It’s the start of tax season, and people who are expecting tax returns are scrambling to get their taxes filed so they can get some cash back from Uncle Sam. In the past, people without bank accounts had to wait a few weeks longer than folks who have bank accounts to receive their return (if they file electronically). This year, the trend is to use a prepaid debit card to receive your return electronically. It’s quicker than a check in the mail, but is it better? We look at the top three tax return prepaid debit cards.
Using prepaid debit cards to receive your tax refund is not a new concept. H&R Block (NYSE: HRB) and Jackson Hewitt have used the concept for at least one previous tax season. But this year, the do-it-yourself tax return folks at Quicken and Intuit (NADAQ: INTU) are also offering people the option to receive their tax refund more quickly using prepaid debit cards. Which card is best?
The TurboTax Tax Refund Card
The TurboTax tax refund debit card is issued by Columbus Bank and Trust Company (CB&T) and is a Visa branded debit card (once funds are loaded into the account, the card can be used anywhere Visa is accepted). The card has a maximum balance of $3,500, however, tax refunds of up to $10,000 may be loaded onto the card. After the first month, there is a $5.95 monthly fee which is waived each month that you load $1,000 on the card. The card can be used for free at in-network ATMs, but out of network ATMs will incur a $2.50 withdrawal fee, and a $0.50 balance inquiry fee. All in all, the fees are relatively reasonable for this card.
[ed. note: Thanks to Intuit for providing updated information about the lower ATM fees and the initial load amounts allowed with the card]
The H&R Block Emerald Prepaid Debit Card
The H&R Block Emerald Prepaid Debit MasterCard has been available for several tax seasons. The card is issued by H&R Block Bank and is a MasterCard network reloadable card (it can be used at any merchant location that accepts MasterCard payment cards).
The fees associated with the H&R Block Emerald card are more complex than for the TurboTax card (but are not necessarily higher). Here are a few of the fees. First, all ATM withdrawals are assessed a $1.95 transaction fee, and there is a $1 balance inquiry fee at ATMs (this is in addition to any fees charged by the ATM operator). There is also an inactivity fee of $2.50 a month for each month after 3 months of inactivity. There are also live agent customer service fees (although there are 4 free calls a year).
The Jackson Hewitt iPower Prepaid Card
The third and final card we took a look at is the iPower prepaid Visa card from Jackson Hewitt. The card is issued by MetaBank and is a Visa network reloadable card. The current fees are relatively reasonable (new fees will go into effect after May 1, 2010). Currently, there is no monthly fee, and signature purchases are free. PIN debit transactions are $0.50 each, and ATM withdrawals are $2.50 (with ATM balance inquiries charged $0.50 each).
Which Prepaid Tax Refund Card is Best?
There is no clear answer. All three cards are very similar in their terms, although we like the fact that the Jackson Hewitt card fully discloses all fees, including signature and PIN debit fees.
The best card for you will depend on your tax situation. Are you a do-it-yourselfer? Then the TurboTax Tax Refund Card is likely the best bet for you. Do you use H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt regularly? Then don’t change your tax preparer based on the differences in their prepaid debit cards.
But if you don’t have a bank account, and need your tax refund, fast, then you may want to consider using one of these prepaid debit cards.