Monday, January 31, 2011

It's that time of year again- hold on to your wallets, taxpayers!

Here are two H&R Block Ads which are conveniently run together to show us the two faces of tax preparation "services:" The Dishonest, and the Just Plain Stupid and Insulting.

First, the Dishonest: "How fast can we get you your refund? In about twenty-four hours." And in the blink of an eye, we get the minor detail that the customer is not actually getting their refund, but a Refund Loan. What's a "Refund Loan?" Why, it's an amount H&R Block is willing to hand you in exchange for taking full possession of your refund once it arrives. H&R Block is perfectly willing to float you this "loan" as soon as the State and Federal Governments have confirmed that your returns have been accepted. You just pay the fees and interest up front, you see. Great deal- for the desperate suckers who NEED THEIR MONEY RIGHT NOW.

Now, before you say "hey John, stay with the times- H&R Block doesn't OFFER Rapid Refunds anymore!" I'll stop you by pointing out that they do offer something called a "Refund Anticipation Loan." And if you can find any difference between the two, I'll concede the point.

Second, the Just Plain Stupid and Insulting: Book-ending some future tax cheat who is actually going to claim a deductible for a shirt and tie stained by coffee (are you kidding, H&R Block?) we get spat on TWICE by the same spokesman for this awful company. "And I almost went into medicine (snort)"-- what does this even mean? You have more opportunities to separate hard-working but ignorant people from their money doing tax prep than if you had gone into medicine? I've been behind the scenes in medical buildings- I really must beg to differ.

There are a few pieces of good news, at least: First of all, these ads, like the ones for Lexus's "December to Remember," have a built-in expiration date. Come April, they'll be off our televisions for another eight months or so. Second, at least H&R Block doesn't hire people to dress up like the Statue of Liberty and wave signs on the highway like Liberty Tax does (you've got to be REALLY desperate, disconnected, and stupid to be drawn in by THAT level of banal crap.)

Still, it's sad to think that there are people out there who live so close to the margins that they would be willing to part with a big chunk of their tax refunds in order to walk away with some money in their pockets a few weeks earlier than if they just waited for the direct deposit to land in their bank accounts. And worse that there are companies like H&R Block perched like vultures waiting to take advantage of these people, every single year.

And call it a "service."


  1. Block does something close to fraud with its ads for the "free" offer to do your taxes, as long as all you need is a 1040-EZ.

    First, they're still going to charge you to do your state return, so the federal one really isn't free.

    Second, I GUARANTEE you that everyone who goes in to get a "free" 1040-EZ done gets sold on the 1040, which of course you have to pay for.

    I'd be shocked if Block really did ANY "free" 1040-EZ forms.

  2. Back in the day, when it took more than two months to get a refund back, we fell into the "Rapid Refund" cycle. We could get our refund in ten days rather than nine to twelve weeks. And they handed you a check. Apparently now they give you a debit card with that amount on it.

    And like you said- you can do them yourself and get direct deposit in two weeks. What's the point of a "refund anticipation loan" in this day and age?

  3. 1) There are people out there dumb enough to think that they are paying a little extra just to get their refund processed faster- which is a lie, and

    2) There are people out there in such dire straits that they are willing to pay a big penalty in order to walk away with money NOW, rather than wait a few weeks*, and

    3) There are people out there who think that ten dollars right now is simply worth more than twelve dollars later. These people are poor, and will always be poor, because their economic sense has never matured. Chances are they are walking out of H&R Block and right into the nearest 7-11 to buy lottery tickets.

    (BTW, I've used Turbotax for the last ten years. This year it took me half an hour to do my taxes online. My state and federal returns were accepted within 12 hours, and I expect I'll have my refunds direct-deposited within a week, if the norm holds. Cost me $40. I'm not trying to do a commercial for TurboTax- I can use the simplest forms because I don't own anything- but there are ways to get your taxes done for VERY little money, FAST. Heck, you can use the IRS website, you can contact local agencies and find volunteers willing to help you....why would ANYONE whose tax situation isn't VERY complicated use one of these "services?"

  4. All I have to do is to go to an automated thing the Canadian government has. Takes me about 10 minutes and costs nothing.

  5. I watched a Jackson Hewitt commercial the other day and my "Spider Sense" told me there was something fishy going on. So I started to look into these Refund Anticipation Loans or RALs. Apparently HR Block is not only unable to provide "Rapid Refunds" but RALs as well. ( ). I also read an article that Hewitt is suing Block over this exact commercial. In short the Fed ordered Block's banking partner to cease backing any form of RR's or RAL's but I do understand why they are running this ad anyway. It's because once they file your return your stuck with them. Once upon a time when I was 19 I donated my Jeep Cherokee to charity. They gave me a piece of paper that valued the car at $2,200 and claimed that I could deduct this amount come tax time. So I decided to go to H&R Block just this once because there was no TurboTax yet and I wanted to make sure that I did the charity donation deduction correctly. The Block guy assured me that this would be deducted and proceeded to do there $100 ripoff "service". When he was all done he told me that because the 2,200 didn't equal a certain percentage of my annual income I would not be able to deduct it and had essentially paid $100 for a 1040ez. I remember looking at my W-2 on the guys desk, then glancing towards the door and debated grabbing it and making a dash for my car. I guess this is why they are still running these ads. Because once your return is filed it doesnt matter if they cannot do the RAL for you. Your stuck with them. Needless to say I have never gone back to any of these rip off joints and will no longer donate any car to charity. The worst part was that I had to take a day off of work to donate the car as well because the charities suggestion of "leaving the keys and a signed title in the glove box of an unlocked car" didn't sit well with me.

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