Winter and the holidays are not only times to come together with family and friends for good food, football, and holiday cheer; they’re also a great opportunity to save on needed items through major holiday sales. During this time, retailers, service providers, and other vendors tend to incentivize potential customers to buy. While the thought of winter sales would normally conjure up images of everything from electronics as holiday gifts to exercise equipment (to reach those New Year’s resolutions), there are also exciting seasonal offerings in the credit world too. More and more providers are offering great deals with low rates and waived fees on a variety of services.

Credit cards and personal loans are typically the first things that come to mind when one is in financial need. Now that need may be as small as family gifts for the holidays or as big as a pool for the kids next summer, but one thing continues to ring true; people are more inclined to spend (and over spend) during the holidays as their mindsets shift from the relaxed freedom of Fall to refocusing on household/family needs. That is why it is smart to look into any credit card companies and local bank branches who may be offering enticing incentives for securing credit or a loan during this time. Remember, back to school specials apply to students in need of financial security too!

For many people, the winter includes driving around town to enjoy the lights and decorations, or traveling to visit family and friends for the holidays. Therefore, it’s only natural that auto insurance and loan vendors choose this time of the year to offer their biggest savings initiatives. People can daydream about one day owning the best car out there, or the one they’ve fantasized about since being a kid, but if it doesn’t include a sound financial partner offering quality service at low rates, a dream car can quickly turn into a nightmare.

A home equity line of credit (HELOC) is a great tool for creating a sense of security. Most rates associated with this type of credit tend to be lower than your average credit card or loan rates; therefore, the potential to decrease current payments through consolidating debt is very strong. Additionally, not only do you pay less interest through a HELOC, the interest that is paid can typically be written off as tax deductible. Unlike personal loans where a lump sum is taken out all at once, credit lines can be drawn from for the exact amounts needed; most people find this method easier to manage as there is only a responsibility to pay back the money required in the moment, without the full weight of a larger amount collecting interest along the way.

An excellent means of acquiring credit assistance is to partner with a trusted organization with the experience and incentives (seasonal or not) that can make a difference amongst the competitive landscape. Here’s a look at the loan deals currently being offered by one of the industry’s leading credit unions.

EECU was recently named top credit union in DFW by Consumer Reports® —and provides an easy way to get access to financial products and services if you live in the Dallas Fort Worth Area. When it comes to credit cards, EECU offers excellent options with no annual fees and no fee balance transfers at 6.9% APR1 for life. EECU’s home equity line of credit provides important financial security at a low intro rate of 2.99% APR2 through January 31, 2017, then a variable rate as low as 4.00%2 APR thereafter. There are currently and no closing costs2 and you will enjoy an expedited closing process2. Additionally, EECU is running a promotion in which they will beat any auto loan by 2%3 when you refinance your current auto loan with them. Also, EECU is offering personal loans with rates as low as 5.99% APR4. EECU’s online applications make it easy to take advantage of these offers.


1 APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Rate is effective as of January 15, 2016. 6.9% APR is only available to qualified members for balance transfers made within 90-days from the anniversary date of account opening. This APR will be non-variable. Balance transfers made 91 days or more from the anniversary date of account opening will be made at the standard Balance Transfer APR (10.24%-17.99%). Rates are subject to change without notice. Membership in EECU is required – membership information available at eecu.org. All loans are subject to credit approval and EECU lending policies. This limited-time offer is subject to change at any time without notice. Cardholder benefits are subject to change without notice. Balance Transfer Information – Balance transfers are not considered purchases, therefore no grace period applies and finance charges will begin on the transaction date. This offer is valid for balances transferred from other institutions only. Please continue making payments on your other credit card and loan account(s) until the balance transfer is confirmed on your other institution’s account statement. By applying, you certify that all information provided by you at the time of acceptance is true, correct, and complete and that you are (a) at least 18 years of age and legally able to enter into a contract for the extension of credit and (b) a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Click for Important Account Terms.

2 The Introductory Annual Percentage Rate (APR) shown for home equity lines of credit is a fixed rate until January 31, 2017. After the introductory period, the APR will be variable and will be based on the Prime Rate as published in The Wall Street Journal Rates Table (the “index”) plus a margin. The minimum APR is 4.00% after the expiration of the introductory period and applies during the draw and repayment periods. The annual percentage rate is subject to change semi-annually after the introductory period. Any change will be effective on the 1st day of January and the 1st day of July.  An increase in the index will result in higher payments.  A decrease in the index will result in lower payments. The APR cannot increase or decrease more than 2% in any 1 year period.  In no event will the APR exceed 18%.  Minimum payments are required during the draw and repayment periods. Offer limited to consumer home equity lines of credit not currently held at EECU. Property insurance required, including flood insurance where applicable. The minimum advance during the draw period is $4,000. No closing costs for loans $174,999 or less. If an appraisal is required to determine property value, you are responsible for the cost of the appraisal. Loan amount may not exceed 50% of your property’s value, with a combined loan to value of 80%, other restrictions may apply. Membership in EECU is required – membership information available at eecu.org. All loans are subject to credit approval and EECU lending policies. In Texas, there is a 12 day cooling off period on all HELOCs. Actual time of funding may differ depending on appraisal, title and other documentation requirements. By applying, you certify that all information provided by you at the time of acceptance is true, correct, and complete and that you are (a) at least 18 years of age and legally able to enter into a contract for the extension of credit and (b) a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Consult your tax advisor regarding the deductibility of interest. Equal Housing Opportunity lender.

3 This offer is to refinance an auto loan from another lender. All loans are subject to credit approval and EECU lending policies. Floor rate is 2.50% Annual Percentage Rate. Membership in EECU is required – membership information available at eecu.org. Offer valid only on loans older than 90 days. Not valid with loans currently financed with EECU. Minimum refinanced auto loan amount is $2,500. Maximum auto loan rate is 18.00% Annual Percentage Rate. 90-day delay of first payment with credit approval. Interest will accrue during the payment deferral period. EECU does not charge application or refinance fees. Vehicle title transfer fees will apply. Vehicle titling fees may differ depending on your county of residence. Additional terms and conditions apply. Offer and rates subject to change without notice. By applying, you certify that all information provided by you at the time of acceptance is true, correct, and complete and that you are (a) at least 18 years of age and legally able to enter into a contract for the extension of credit and (b) a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

4 APR = Annual Percentage Rate. The APR ranges from 5.99% to 16.99%. Membership in EECU is required – membership information available at eecu.org. All loans are subject to credit approval and EECU lending policies. By applying, you certify that all information provided by you at the time of acceptance is true, correct, and complete and that you are (a) at least 18 years of age and legally able to enter into a contract for the extension of credit and (b) a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Must complete and return all required documents within the same business day received in order for money to be deposited into an EECU share or checking account. Same day deposit does not apply for special account requests or EECU direct pay to creditors. Click for loan details.

The FAFSA is Changing This Year

People starting college in the fall of 2017 probably haven’t yet decided where they’re going to school, let alone figured out how much money they’ll need to do it, but it’s almost time to start applying for financial aid. In the past, students and their families could turn in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) starting Jan. 1 of the year they’ll need the aid, but that date has been moved up.

It’s coming up quickly, too. For the 2017-18 academic year, people can turn in the FAFSA as early as Oct. 1, 2016. That’s in less than 3 months.

Why So Early?

Before we get into the specifics of this change, it’s important to point out why you’d want to turn in the FAFSA so early. Figuring out how you’re paying for college is one of those “the sooner, the better” kind of things. Though the application has “federal” in the name, states and schools also use the FAFSA to dole out financial aid, and every state and school has different ways of doing that. Some distribute aid on a first-come, first-served basis, so the longer you wait to turn in your FAFSA, the lower your chances of receiving assistance.

With that sort of pressure, you’d think college-bound people (or their parents) would greet the stroke of midnight with a toast of “Happy New Year! But first, FAFSA.” It doesn’t tend to happen that way, for a few reasons. First, a lot of people don’t realize how important it is in getting financial aid, or they assume they won’t qualify for aid, so they don’t bother with the paperwork. (Insert “you won’t know if you never try” cliche here.) In addition to the common mistakes of not knowing deadlines or underestimating the importance of the FAFSA, people put it off because they think they won’t have all the information they need to complete it until after they’ve filed their taxes.

For example: The FAFSA for the 2016-17 school year required applicants to enter their income information from the 2015 tax year. The deadline for submitting your 2015 income tax return was April 18, 2016. At that point, the FAFSA deadline in many states had passed, or states had already awarded all available aid. How could an application that requires 2015 tax information come due before your 2015 taxes, you ask? You can estimate your financial information on the FAFSA, allowing you to turn in the application before you file your taxes, which is something a lot of people may not realize.

Yes, it’s confusing, which brings us to the new policies coming in a few months.

What Changed?

For the 2017-18 academic year, students and their families will use their financial information from the 2015 tax year to fill out the FAFSA. The idea is that this will make it easier to fill out the form earlier. It also allows more people to take advantage of the IRS Data Retrieval tool. It transfers your tax information to the FAFSA, but because many people have traditionally filled out the FAFSA before completing their taxes, that tool hasn’t been as helpful as it could be.

“This will simplify the FAFSA, cutting about a page of questions from the form,” Mark Kantrowitz, said in an email to Credit.com. Kantrowitz is a financial aid expert and publisher and vice president of strategy at Cappex, an online platform for researching colleges and scholarships. “Also, any data element that is transferred unmodified from the IRS will not be subject to verification … This is especially important for low-income students, who often have difficulty completing verification.”

What You Need to Know Before October

The Education Department recommends filling out the FAFSA online, but you can also fill out a PDF version (you submit that through the mail) or request a paper form be sent to you. You also need a federal student aid ID (FSA ID) to sign your FAFSA, and it can take up to 3 days after registering for your FSA ID before you can use it to sign your application.

You still don’t need to have filed your taxes in order to fill out the FAFSA (though it’s easier that way, with the IRS Data Retrieval tool), and you also don’t have to know where you’re going to school. You can list a college on your FAFSA, if you want them to receive your FAFSA, even if you haven’t yet decided if you’re applying there. Keep in mind you have to fill out the FAFSA every year you’re applying for aid, as well, so for people who have gone through this process before, now you can start it earlier.

“The switch to prior-prior year also increases the amount of time available to apply for financial aid, from 18 months to 21 months,” Kantrowitz said. He said he hoped the earlier availability of the form would lead to more low-income students filing their FAFSAs early, consequently allowing them to qualify for more state aid.

Changes to how people apply for federal student aid hardly solves the burden of rising education costs and the ever-growing student loan debt in the U.S., but they simplify a process that many people find intimidating.

Of course, paying for college goes beyond this single form. Figuring out how much you can afford to spend (and borrow) to get a degree can be really tricky, but it’s important that students and their families consider the future cost of these decisions. Student loans have a significant impact on borrowers’ credit scores (you can see just how much by reviewing two of your free credit scores each month on Credit.com), and falling behind on loan payments can seriously damage your financial stability.

creditdotcom

Article courtesy of Credit.com, Christine DiGangi – July 19, 2016

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With a personal loan from EECU, you can get a low monthly payment and use the extra money to consolidate debt, fix up the house, take a summer vacation or to cover unexpected expenses! For example, with a rate as low as 5.99% APR, you can get a loan up to $10,000 and pay as little as $194** a month. Terms are flexible and the process is simple. Learn more and apply online today at eecu.org/simplify.

 


*APR=Annual Percentage Rate. The APR ranges from 5.99% to 16.99%.
** Payment estimates are based on an APR of 5.99% for a 60-month term on a $10,000 loan. Your actual loan amount and payment terms may vary. Membership required – membership information available at eecu.org. Subject to credit approval. By applying, you certify that all information provided by you at the time of acceptance is true, correct, and complete and that you are (a) at least 18 years of age and legally able to enter into a contract for the extension of credit and (b) a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Must complete and return all required documents within the same business day received in order for money to be deposited into an EECU share or checking account. Same day deposit does not apply for special account requests or EECU direct pay to creditors.

NAFCU warns about a KrebsOnSecurity report that CiCi’s Pizza, a Texas-based restaurant chain with more than 500 locations in 35 states, has been hit by a credit card data breach.

UPDATE as of July 16, 2016:

Cici’s Pizza, a Coppell, Texas-based fast-casual restaurant chain, today acknowledged a credit card breach at more than 135 locations. The disclosure comes more than a month after KrebsOnSecurity first broke the news of the intrusion, offering readers a sneak peak inside the sprawling cybercrime machine that thieves used to siphon card data from Cici’s customers in real-time.

In a statement released Tuesday evening, Cici’s said that in early March 2016, the company received reports from several of its restaurant locations that point-of-sale systems were not working properly.

“The point-of-sale vendor immediately began an investigation to assess the problem and initiated heightened security measures,” the company said in a press release. “After malware was found on some point-of-sale systems, the company began a restaurant-by-restaurant review and remediation, and retained a third-party cybersecurity firm, 403 Labs, to perform a forensic analysis.”

According to Cici’s, “the vast majority of the intrusions began in March of 2016,” but the company acknowledges that the breach started as early as 2015 at some locations. Cici’s said it was confident the malware has been removed from all stores. A list of affected locations is here (PDF).

Read More>


ORIGINAL article on June 7, 2016:

Krebs said it appears hackers stole credit card data from certain restaurants “by posing as technical support specialists for the company’s point-of-sale provider.” Krebs noted that more than six financial institutions had contacted the blog with concerns about CiCi’s after detecting a pattern of fraud on cards that had been used there during the last few months.

CiCi’s told Krebs that an outside public relations firm is handling “the issue.”

Krebs also followed up a tip that the breach could have been connected to CiCi’s POS provider Datapoint, which denied the connection and said that hackers had posed as specialists from multiple POS providers.

As a reminder, if you purchase food from CiCi’s Pizza using a credit and/or debit card, be sure to monitor your account. If you notice suspicious activity, contact us immediately at 817-882-0800.

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You’re invited to join us for a special EECU Member & Teacher Appreciation Night to cheer on the Texas Rangers at the ballpark with discounted ticket pricing!

When: 
Tuesday, June 21, 2016TicketPriceTable
7:05 p.m.

Where:
Globe Life Ballpark
Home of the Texas Rangers

Tickets:BuyTickets

Receive deep discounts!
Select the June 21st game
Enter Coupon Code: EECU
during checkout

The Texas Rangers will be taking on the Cincinnati Reds at home with deeply discounted ticket prices for teachers, EECU members and their family & friends. Plus, if you’re one of the first 15,000 attendees through the gates for the game, you will receive a free TX Rangers yearbook (gates open at 5:00 p.m.).

We hope you can join us on Tuesday, June 21 as we welcome summer and celebrate teachers, EECU members and family & friends to cheer on the Rangers at the ballpark.

In our continuing efforts to ensure the security of member accounts, on June 8, 2016, we are improving our debit card fraud notification system to include free text messaging and enhanced email messaging.

Here’s how it works. When potential debit card fraud is detected:

  1. The debit cardholder will receive an automatic email notification, with links to indicate if all transactions in question are authorized or if one or more are not.
  2. The debit cardholder may also receive a free text message to his/her mobile device that will allow him/her to respond via text to confirm or deny fraud.
  3. If we do not receive a response from the debit cardholder within a few minutes of sending the text, the cardholder will receive an automated phone call to confirm or deny fraud using the keypad on your phone.

For questions about the enhanced fraud notification system, please contact us at 817-882-0800. Remember, our messages will never ask for your PIN or account number. If you ever receive a request for this information, the message is NOT from EECU.

Improving the security of member accounts is one more way we provide A Better Way of Banking®.

 

2016 EECU Mayfest RunAs the title sponsor of this year’s EECU Mayfest Run, we are working with our partner companies to raise funds to support Cook Children’s Medical Center in their efforts to advance patient care and provide hope to thousands of children and their families.

Through a Patient Partner Program, we have paired five Mayfest runners with five Cook Children’s patients to allow the participating children to “cross the finish line” with assistance. Thanks to the runners’ support and encouragement, what could be a difficult task of participating in this race for the patients, can instead become a moment they’ll never forget.

“A willing and able runner giving a supportive hand to a child in need is more than symbolic,” said Lonnie Nicholson, EECU President and CEO. “It is an express commitment that we can all help our communities and in particular those in our communities who are most vulnerable. We are pleased we can support the Mayfest charities as well as well as this year’s patient-runner teams to benefit Cook Children’s.”

Fundraising efforts will help patients like 6 year old Matty, 11 year old Alex, and thousands of other Cook Children’s patients. Read Matty and Alex’s stories and donate today at eecu.org/donate.

Pictured Left to Right: Lonnie Nicholson (EECU President & CEO), Kiana Headland (Alvarado High School), Christian Turnley (Keller High School), Emily Hailey (Fort Worth Christian School), Sydney Peel (Colleyville Heritage High School), Frank Molinar (White Settlement ISD Superintendent and EECU Board Member), Deanna Pierce (Richland High School).
Pictured Left to Right: Lonnie Nicholson (EECU President & CEO), Claire Hamilton (Kennendale High School), Makenna Barbara (Arlington Heights High School), Wyatt Reeves (R.L. Paschal High School), K’see Shae Clark (Blum High School), Adam Thomas (Timber Creek High School), Frank Molinar (White Settlement ISD Superintendent and EECU Board Member), Ethan Sii (Decatur High School).

On Tuesday, March 22, EECU announced the 2016 Glenn Mandeville Memorial Scholarship winners at its annual meeting. EECU awarded $30,000 in scholarships to support six local graduating high school students with their college expenses. The EECU Scholarship Program began 28 years ago and honors former board member Glenn Mandeville, a life-long educator. Since that time, EECU has awarded more than $450,000 in scholarship money to local students.

“EECU has a deep affinity for supporting education,” said Lonnie Nicholson, EECU President and CEO. “Higher education can be an essential springboard to building productive lives, but unfortunately, college expenses also can be a significant burden. EECU is proud to be able to recognize and financially assist these deserving students, and we wish them tremendous success in their academic pursuits.”

The following six students were names as recipients of the $5,000 scholarships for 2016:

  • Makenna Barbara, Arlington Heights High School – plans to study Environmental Engineering at Texas Christian University
  • K’see Shae Clark, Blum High School – plans to study Elementary Education at Stephen F Austin State University
  • Claire Hamilton, Kennedale High School – plans to study Spanish Education at East Texas Baptist University
  • Wyatt Reeves, R.L. Paschal High School – plans to study Physics and Computer Science (school to be determined)
  • Ethan Sii, Decatur High School – plans to study Biology at University of Alabama
  • Adam Thomas, Timber Creek High School – plans to study Vocal Performance or Music Education (school to be determined)

Congratulations to the 2016 Scholarship winners!

Choosing a Tax PreparerTax season is in full swing. Looking for the perfect tax preparer can be a daunting task, and unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all with this search. Below are a few tips to help you figure out how to find the best tax preparer for you. The key, as with hiring any professional, is to ask questions. Lots of questions. And not just about pricing. Here are 12 recommended questions to ask a potential tax preparer:

  1. Do you have a PTIN (Preparer Tax Identification Number)?This should be your first question. Anyone who prepares federal tax returns for compensation must have a valid 2016 PTIN before preparing returns. Without a PTIN, a tax preparer is not allowed to prepare your return – this isn’t something you want to find out at the end. You can check out PTIN qualifications on your own by using the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) online PTIN directory.
  2. What is your tax background?A slew of letters following a name on a business card doesn’t necessarily mean more qualified. It can mean that the person has passed certain tests or has specific tax training. So ask what those letters mean – and how they would relate to the preparation of your return. Don’t be blinded by the alphabet soup. Here’s a quick guide to help you sort it out in advance:
    • A certified financial planner (CFP) is a designation for financial planners given by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. A CFP must meet certain education requirements, pass an exam, have experience in the field, pass fitness standards and pay a certification fee: the coursework and exam do have tax and tax planning components as determined by the Board. A CFP may have tax experience but tax may not necessarily be the focus of their practice.
    • A certified public accountants (CPA) is certified by the state to act as a public accountant. All CPAs are accountants but not all accountants are CPAs.To qualify as a CPA, candidates are required to pass an exam. Most states also require an ethics exam or course as well as continuing education credits. A CPA may specialize in tax but not necessarily: there’s a wide range of CPA services including accounting, auditing, financial planning, technology consulting and business valuation.
    • An enrolled agent (EA)has earned the privilege of representing taxpayers before by either passing a three-part comprehensive IRS test or through experience as a former IRS employee. EA status is the highest credential the IRS awards. EAs must adhere to ethical standards and complete 72 hours of continuing education courses every three years.
    • AFSP (Annual Filing Season Program) participants are non-credentialed return preparers who have met voluntary requirements established by IRS. Those requirements include 18 hours of continuing education, (includes a six-hour federal tax law refresher course with an exam). AFSP participants who have met the criteria receive a Record of Completion and are included in a public database of return preparers on the IRS website.
    • A JD (Juris Doctor) is a law degree: having a JD means that you’ve graduated from law school but does not always mean you’ve passed the bar exam. An LLM (Master of Laws) is a second law degree, kind of like a specialty (though ethics rules in many states won’t allow you to say that). An LLM could be focused on taxation but may not be (you could have an LLM in Trial Advocacy, for example). As with a CPA, JD candidates are required to pass an exam, an ethics exam or course and take continuing education credits. Having a law degree or two doesn’t necessarily mean that an attorney prepares returns or has tax experience (you don’t have to demonstrate competence in tax law to pass the bar in most states). Avoid a lawyer who promises to do your taxes, get you out of that DUI and help you with your divorce all in the same breath.
    • A Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)volunteer is trained by the IRS to prepare basic returns.
    • Other accountants, bookkeepers, and tax preparers may be able to demonstrate competence but may not have formal credentials. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give them a look. Ask about what they do and why they’re qualified to do it.
  3. Have you prepared a (fill in the blank) tax return before? There’s no one size fits all – that’s because tax returns are not all the same. Some tax preparers can do forms 1040-EZ in their sleep. Others are fluent in Schedules C (business) and/or E (rentals). Some may focus on pass-through entities, tax-exempt organizations or fiduciary returns. Tax preparers may focus on international taxpayers and expats or small businesses. There are as many variations as there are schedules and forms. It’s not uncommon for tax preparers – especially those that have been around for a while – to have a pretty wide scope of knowledge. But nobody can do it all and don’t trust anyone who tells you otherwise. If you have special circumstances because of your investments, occupation or residency status, find a tax preparer who has experience with your specific situation.
  4. Do you know the requirements of the states and localities where I am required to file?Yes, federal income taxes know no boundaries – those rules don’t change from one state to the next. But that’s not true when it comes to states and localities. Your state or locality may have quirky filing requirements, especially for business owners. It can get even more complicated if you’ve moved from state to state during the year or if you live in one state and work in another. You may also need special guidance if you own a business or real estate in a state outside of your residency or if you are the beneficiary of a trust or estate in another state. Make sure that your preparer knows – and can handle – all of those filing requirements.
  5. What records and other documentation will you need from me? While you shouldn’t be expected to haul in the contents of your entire home office, a reputable preparer should insist that you provide your forms W-2, 1099, 1098and other verification of income and expenses in order to prepare a proper return. You shouldn’t use a preparer willing to e-file your return just by using a pay stub (that’s against IRS rules). A tax preparer should be able to explain what will be needed for special schedules, forms or circumstances. If a preparer isn’t inclined to do the necessary due diligence (especially for something like the Earned Income Tax Credit) in the beginning, it should give you pause about what other corners the preparer might be willing to cut later – at your expense.
  6. How do you determine your fees?Note the wording on this one. This doesn’t say ask how much the fees would be but how the fees are determined. Prices may vary based on the complexity of your return, whether you require additional schedules (such as dividend and interest on Schedule B, business information on Schedule C, capital gains and losses on Schedule D and/or rental income and losses on Schedule E); supporting forms (such as those for the child tax credit or additional charitable donation information); or whether your return has out of the ordinary line items (like Roth IRA conversions). Some preparers offer reduced costs for federal return but add on for state and local returns: make sure you understand the total cost. Finally, be wary of preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your anticipated refund: they have a financial incentive to encourage inappropriate credits and deductions.
  7. What about the extras?There’s nothing wrong with paying for the extras: just make sure that you know what those might be ahead of time. When asking about fees (see #6), be sure to ask about the cost of extra services, like the cost to fix any mistakes or to file electronically (see #7). A tax preparer should not charge you extra for a copy of your return when the return is prepared (though charging you extra for additional copies may be appropriate).
  8. Can I file electronically?More than 1 billion individual tax returns have been processed since the debut of electronic filing in 1990. It’s the fastest way to get your refund and tends to result in fewer math errors. It may also be required: a paid preparer who prepares and files more than ten client returns must generally file returns electronically unless the client opts out.
  9. Who will sign my return?Remember that your preparer must have a PTIN (see again #1). The PTIN and the preparer’s signature need to appear on your tax return. Don’t trust a preparer who refuses to sign a return or asks you to sign as self-prepared.
  10. When will I receive a copy of my return?It’s not unreasonable to leave your preparer’s office without a copy of your completed return; assembly may be required. However, you should receive a complete copy of your return within a reasonable amount of time following your appointment. If your preparer can’t offer a window of time to expect the copy, it might be indicative of a time management problem. If your preparer can’t promise you a copy at all, run, don’t walk away: you will need a copy for your own records.
  11. How do I find you if I have a question or a problem after tax season is over?Be wary of tax preparers with shops that pop up on street corners during tax season and then go missing for half the year. Clients often receive requests from taxing authorities for additional information in October or November: make sure that you know how to contact the tax preparer after your return has been filed. If your tax preparer won’t be around, consider taking your business elsewhere.
  12. What happens if I get audited?Nobody wants to think about an audit when filing a return. But you need to ask: find out how the tax preparer handles audits or examinations from IRS. Will he or she respond to those questions? Can the tax preparer represent you in front of IRS or Tax Court? Remember that attorneys, CPAs, and Enrolled Agents are the only tax professionals with unlimited representation rights, meaning they can represent their clients on any matters including audits, payment/collection issues, and appeals in front of the IRS. AFSP participants have limited representation rights, meaning they can represent clients whose returns they prepared and signed, but only before revenue agents, customer service representatives, and similar IRS employees, including the Taxpayer Advocate Service. For 2016, PTIN holders without an Annual Filing Season Program – Record of Completion or other professional credential are only be permitted to prepare tax returns. That doesn’t have to be a deal breaker (there are professionals who focus on audits if you need to hire someone later) but you should understand the scope of services and representation before you agree to become a client.

This is a long list. But don’t feel self-conscious about asking lots of questions: most of these require pretty simple answers. Choosing a good tax preparer does require a little bit of research and effort on your part but it’s worth it. And admit it: you asked at least this many questions when finding a hairdresser or a pediatrician. Just as you wouldn’t dream of going to a different doctor every year or skipping from one auto mechanic to the next, you’re looking for constancy. The goal of hiring a tax preparer isn’t to find someone who can merely fill out a form this year but to establish a professional relationship. A good tax preparer wants that, too, and won’t mind answering your questions.

Article sourced from Forbes.com, Jan. 18, 2016 (edited)