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Report: Idahoans Should Hang On to Their Money

April 3, 2008

Boise, ID - Idaho's poorest families often deserve more, but receive less, of their tax refund money. A new report from the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) says most Idahoans who make small enough annual incomes to be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) use at least a portion of the money to hire paid tax preparers, or opt for so-called "instant refunds," which are actually high-interest short-term loans with processing fees.

CDF spokesman Ed Shelleby says these costs really add up, plucking $11 million out of Idahoans' pockets annually, when families could take advantage of free tax-filing assistance instead -- especially those who need every dime of their refunds.

"Most people use the Earned Income Tax Credit, when they get it, to buy things like clothing for their children, or to catch up with utility bills, maybe to pay rent or repair their car."

The report also cites confusion and even some deception in the "instant refund" loan process, including applicants who don't see all the pages of fine print, or don't understand it. He believes state and federal laws could make that information more clear.

"This should be made a lot clearer to people to take the trickery out of it, so that families get back the money that they've earned, and they deserve."

Companies offering "instant refunds" argue they are up-front about loan details and are providing a service to those who need quick access to their refund cash. The CDF report recommends that Congress put an interest cap on such loans.

In the meantime, IRS-approved tax help is available free of charge for families who qualify for the EITC; call 1-800-829-1040 to find locations. Refunds typically arrive within a few weeks. The full CDF report cam be viewed online, at www.childrensdefense.org.

Deborah Smith/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - ID