Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Military personnel probably not eligible for RALs this tax season

The Military Lending Act came into law on October 1, 2007, with the intent to stop predatory lending to military personnel, their spouses, and their dependents. The primary target of this law was to protect military families from payday lenders and to protect the nation from the risks of servicemembers with high levels of debt and out-of-control financial situations. The law caps interest rates on all short-term loans (defined as loans of less than 91 days in duration) at 36% APR. One provision of this law deals specifically with Refund Anticipation Loans, or RALs, which are short-term income tax refund advances. With RALs, customers of tax preparation companies forfeit a portion of their refund in order to get it in one or two days instead of the 8-15 days normally required with an IRS direct deposit. The interest terms on these loans are usually right at 36% APR, since the major tax preparation companies have known about this impending legislation for awhile. That should make the fit within the parameters of the law, right?

Not necessarily, and if you live in California, the answer is definitely no.

Aside from the APR, these loans have an origination fee which cannot be waived for anyone.* The origination fee (or account creation fee, or check fee, depending on where you go) added to the interest charges on the loan bump the loan's interest charges well above the federal limit of 36% APR. This means the loans are considered too predatory to military families under the Military Lending Act and are therefore unavailable. Therefore, as a servicemember, you need to plan ahead and realize it will be a couple weeks before your refund is available.

Are there any loopholes? Not as far as I know, short of committing perjury. A wife filing separately from her servicemember husband is not eligible for a RAL. A child who has received more than half of his support from a servicemember for the 180 days preceding the loan request is likewise ineligible for a RAL. Major tax preparation chains will have their software programmed to recognize certain EINs as belonging to military divisions and will invalidate the RAL option on that basis alone.

This will probably prove to be one of the more frustrating aspects of the new legislation, as many people who don't bother with payday lenders still request income tax refund anticipation loans. Many may not be pleased with the longer wait time, even if it does save them some money.

*Specifics here might vary by state. If you're interested in one of these loans, contact your tax preparation company of choice to inquire. They will know, and more likely than not, they will not be able to offer this product to any member of the military, their spouse, or their dependents.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Payday Loans should be available to those seeking temporary relief from soaring costs. Those states that have banned payday lending have seen a dramatic increase in bankruptcy and other debt problems. Leave the freedom of choice alone and allow people to manage their own money!