Each year during tax time millions of consumers put their financial future in the hands of strangers, trusting that these tax preparers — who are largely unregulated — know the rules, will get them the best possible result (hopefully a refund), and won’t sell them on a product that costs more than it’s worth. But in the world of complicated tax codes and credits, consumers continue to face a long list of risks, including untrained preparers, undisclosed fees, and dangerous refund anticipation products. [More]
refund anticipation loans
When discussing the topic of payday loans — or other high-cost, short-term financial products like auto-title loans and check-cashing — there can be a tendency to treat them like something that only a small percentage of Americans use. But a new report from the FDIC confirms that 25% of us have turned to one of these potentially predatory services in the past year, and that this rate has not been going down. [More]
We’ve been warning people for years to steer clear of the “refund anticipation loans” that get you your tax refund ASAP but at the cost of usurious interest rates and fees. And between growing consumer awareness that RALs are a bad deal and the bigger banks dropping out of the business, only one bank has been backing the loans — and that’s all about to end.
It probably goes without saying that I love a good cat fight, that’s why I’m licking my paws and purring with delight over the news that Jackson Hewitt has bared its claws to take on the biggest feline of them all, H&R Block.
We’ve been warning readers for years against “refund anticipation loans,” where tax preparers like H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt give you a pre-paid debit card now loaded with your expected return (minus fees and interest). And yet, these cards have continued to appeal to some lower-income taxpayers who don’t have bank accounts for direct-deposit of their returns. Now the federal government is providing these people with an alternative — a debit card that will accept the direct deposit.
Poor Sam didn’t take our advice. He let H&R Block do his taxes and then took out a refund anticipation loan. The money, which was deposited on an H&R Block Emerald Card, is now tied up by several inexplicable holds for transactions he didn’t make. The companies supposedly holding the funds have no clue who Sam is, or why they’d be holding his money. H&R Block’s only response is to charge Sam $2 whenever he calls their customer service line for help.
I saw a big billboard for Jackson Hewitt showing a broadly smiling woman of indeterminate ethnicity holding a fistful of money that she just got by getting a refund anticipation loan, and it reminded me of how we need to do our annual telling of people to once again stay away from said refund anticipation loans.
The number of refund anticipation loans declined 22.5% last year as consumers took advantage of cheaper and only slightly slower alternatives, NYT reports.