Expect to Pay for Fast Tax Refund
January 31, 2013
Lower-income taxpayers may be tempted to use fast-cash products to get returns more quickly, but these options are often more expensive than they need to be. Refund anticipation loans (RALs) are no longer available from banks on a large-scale basis, but there are still some high-cost methods for a quick refund. Liberty Tax Service offers a refund transfer product called Instant Cash Advance, for which a filer can apply if he or she has at least a $1,500 federal refund. In Michigan, a taxpayer using Instant Cash Advance would pay about $101 in fees and interest for a $1,700 loan. The taxpayer would receive the cash in 24 hours to 48 hours upon approval, meaning he or she would pay at least $100 in exchange for getting the tax return two to three weeks earlier than with typical electronic filing. While H&R Block also no longer offers RALs, it does have refund anticipation checks (RACs) -- which allow the taxpayer to deduct tax-preparation fees from the refund, as well as an extra charge of $24.95 to have the return deposited onto H&R Block's prepaid debit card. There is an additional fee of $54.95 to have a paper check mailed to the taxpayer as part of the RAC program. Consumer advocates point out that many of these extra fees are unnecessary when lower-income taxpayers could qualify for free tax assistance and have refunds directly deposited into a bank account or prepaid debit card. "We're always concerned when consumers don't receive the entire balance of their tax refund," remarks Tom Feltner of the Consumer Federation of America. "The desire to get a refund sooner is being used to get consumers to pay for tax preparation." His organization is additionally concerned that tax preparers could then perpetrate a "bait and switch" maneuver on filers. A consumer could pay $400 or $400 for the tax preparation services, for instance, hoping to qualify for a refund anticipation loan but then be turned down for the RAL because of limited dollars available for such loans. "They could be offered nothing at all," according to Feltner. Advocates also worry about filers being talked into getting a tax-related loan that is made by a payday lender instead of by a big bank.
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