NJ lawmakers look to crack down on tax refund anticipation checks
TRENTON – A Senate committee Thursday advanced a package of consumer-protection proposals, including restrictions on tax refund anticipation checks that critics call exploitative of people with low incomes.
Starting in 2023, when 2022 tax returns are filed, tax preparation services would be prohibited from requiring clients to agree to refund anticipation checks as part of completing their tax returns, if the bill eventually becomes law. They also couldn’t advertise such loans as free if it results in higher or additional fees.
“Low-income families in need of assistance can find themselves exposed to consumer protection risks when working with tax preparation services,” said Sen. Nellie Pou, D-Passaic. “This legislation will put the onus on tax preparers to explain fully to clients what is involved in a refund anticipation check, and prohibit them from requiring clients to enter into such agreements.”
Additionally, itemized statements of service charges and fees would be expanded to include costs associated with refund anticipation loans and checks, including the interest charged.
“We’re very supportive of the bill,” said Sean Neafsey, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “The division thinks that there’s a lot of important facets to it and will help tax preparation services for a variety of consumers.”
Kate Reilly, president of the New Jersey Association for Justice, said the bill will put a stop to advertising that makes people think tax providers are providing a refund anticipation check or loan for free.
“Numerous companies such as H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt and other such companies have a significant portion of their profits coming from providing consumers a tax refund sooner than release from the IRS in exchange for a fee or a charge,” Reilly said.
“Such services are typically not for free and at no cost to consumers,” she said. “S891 provides additional protections for consumers by preventing potential deceptive sales practices in this industry.”
The Senate Commerce Committee also advanced bills that would:
- Update notice requirements under the Consumer Fraud Act and Antitrust Act for actions alleging consumer fraud violations; make indirect purchasers, such as municipalities or the state, eligible to receive damages for antitrust violations; and require that private lawsuit notices be sent electronically to the attorney general within 24 hours of filing rather than the currently required 10 days.
- Prohibit service contract providers, or companies that offer contracts to cover repairs to a consumer’s home, car or other goods, from using the words “insurance”, “casualty”, “surety” or “mutual” in their products, descriptions of products and advertisements or materials. They already can’t use those words in their names.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.