The new year is bringing some notable changes in the financial arena. Tax issues will figure prominently but there are also developments involving investments, credit reports and more.
Here are some of the money-oriented trends that will be of interest to many people as we head further into 2022:
Fewer Free File options
The Internal Revenue Service has opened up its Free File program for the coming tax season, but with the departure of a major tax-software participant. Only eight partner companies remain in the program, allowing taxpayers to file returns for free. That's down from 11 participants in 2018.
Of note, TurboTax no longer is participating after nearly 20 years in the Free File program. According to parent Intuit, more people filed free returns using TurboTax in recent years than through all of the other tax-preparation software companies combined.
Intuit cited limitations on tax-preparation companies that participate in the Free File program, conflicting demands and an inability to pursue other goals. That includes soliciting taxpayers to help them increase income, boost savings, pay down debt and more.
"We can help more customers get access to their refund faster at no cost, to tap into expert resources at will, to choose to use their own data to better budget, save and invest — all of which we cannot effectively do as part of the Free File program," the company said in a blog.
Of the eight software companies still participating, five allow free filing for people earning $73,000 or less, but the other three have lower income limits. Six will file free returns for people of any age, but two have age restrictions. Some programs won't prepare free federal returns for people in every state. Only two programs will file free state income-tax returns for residents of all states that levy taxes.
More information on the various software programs and eligibility requirements can be seen at irs.gov, under the Free File program.
More financial transparency coming
A regulation that could help retirement investors get better advice, and possibly lower their costs, takes effect Feb. 1. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Fiduciary Rule 3.0 imposes certain duties on advisers who offer recommendations for Individual Retirement Account rollovers and other situations.
Advisers now will need to explain benefits, costs and any conflicts of interests on financial recommendations, and provide sufficient documentation. The new regulation applies to brokers, insurance agents and other financial advisers.
IRA rollovers, especially when coming from 401(k) retirement plans, are among the biggest investment decisions many people face — and a major emphasis of the new regulation. But the new rule also could apply to other employer-sponsored benefit plans, Roth IRAs and more, said Ryan Brown, corporate counsel at financial firm CR Myers & Associates and at M&O Marketing.
Fiduciaries generally can't receive payments that create conflicts of interest when dispensing advice. A conflict might arise, for example, if an adviser is paid more to recommend certain investments over others that are in an investor's best interest.
For investors, Brown said the new rule should result in better service, more details on an adviser's compensation, the potential for lower fees and disclosure of any conflicts of interest. For example, prizes offered by financial companies to advisers for selling certain products likely will disappear, he said.
"If an adviser is giving advice or recommendations on qualified (retirement plan) money, there's a strong chance he'd be considered a fiduciary or at least must act in the best interest of a client," Brown said.
If an adviser won't discuss compensation or conflicts or disclose other information, consider going elsewhere, he suggested.
Tax returns, refunds could face delays
The nation's tax season starts Jan. 24, when the IRS and various states including Arizona begin to accept and process returns. Taxpayers should anticipate delays, with the coming year possibly worse than 2021.
Last year, "Tens of millions of taxpayers were forced to wait extraordinarily long periods of time for the IRS to process their tax returns, issue their refunds, and address their correspondence," noted Erin Collins, the National Taxpayer Advocate, an independent IRS watchdog, in a recent report to Congress.
As more than 75% of returns result in refunds, "processing delays caused financial hardships for some taxpayers and extreme frustration for many more," she noted, adding that the IRS still is carrying over "millions of unprocessed returns and millions of pieces of taxpayer correspondence" as it prepares for the coming filing season. Refunds averaged $2,775 last year.
Additional complications await many taxpayers, such as the need to reconcile advanced Child Tax Credit payments received last year with the amounts for which recipients are eligible.
"The unprecedented processing and refund delays taxpayers experienced in 2021 could be as bad, and potentially worse" this year, especially if taxpayers don't file electronically, Collins warned.
It doesn't help that of the 282 million phone calls placed to the IRS last year, only 11% were answered by a customer service representative.
The situation prompted 11 organizations to ask the IRS to "reduce unnecessary taxpayer burdens" and provide "reasonable penalty relief" this year. The coalition includes the American Institute of CPAs, National Association of Enrolled Agents and groups representing African Americans, Latinos, small businesses and others.
Credit errors could pose problems
If you might borrow money this year, it’s probably a good time to review your credit report for errors. Mistakes can lower your credit score and otherwise make loans more costly. The big three credit-reporting agencies aren’t doing a good job of responding to complaints and, when necessary, fixing them, according to a new analysis by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
In 2021, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion together reported relief in response to just 2% of complaints, down from nearly 25% two years earlier.
Credit reporting plays a key role beyond just borrowing. More than 200 million Americans have credit files, and lenders rely on this information to decide whether to approve loans and on what terms. Reports also can affect decisions about employment, insurance, housing and even access to utilities.
Consumers submitted more than 700,000 complaints to the CFPB regarding Equifax, Experian and TransUnion from January 2020 through September 2021, which represented more than 50% of all complaints over that period. Consumers often assert that inaccurate information in their files belongs to someone else. The complex realm of medical billing was an area of particular concern.
The CFPB said the three credit bureaus often issue template responses rather than individualized replies. It also asserted that Equifax and TransUnion often promise to investigate complaints but fail to inform the agency about the outcomes.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: From filing taxes to financial advice, here's what's new in 2022