Try to avoid tax Refund Anticipation Check offers

    You plan on getting a tax refund, but you don't have the money to pay the preparer. No problem, just sign up for a Refund Anticipation Check and that charge will be deducted from your refund when you get it.

    Here's how the Refund Anticipation Check service works. You get a temporary bank account where the IRS can direct deposit your refund. When the money arrives, the bank issues a check or prepaid debit card, minus the tax preparation charge, and closes the account.

    Banks typically charge about $30 to $35 for this service. And for consumer advocates, that's the rub.

    "Try to avoid them if you can," says Chi Chi Wu, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center.

    Wu says it's a bad idea to finance the cost of preparing your tax return. Plus, she notes, it doesn't speed up your refund at all.

    "It's not any faster than filing your return electronically and getting a deposit into your own bank account."

    Don't forget, there are lots of free tax preparation services available.

    The IRS offers free preparation programs run by volunteers for low-income and elderly taxpayers. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is for those who earn $51,000 a year or less. The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program is open to anyone, with priority given to those 60 and older.

    The AARP Foundation Tax- Aide program provides free tax preparation for low-to moderate-income taxpayers (especially those 60 and older) at nearly 6,000 locations nationwide.

    The IRS Free File program is available to any taxpayer who has an adjusted gross income of less than $57,000. You can prepare your return and file it online for free, giving you the quickest refund possible.

    For more information

    These tax-time refund offers should be avoided

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