What the experts say
Dodging dodgy tax preparers
It’s up to you to protect yourself from shady or incompetent tax preparers, said Kayleigh Kulp in CNBC.com. “Enrolled agents, CPAs, and tax attorneys are governed by standards of professional responsibility and IRS ethics,” but anyone can prepare tax returns for money as long as they obtain a Preparer Tax Identification Number from the IRS. That process takes about 15 minutes and costs $50. Congress and the courts have largely blocked efforts by the IRS to regulate unlicensed PTIN holders, meaning it’s on taxpayers to choose carefully. For starters, “avoid tax preparers who offer to take a percentage of your tax refund, rather than a flat fee.” If your preparer commits intentional fraud, file a complaint with the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility and the state agency under which the preparer is licensed.
Rising interest rates and your wallet
“The era of super-low interest rates” might finally be ending, said Jim Puzzanghera in the Los Angeles Times. The Federal Reserve looks poised to raise its benchmark interest rate this month. The Fed may even pick up the pace of rate hikes next year if President-elect Donald Trump’s agenda of infrastructure spending and tax cuts brings stronger economic growth and higher inflation. For the average consumer, it means savers might “finally start getting closer to a decent return on their bank accounts.” But rising rates “would pinch Americans with added costs as they borrow money for cars, major appliances, and other items.” Mortgage rates have already shot up in the past month—jumping from an average of 3.53 percent the week before the election to 4.03 percent two weeks later—meaning that refinancing will be less attractive in 2017.
Finding a missing pension
“Suspect you may have lost track of a 401(k) retirement account or pension benefit? You aren’t alone,” said Anne Tergesen in The Wall Street Journal. As many as 30 percent of all pension accounts end up lost, according to human resources firm Aon Hewitt. Sometimes it’s because a plan can no longer locate a former employee who has moved or changed names; many people also simply forget they were entitled to benefits. To track down lost benefits, start by sending a letter or email to your former employer. If the company no longer exists, free help is available from the Labor Depar tment and nonprofit pensioncounseling centers. The federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. also provides help locating traditional pensions.