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Crowds, Confusion As Rush Mounts To Prepay Property Taxes

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The crowds have moved from malls to municipal buildings now that Christmas is behind us and New Year's has almost arrived.

As CBS2's Jessica Layton reported, homeowners are trying to pay their property taxes before the new tax plan kicks in, and on Wednesday night, they were finally getting a little guidance from the IRS. But a lot of confusion remains.

"With the bill being passed in December, you only gave the average person approximately two to three weeks to make an informed decision," one taxpayer said.

Local town treasurers said all week, residents have been rushing into their local offices – hoping to take advantage of big savings before the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions goes into effect. In Suffolk County, workers were called in from their vacations to deal with the demand days after President Donald Trump's major tax overhaul was signed into law this week.

"I can do some of it now, but I really wish I didn't have to," Karen Bula of West Hempstead said Tuesday. "It's too much of a hardship."

But not everyone is eligible – adding to the stress of not only people paying the taxes, but tax professionals.

"I do think a lot of people are confused," said tax expert Rachel Michaelob. "Actually, my office this week -- we've been busy answering questions like this."

The IRS tried to clarify Wednesday, saying, "A prepayment of anticipated real property taxes that have not been assessed prior to 2018 are not deductible in 2017."

In other words, you should really only prepay if you have gotten a tax assessment from your local government.

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an emergency executive order making it easier to prepay property taxes in New York, which spurred a lot of the surge that has been happening.

In New Jersey, which has the highest property taxes in the nation, Gov. Chris Christie has ordered towns to accept 2018 prepayments through this Sunday.

Some towns are telling residents their workers cannot and will not give tax advice. Anyone with questions is advised to talk to an accountant or tax attorney.

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