Fast tax refunds—minus the fees
By Attorney General Roy Cooper
The April tax filing deadline is getting closer and if you’re like most families who anticipate a refund, your money can’t come soon enough. We all want our money quickly, but think twice before you opt for an “instant” or “rapid” refund from commercial tax preparers and banks.
Thanks to changes in federal regulations, most banks have stopped offering short-term, high interest loans known as refund anticipation loans (RALs). Instead, some tax preparers and smaller banks now offer a refund anticipation check (RAC). This product is marketed to taxpayers who either don’t have a bank account to receive a direct deposit of their tax refund or who don’t have the money to pay for tax preparation help upfront.
A RAC acts as a temporary bank account into which the IRS deposits your refund check. Consumers access that money through a check or prepaid card. There is typically a $30 fee to set up the account. Once the prepaid card gets loaded, the tax preparer can deduct a number of fees which can add up, reducing the amount of money you’ll actually get.
The good news is that you don’t need a “rapid” refund to get your refund quickly. You’ll likely get your refund in less than three weeks if you file your taxes electronically and opt to get your refund using direct deposit—without losing your refund money to extra fees. If you don’t have a bank account, you can still file your taxes electronically and opt to get a paper check in the mail or have it loaded on a prepaid card you already have.
So before you pay extra for a quick refund, consider these free options:
The IRS has partnered with Free File Alliance to provide free use of tax preparation software for taxpayers making $58,000 or less. When used with direct deposit refunds, you may get your money in as few as 10 days. For more information visit www.irs.gov/efile.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) is a nationwide program that gives low and middle income consumers free tax help. Many locations also offer self-assistance service, where consumers can access a computer to file on their own. To locate the nearest VITA site, call 1-800-906-9887.
In North Carolina, State Employees’ Credit Union and the Local Government Federal Credit Union both offer free tax help through the VITA program for families earning less than $52,000 at all branch locations. Families earning more are eligible for the Low-Cost Tax Preparation service, which charges a flat fee of $75.
You might be entitled to a refund even if you don’t owe income taxes. Call the IRS or visit www.irs.gov/eitc to learn more and see if you qualify for an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC is a refundable federal income tax credit for low-income working individuals and families.