The Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois (BBB) advises both renters and homeowners that experience water or flood damage to be cautious when choosing a company for repairs. "Look at more than one company before making any commitments," said Steve J. Bernas,president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. "It is important to choose a company that not only has a reasonable price, but is also reputable and ethical." Before signing a home improvement contract consider the following tips from the BBB:
Research details and free information on contractors you can trust at www.bbb.org and consider using the BBB's FREE online service, Request A Quote to obtain estimates, proposals or general information from BBB
Get all estimates in writing.
Never sign a contract with blank spaces or one you do not fully understand.
Homeowners should check with local and county units of government to determine if permits or inspections are required.
Determine whether the contractor has the proper insurance.
Remember that a down payment of one-third the total contract price is made with additional payments due after completion of each phase of work. Final payment should not be made until the job is completed and you have inspected the work.
According, to the Illinois Attorney General's Office, Illinois has a Home Repair and Remodeling Act that requires contractors to furnish customers with written contracts for any repair or remodeling work costing more than$1,000. Additionally, the Act states a contract must be signed by both the customer and the contractor.
The BBB also makes these recommendations to property owners and renters looking to obtain flood insurance:
Call your insurance agent or company to inquire about the availability of flood insurance in the area. Keep in mind that flood insurance becomes effective 30 days after it is purchased.
Standard flood coverage does not typically cover damage resulting from sewer backups or sump pump issues. Ask your insurance agent or company if such additional coverage is appropriate to add to your policy.
Homeowners or renters should take an inventory of their personal property and make photocopies of their insurance policies, keeping important papers in a secure location away from home. Taking pictures of various rooms and their contents is also a great way to document the contents.
For more information on contractors and finding businesses you can trust, visit www.bbb.org
Better Business Bureau's Tips for Selecting Tax Preparation Help
Anticipated tax refunds can cause consumers to rush to get their taxes filed as soon as possible. However, being careless about selecting tax preparation help could delay an expected refund, and also may open up consumers to fraud and identity theft.The BBB encourages taxpayers to use caution when selecting an outside tax preparer.
"Many consumers seek some form of assistance in filing their returns," said Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. "Not thoroughly researching the tax preparer can cause problems ranging from minor inconveniences to major troubles. Fines, additional fees and a great deal of hassle can be the outcome." Bernas reminded consumers that even though the tax preparer completes the tax return, it's the taxpayer who is ultimately responsible for the accuracy of the paperwork and meeting the filing deadline.
Consumers should also be aware that some tax preparation businesses are open for only a few months every year. It may be hard to track down the preparer if there are problems after a tax service office closes.
The Internal Revenue Service also has issued warnings about online tax-related schemes that can steal taxpayer's identities. For example, scam emails may state there is an issue with a refund, that the taxpayer is being audited, or that there's a delay in processing the tax return. Links in the emails usually go to a scammer's website, which will then ask for Social Security numbers, bank account or credit card information.
"The IRS doesn't contact taxpayers by email," noted Bernas, "and it won't request personal or financial information, or inform you of an audit by email either."
Here are some tips for selecting a tax preparer:
Ask around. Get referrals from friends and family about who they use, and check the BBB Reliability Reports on tax preparation services at www.bbb.org
Look for credentials. Ideally, your tax preparer should be a certified public accountant, a tax attorney or an enrolled agent. All three can represent you before the IRS in matters, including an audit. Also, find out if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that holds its members to a code of ethics.
Don't fall for the promise of a big refund. Be wary of any tax preparation service that promises larger refunds than the competition, and avoid any tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund.
Think about accessibility. Many tax preparation services only set up shop for the months leading up to April 15. In case the IRS finds errors, or in case of an audit, you might need to be able to contact your tax preparer throughout the year.
Read the contract carefully. Read tax preparation service contracts closely to ensure you understand issues such as how much it is going to cost for the service, how the cost will be affected if preparation is more complicated and time consuming than expected, and whether the tax preparer will represent you in case of an audit.
Check your return. Before you sign the return, read it over to check for mistakes. Ask the preparer to explain anything you don't understand and don't forget to sign it.