Every year around this time, Tax Cat emerges from his basket to answer questions and offer advice to you, the fine people of the internet.
Q: Dear Tax Cat, I’ve noticed there is a free tax preparation deal being offered by Walmart and H&R Block. The deal offers a free refund anticipation check. Should I try it?
A: There are really two deals here. In the first deal, you can get your taxes done by either Jackson Hewitt or H&R block for free (through the end of Feb), if you are filing a 1040EZ. The catch is that the 1040EZ isn’t for everyone, and you could get caught paying some fees if you don’t meet the requirements.
Use the 1040EZ if:
‚Ä¢ Your taxable income is below $100,000
‚Ä¢ Your filing status is Single or Married Filing Jointly
‚Ä¢ You and your spouse – if married — are under age 65 and not blind
‚Ä¢ You are not claiming any dependents
‚Ä¢ Your interest income is $1,500 or less
The second deal involves a free refund anticipation check. This deal means loading your refund onto an H&R Block Emerald Prepaid MasterCard. H&R Block says its card has zero liability if someone uses it without your permission. But it has fees, including a $2.50 ATM cash withdrawal fee, a $1 ATM balance inquiry/ATM denial fee, and a $25 over-the-counter withdrawal fee. Here’s the link to the FAQs.
With a little bit of effort, you could prepare and file your federal taxes online for free through IRS Free File or TaxACT, or any number of other companies (filing and preparing your state form might cost you). The IRS says if you e-file and arrange to direct deposit your refund, you could get your money in as little as 10 days. I’ve had pretty good luck going that route, even with some of my more impatient human clients. So unless you’re desperate for the cash–or love the bright lights of Walmart–this is a better way to go.