Refunds In Plastic

Monday, February 14, 2011 - 1:18pm

IRS experiments with issuing tax refunds by debit card.

In another effort to reduce the number of checks it prints the U.S. Treasury Department is making some tax refunds this year by debit card.

Consumer advocates like's Bob Sullivan love it.

"The debit card system is an idea whose time has come for issuing tax returns," he says.

The Treasury Department is asking a specific group of about 800,000 taxpayers to participate in the debit card experiment this year.

"They tend to be low to moderate income, and we're pretty sure that many of them do not have bank accounts," says Assistant Treasury Secretary Richard Gregg.

That last point is key.

Officials estimate ten-million taxpayers don't have bank accounts and often fall prey to predatory pay-day lenders or others who charge exorbitant fees just for cashing a check.

"Pretty soon those companies will no longer be able to take money from families that can't cash their IRS checks," says Sullivan.

The Treasury Department plans to mail the card and load it electronically as soon as the return is approved, making it ready immediately for retail and other use.

"You can also go to an ATM, use it on the web, just like any other card," says Gregg.

The benefit for other taxpayers is the $40-million a year the Treasury Department can save by not having to print so many checks.

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