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Tax Refund Gadgets Cost Neediest FL Families $216 Million

March 16, 2009

A refund of close to $5,000 dollars could be especially timely for Florida families during this recession. That's the upper end of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for low- to moderate-income working families - and a report released today by the Children's Defense Fund shows Floridians eligible for the refund are being targeted by tax preparation companies and those selling refund anticipation loans and checks.

CDF press secretary Ed Shelleby says those services cost Florida EITC families about 216 million dollars.

"What is often hidden is that there's a lot of fees attached to these, and you can lose a significant portion of what your refund will actually be."

Shelleby says selling services to EITC families is a profitable business – but one he says steals money from families who need every dollar, especially this year.

"Even before this recession, these tax preparation centers took over three billion dollars from low-income families – money that needs to be in the pockets of these families."

Companies offering the loans and EITC filing say they provide valuable services for families needing access to money quickly, and for those who feel overwhelmed by tax paperwork. Shelleby points out that there is true free filing available, along with direct deposit of refunds, through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program – with locations around the state. CDF is also calling for federal laws to protect families from predatory services, and for an expansion of free tax preparation offerings.

A listing of free tax preparation locations is available by toll-free telephone at 1-800-829-1040.

The full CDF report, "Avoiding the Pitfalls of Refund Anticipation Loans," is available online at
www.childrensdefense.org

Deb Courson, Public News Service - FL