Internal Revenue Code changes have averaged one--per--day over the past eight years ---- with 500 revisions in 2008 alone. Who's counting? Nina Olson, the National Taxpayer Advocate, announced the statistics in her annual report to Congress. An independent organization within the IRS, the Taxpayer Advocate Service helps taxpayers resolve complaints with the agency when problems cannot be resolved through normal channels.
Will Advocate Olson's reports convince our lawmakers to draw back from their drawing board? Not during these troubled times. Expect them to enact even more alterations to an already confusing code in the immediate future.
How do individuals who need to focus on tax planning all year long keep on top of all those major and minor modifications? Most decide to become clients of tax professionals -- advice -- givers adept at assuaging affluent angst and able to avoid pitfalls adroitly while capitalizing on opportunities to diminish, delay or deep--six amounts that otherwise would swell IRS coffers. And that kind of advice does not come cheap. In locales like my neck of the woods near New York City, such clients should expect to pay hourly fees of several hundred dollars and up for guidance.
Help is available from lawyers, CPAs, financial planners, or Enrolled Agents -- persons licensed to practice before the IRS, who are neither attorneys nor CPAs, but who are former IRS employees or have passed rigorous tax examinations administered by the IRS.
Fortunately, pricey professionals are not the only source of succor for Americans apprehensive about their financial futures and their retirement prospects. There are alternatives that are easier on the pocket. One option is to sign up at places like high schools and community colleges for inexpensive adult education courses on various aspects of personal finance -- for instance, tactics that trim taxes or methods for investment selection.
But people who need financial advice should be wary of free lunch seminars that are actually showcases for hucksters. Seminar sponsors usually promote their programs as educational events, with free meals thrown in. But the seminars generally feature hard -- sell pitches for substandard investments designed to enrich the sponsors -- many may be Uncle Bernie wannabes -- and impoverish investors, especially unwitting seniors.
It is also possible to obtain advice at no cost from knowledgeable, disinterested professionals. This resource is available to an ever--increasing number of individuals who belong to affinity groups or work for companies that offer such advice. Individuals eligible for assistance can call centers staffed primarily by financial planners who offer advice only -- untainted by compensation linked to commissions on product sales.
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