In a hurry to get your refund? Some tax preparers offer tax refund anticipation loans, often marketed as “rapid refunds” in the form of checks or “gift” debit cards.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises consumers to be wary of these costly loans. They deliver refunds only slightly faster than the IRS.
Refund anticipation loans are similar to payday loans: They’re short-term loans with high interest rates that can range from 50 to 500 percent. In some cases, they have hidden administrative fees. If the tax preparer makes a mistake in calculating your refund, borrowers could be required to pay fines and fees, too.
“Consumers may assume that the loans will be paid off quickly when their refund arrives, but if the refund is less than the loan, consumers will have to repay the difference, plus fees and fines,” said Kim States, BBB president and CEO.
The IRS usually delivers refunds in as few as 10 days after a consumer files a tax return, if the consumer files the return electronically and takes the refund by direct deposit to a bank account. The speed makes most refund loans unnecessary.
This year, the IRS has another option for refunds if a consumer doesn’t have a bank account: a prepaid debit card. The cards, available only by invitation, can be used to get money from ATM machines or to buy goods and services from retailers. The cards arrive faster than checks, the IRS says, and may allow consumers to avoid check-cashing fees.
The BBB advises consumers to be wary of two common tax-time schemes:
BBB advice: If you have a debt with the IRS, consult an IRS enrolled agent, a certified public accountant or a tax attorney to determine whether you qualify to file for anything other than paying your taxes, fines and penalties in full.
BBB advice: The IRS doesn’t e-mail people about their taxes. The agency typically contacts taxpayers by mail. Tip-offs that an e-mail is fraudulent may include spelling or grammatical mistakes. The BBB advises consumers not to open any attachments or click on links in the e-mails.
If you decide to hire a tax preparer, the BBB advises that you:
For more information or to check a company’s Reliability Report, go to the BBB website, www.bbb.org, or call 520-888-5353.