What are property taxes?

The taxation of land and buildings is one of the oldest forms of taxation in the United States. Before the introduction of income and sales tax, local governments relied on property-based taxation to finance most of their activities. Even with the emergence and rapid rise in other forms of taxation, property taxes remain a principal source of revenue.

Most property taxing units levy taxes on both real and personal property, but there has been a tendency to move away from taxing intangible property (e.g., money, bank accounts, stocks, bonds). Typically property taxes are "ad valorem". This means the tax is based on the value of your property. When the value of your property changes, so does your assessed or appraised value. However, there are other, non-ad valorem assessment methods, such as a fixed dollar amount per acre owned, housing unit, lot, and so forth.