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H&R Block Snafu Delays Refunds

…mandatory field on tax form left blank

tax-1Marketwatch.com — H&R Block, the nation’s largest tax preparer, confirmed that its software failed to fill out a mandatory field on Form 8863, which is used to claim educational credits. The IRS would not say what percentage of the roughly 600,000 faulty returns came from H&R Block (US: HRB), but the company received thousands of complaints on its Facebook page and on Twitter.

I have to tell you, I would be pretty mad if this had happened to us.  My wife and I used TurboTax to prepare and file our tax return; we have for the last 5 years or so, and have never had a problem.  I used H&R Block when I was younger and all I remember was an expensive “loan” in order to get my return immediately.  I thought the days of those short term refund loans were over but they are not.  Now there is what is called a RAC / RAL or Refund Anticipation Check / Loan.

RALs are those short-term loans usually at outrageous interest rates, for the amount of an expected refund. Tax prep fees are usually deducted from your return amount also. A “good” RAL might have an APR of 40%; a bad one can end up costing 10 times that much.

When combined with other the cost of the RAL can approach loan-shark levels.

Thankfully, this might the last year people need to be warned about RALs. That’s because the RAL industry is getting squeezed by federal regulators, who are cutting off bank funding to the biggest RAL lenders, and by the Internal Revenue Service, who is making it easier to get refunds quickly and without crazy fees.

You know, what’s really problematic is the fact that you have to pay H&R Block something like $150 for 30-40 min of time with their “tax consultant”.  If I’m paying for an “expert” to prepare my taxes, I would expect there to be no errors.  I realize the “tax consultant” is a human, prone to making mistakes, but this goes farther than the individual tax preparers, the fault falls on H&R Block for failing to stay up-to-date with the IRS and failing to properly train their “tax consultants”.

H&R Block explained that a form had changed, Form 8863 relating to student tax credits, and that in previous years, five lines on the form could be left blank for a “no” answer. Starting this year, preparers must enter an “N” in those fields or risk a delay.

H&R Block said it learned about the tax form change after it had submitted hundreds of thousands of tax returns. The IRS said it was aware of the problem and it is continuing to review the situation and work with “affected software companies to assist in the processing of those tax returns.”

You know, I was always instructed when filling out any form, to never leave a “blank”.  If it’s a “no” answer, mark it “no”.  If something doesn’t apply, use “n/a”.  You would think that H&R Block’s highly trained tax preparers would follow this thinking just from common sense, especially if you are dealing with the Government.

I feel sorry for Mr.  & Mrs. John Q. Public who filed their tax return and is expecting their refund only to find out it’s going to take at least 21 days for the IRS to figure everything out and issue the refund.

Now, my good friend TurboTax is not exempt from errors either. Last week, the Minnesota Department of Revenue warned taxpayers against using TurboTax to file their state income taxes, finding 10,000 returns had problems. In a terse statement, the Minnesota Department of Revenue said it would stop processing tax returns filed through Intuit (the company that operates TurboTax) if the problem is not fixed.

Well, I don’t live in Minnesota so it doesn’t affect me but if I did, I wouldn’t be as upset with TurboTax since I know full well that I am filing my return on my own with the help of a computer program.  There’s not a $300 an hour “Tax Consultant” using their knowledge and expertise to make sure my return is done correctly.

If you want to insure your taxes get prepared correctly, seek out an Accountant or Bookkeeper certified to prepare tax returns.

… Often times you get what you pay for.

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