Judge Takes a Chip Off the Old H&R Block

  • Share
  • Read Later
So you want your tax refund really, really fast?

Well, get in line. Take a number. Send in your tax returns. And wait like the rest of us.

Just don't head over to H&R Block expecting your refund check to miraculously appear the moment you plunk down your shoebox full of tax information. And if someone does hand you a nice fat check, take a good hard look at it.

Despite what you may have heard, that check is not a refund — it's an extremely high-interest loan. And according to U.S. District Court Judge Raymond Jackson, the nation's largest income-tax preparation company has been acting "maliciously, willfully and in bad faith" by advertising its Rapid Refund service to its customers, when in fact the company was simply handing out loans in the amount of the customer's tax refund. Some of those customers paid dearly for the perceived convenience of their "rapid refund," paying annual percentage rates as high as 500 percent.

The ruling, handed down Monday in Norfolk, Va., bars H&R Block from using misleading copy to advertise the Rapid Refund service, and orders the company to pay $500,000 to the local competitor that brought the suit. Judge Jackson gave Block until March 9 to come up with new advertising copy to replace what he called "offensive" terminology.

Jackson was fiercely critical of Block, saying the company had formally agreed in one state to stop using false advertising tactics and then "simply took their advertisements to a new jurisdiction."

H&R Block, which files at least half of the nation's electronic tax returns, initially called the suit "ridiculous." The company plans to appeal the ruling.