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NY Consumer Group: Beware of Holiday Loan Sharks

December 1, 2006

New York, NY - A New York consumer watchdog group is warning taxpayers about high-interest holiday loans offered by New York's largest tax-preparation firms.

Mark Winston Griffith,co-director of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, says companies like Jackson Hewitt and H&R Block are offering "refund anticipation loans" at high interest rates that target people looking for holiday shopping money.

"They are (aimed at)the working poor, people living from paycheck to paycheck who are anxiously anticipating that return."

Griffith explains the companies use the taxpayer's pay stubs to calculate the estimated tax return, which means the taxpayer could get a nasty surprise if the actual refund amount doesn't cover the loan.

"If the return has been miscalculated, it's not going to be of a certain amount to pay off the loan -- but the individual is still responsible for that loan."

Griffith says the loans take advantage of people who are less financially savvy, and even those who don't speak English.

"Pay stub loans are bad because they are exploitively expensive. They target low-income people who can least afford it."

Griffith adds that 77 percent of paycheck or "pay stub" loans are taken out by Latinos and African-Americans. He says in 2004, New York taxpayers lost an estimated $43 million to the triple-digit annual interest rates being charged.

Michael Clifford/Eric Mack, Public News Service - NY