State treasurer warns against quick cash loans

February 10, 2009 2:21:07 PM PST
It's tax season and in these tough economic times, people more than ever are looking forward to getting their tax refunds.If you file electronically you usually get your refund in a couple of weeks but refund anticipation loans allow you to get money almost instantly.

Not everyone, however, thinks it's a good idea.

Illinois state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is urging tax payers not to use the loans because it will cost you.

Rapid anticipation loans have been around for years, but tough economic times have made them even more popular this year.

Giannoulias says the loans are marketed to the working poor.

The ads are big and bright using Magic Johnson for the pitch, "It's money like Magic." One Jackson Hewitt ad talks about rapid refunds or refund anticipation loans known as RALs. They are short-term high interest cash advance loans based on a tax filer's expected refund.

"It's a rip off because you are paying to borrow your own money," said Giannoulias. "Unfortunately, the people most likely to fall prey to them are those who least likely can afford them."

A few years ago, Jean Mayze wanted instant cash to help buy her kids some belated Christmas presents so she took out a RAL. While she walked out with cash in one day, Mayze says she had no idea about all the fees and interests involved until it was too late.

"They charged me about $400 dollars. That's a lot of money," said Mayze.

Mayze says tax preparers at H & R Block and Jackson Hewitt did not fully explain to her all the interest and fees. That does not come as a surprise to Mario Hogen who worked for Jackson Hewitt for 10 years before quitting last year.

"We didn't have to explain fine print. If they signed that paper, it's signed. So a lot of times they didn't even know what they were signing," said Hogen, former Jackson Hewitt employee.

While many may not read the fine print, at one West Side Jackson Hewitt location the rapid refund fees and 93 percent interest rates were posted clearly on a wall.

Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is urging low income tax payers to stay away from the loans and take advantage of several free tax assistance programs which is what Jena Mayze is doing this year.

To get free tax preparation assistance, and assistance filing for the Earned Income Tax Credit, call 311 City Services and ask about locations near you. Outside Chicago, local residents can call 312-409-1555 or 312-630-0273.