Tax Refund Cards
Try this as an exercise sometime. If you owe money to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or pay quarterly taxes, log onto your bank account to see just how quickly the check you send them gets deposited. It’s fast, very fast. And to be fair, the IRS is pretty speedy itself when it comes to issuing tax refunds.
But just how fast the IRS gets that cash back to people depends on a few factors, including whether or not a return was filed electronically and whether a taxpayer has a bank account. In the case of people who have an account and opt to have their refund directly deposited, the wait can be as little as 10 days. For those lacking a bank account, though, the delay can be much longer, though the IRS says that it expects over 90 percent of refunds to be issued in less than 21 days this year. Still, if someone chooses to have the IRS mail them a check, the wait is longer to actually receive the refund and often includes a 5-day waiting period for the check to clear their banks. Additionally, if a refund check is lost, stolen or returned to the IRS as undeliverable, a replacement check cannot be mailed until 28 days after the original check was mailed.
For those without bank accounts who want to receive their money ASAP – which is probably everyone, especially given that the average refund over the past few years has been about $3,000 – a prepaid debit card can help. Almost any prepaid debit card can be used to receive your tax refund via direct deposit. Some states, such as New York, also permit their tax refunds to be sent to prepaid debit cards as well. Some taxpayers may benefit from having their refund go to a prepaid card even if they do have a bank account; it can mean that a few thousand dollars doesn’t get lumped in with their regular spending rather than safeguarded for a specific project or purchase.
Tax preparation companies like H&R Block understand the need some people have to get their refunds quickly and offer prepaid cards of their own. But as with any prepaid debit card, those used to receive tax refunds charge a variety of fees, including for withdrawing money and other activities. Indeed, H&R Block’s Emerald $2.50 to withdraw cash from an ATM and levies an additional $2.50 if an account is inactive for 3 months. Weighing whether the fees are worth the quick refund is an important part of deciding if a prepaid debit card is the right choice.