Loss of tax loan funding causes Jackson Hewitt bankruptcy
Tax preparer Jackson Hewitt recently filed for Chapter 11 protection for a short bankruptcy. Hewitt and other tax preparation firms were dealt a heavy blow when changing regulations made it impossible for tax firms to secure funding for tax refund loans. Refund anticipation loans are often vilified alongside payday loans as preying on the poor.
Rule change sends tax preparation industry into tailspin
In 2010, a rule was changed that has severely hampered tax preparation firms, especially those that made much of their money from offering short term loans against tax refunds, or refund anticipation loans. The Internal Revenue Service informed preparers that they will no longer be able to see whether a person is receiving their entire refund, according to USA Today. That caused funding partnerships to dry up. H&R Block dropped refund anticipation loans altogether before the 2011 tax season. Jackson-Hewitt became the largest entity offering them. Because of the IRS rule, bank regulators consider the loans too risky and therefore look dimly upon companies that still lend them, according to Reuters. Because of that, Hewitt has not been able to secure further financing on its debt and has filed for Chapter 11 protection.
Hewitt maintains it will be in bankruptcy protection only for a few months, in order to restructure itself and begin repaying its debts. The company got in trouble with its lenders because Hewitt relied heavily on refund loans and needed financial backing to fund the loans and got heavily in debt. However, the company intends to come out of bankruptcy and no longer rely on tax refund loans. The last major organization funding the refund loans, Republic Bank and Trust, is currently in the midst of a battle with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Republic, according to BusinessFirst, is being fined $2 million by the FDIC for continuing to fund the loans despite warnings to stop doing so. Republic maintains that because it made a record profit during the first quarter of the year while funding the loans, the loans can be lent responsibly.
Credit product disappearing
The refund anticipation loan, or RAL, is going extinct. Consumer groups liken them to payday loans; a person who has their tax returns prepared and is getting a refund is offered a portion of the funds immediately by the preparer. The refund is turned over to the preparer, with the difference being the “fee” for the lender. For instance, a person receiving a $600 refund is offered an RAL of $530 by a preparer, and the customer gets the cash within a few days rather than waiting weeks for a check from the IRS. If the return is accepted, the customer gets the RAL and the preparer gets the refund once the IRS disburses it. The FDIC objects to banks funding RALs because no credit check can effectively be performed before disbursing the loan to the customer.