals from OLS estimates on the transpercent in 1986 and highest at 13.5 per formed data are then used to calculate cent in Indiana reassessed property standard deviations for each county, and in 1970 and The dummy variable the data are transformed again to elimi- REASMT equals one in these years. nate heteroskedasticity. OLS is then ap-

4 558 NATIONAL TAX JOURNAL [Vol. XLI Table 1. Estimation Results for Tax Delinquency Cross-Sectionally Heteroskedastic and Time-Wise Autoregressive Model. Independent Coefficient Independent Coefficient Variable (t-statistic) Variable (t-statistlcl INTPEN * HOWARD * (3.28) (Kokomo) (1.53) (INTPEN) (INTPEN) IAKE * (1.45) (Gary) (3.49) * MADISON (2.02) (Anderson) (1.95) UNEMP * MONROE * (3.24) (Bloomington) (3.76) INFL * STJOSEPH (3.57) (South Bend) (0.50) REASMT * TIPPECANOE (10.75) (Lafayette) (1.73) ALLEN * VANDERBURGH (Ft. Wayne) (2.19) (Evansville) (1.90) DEIAWARE * VIGO * (Muncie) (4.36) (Terre Haute) (4.69) ELKHART * Constant * (Elkhart) (2.99) (10.84) 2 R 795 F * Coefficient significant at.05 level. plied to the twice-transformed data, pro- the interest rate has little effect on delinviding results nearly identical to quency when it is less than 7.4 percent. generalized least square estimates. The impact increases until the interest rate is 10.5 percent, then decreases until at 13.6 percent the interest rate again has Estimation Results little effect. A one point rise in the inter- Estimation results indicate that the an- est rate from 10 to 11 percent raises the swer to the question posed in the title is delinquency rate by.25, equivalent to a yes, high interest rates do encourage property tax loss to Indiana local governproperty tax delinquency (see Table 1). The ments of $5.3 million statewide in 1986.' three interest-penalty spread coefficients An increase in the spread over the whole form the expected "S-curve," with the -2.6 to 3.6 range increases the delinminimum at 2.6, the maximum at 3.6, quency rate by 1.06 percentage points. and the inflection point at 0.5. With the The effects of changing unemployment penalty rate at 10 percent, this implies that and inflation rates on delinquency are

5 No. 41 PROPERTY TAX DELINQUENCY 559 nearly symmetric: a one percentage point than 2.6, the point below which interest rise in the unemployment rate raises de- rates have little impact on delinquency. linquency by about 0.09 percentage points, while a one percentage point rise in the inflation rate reduces delinquency by 0.10 ENDNOTES percentage points. As expected, statewide ***We are grateful to Deborah Brown, George Pareassessment significantly increases tax trick and three referees for helpful comments. delinquency, as new assessed values are 'The risk of property loss in a tax sale is not imchallenged by taxpayers. Delinquency ject to tax sale a year and a half after it becomes de mediate. In Indiana, for example, a parcel is first sub- rates are nearly 1.7 percentage points linquent. After the sale, the original owner has a year higher in reassessment years. to redeem the parcel before title is transferred to the County coefficients are reported by name tax sale buyer Not all counties hold tax sales every and major city in Table 1. Sign ificant year. 2 Alternately, if higher inflation is correlated with coefficients indicate that factors other than asset value increases, delinquency may increase as those specified here influence delin- taxpayers delay payment to invest and receive capital quency rates across counties. The county gains., coefficients show the effect of unspecified In most counties, most of the delinquent tax levy is paid before the property is auctioned at the tax rate. county characteristics relative to Marion A survey of Indiana county auditors found that on av County (Indianapolis). For example, all erage 88 percent of parcels delinquent on July 1 are else equal, Lake County's delinquency rate paid before the tax sale on the first Monday in Ocis 3.3 percentage points higher than Martober (DeBoer, 1988). The tax delinquency problem for local governments is thus one of delay and uncerion County's.' tainty, rather than permanent revenue loss 'One county characteristic that may be of partieu lar importance is administrative effort. Bird (1936) found that jurisdictions with effective tax collection Conclusion administration kept their delinquency rates rela It has long been thought that when in- terest rates rise above penalty rates on property tax delinquency, the delin- REFERENCES quency rate will increase. Taxpayers de- Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relalay payments to use their local governtions. "Bankruptcies, Defaults and Other Local ments as a source of credit cheaper than Government Financial Emergencies." Washington, that available from conventional lenders. D.C: ACIR, June This study offers evidence to support this Bird, Frederick L "Extent and Distribution of Urban Tax Delinquency ' Law and Contemporary Prob hypothesis. For 12 large Indiana counties lems 3(June 1936) over the period, rises in the Campbell, Tim S and J. Kimball Dietrich "The Despread of a short-term interest rate over terminants of Default on Insured Conventional the first-year delinquency penalty had a Residential Mortgage Loaris." The Journal of Fi- tively low, even during the Depression. significant positive impact on property tax nance 38(December 1983): DeBoer, Larry. "Property Tax Delinquency and Tax delinquency as a percent of the tax levy. Sales in Indiana: Results from the Association of The impact was especially great for Indiana Counties Survey." Unpublished manuspreads between -2.6 and 3.6 percent. In script, April Getman, Paul. "Mortgage Foreclosures: Housing's Achilles Heel." Bala Cynwyd, Pa.: Chase Econo- addition, the unemployment rate positively affected delinquency and the infla- metrics, tion rate had a negative effect. Delin- Groves,SanfordM "Financial Trend Monitoring Sysquency also rose in years of statewide tem." Handbook 2 of Evaluation of Local Govern ment Financial Condition. Washington, D.C.: Inter- national City Management Association, property tax reassessment. The traditional policy recommendation, Jensen, Jens P "The Tax Calendar and the Use of that annual penalty rates be set above the Installment Payments, Penalties and Discounts." highest expected interest rate, is sup- Law and Contemporary Problems 3(June 1936): ported by our results. In fact, legislatures Kmenta, Jan. Elements of Econometrics. New York: may consider penalty rates high enough MacMillan Publishing Company, to keep the interest-penalty spread less Lake, Robert W. Real Estate Tax Delinquency. New

6 560 NATIONAL TAX JOURNAL [Vol. XLI Brunswick, NJ: Center for Urban Policy Research, Sternlieb, George The Urban Housing Dilemma. New Olson, 1919 Susan and M. Leanne Lachman. Tax Delin York: Housing and Development Administration, quency in the Inner City Lexington, MA. D.C. Heath Sternlieb, George and Robert W Burchell Residen and Company, tial Abandonment. New Brunswick, NJ: Center for Peterson, Richard L and Charles A. Luckett. "Delin- Urban Policy Research, quency Rates on Consumer and Mortgage Debt: Sullivan, A Charlene. "Economic Factors Associated Their Determinants and Impact " Working Paper with Personal Bankruptcy." Working Paper No. 47, No. 5, Credit Research Center, Krannert School of Credit Research Center, Krannert School of Management, Purdue University, West Lafayette, agement, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, IN, Shephard, Laurence E. and Robert A. Collins. "Why Swierenga, Robert P Acres for Cents: Delinquent Tax Do Farmers Fail? Farm Bankruptcies " Auctions in Domestic Iowa. Westport, CT: Green American Journal of Agricultural Economics 64 wood Press, (November 1982): Upson, Lent D. "Tax Delinquency: Achnirustration and Simpson, Herbert D. "Tax Delinquency-Economic Legislation." National Tax Association Proceed. Aspects." Illinois Law Review 28(June 1933): 147 ings, 1934, pp Woodworth, Leo Day. "Collection of Property Taxes Smith, Wade Delinquent S. "Recent Taxpayers Legislative Laiv and Indulgences to Contemporary with Special Reference to Real Estate." National Association Proceedings, 1934, pp Tax Problems 3(June 1936) Yeager, Frederick C "Personal Bankruptcy and Eco- Standard Credit and Poors Standard and Poors Municipal Overview. New York: nomic Stability. ' Southern 41(1974) Economic Journal