Money Matters: Some Tax Refund Products Prove Costly
January 9, 2013
When filers want their federal tax refunds sooner, some tax preparation services offer short-term loans secured by the expected return. These services, however, usually include high fees paid by consumers who are, for all intents and purposes, borrowing their own money. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has issued a Consumer Alert to inform state taxpayers about the risks of products such as Refund Anticipation Checks (RACs) and Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs). The products, he cautioned, are "not much faster" than getting the refund from the IRS via direct deposit. Moreover, many taxpayers can file their federal returns for free, which can help them avoid the fees associated with RACs and RALs. RALs have become more rare, but RACs are growing in popularity. With RACs, tax preparers and their partner banks open a temporary bank account where the IRS can directly deposit a tax refund, then charge consumers fees of about $30 for the service, in addition to tax preparation fees -- which are all subtracted from the consumer's refund. The Arkansas Refund Anticipation Loan Act requires tax preparers to provide specific disclosures with products such as RACs, including a schedule of fees and the specific conditions related to an RAL or RAC.
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