Attorney General Brown Reaches Agreement with H&R Block Prohibiting Deceptive Marketing of Tax Refund Loans

Friday, January 2, 2009
Contact: (415) 703-5837, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Sacramento—Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today reached a $4.85 million settlement with H&R Block, which prohibits the company from marketing refund anticipation loans as early tax refunds.

“This settlement prevents H&R Block from marketing high-cost loans as early tax refunds,” Attorney General Brown said. “This is especially important because often these loans go to those who can least afford them.”

The California Attorney General filed suit against H&R Block in early 2006 regarding its marketing and sale of income tax refund anticipation loans and a related product called refund anticipation checks.

H&R Block continues to deny any wrongdoing. During the course of the investigation, Block has worked with the Attorney General to improve its practices.

A refund anticipation loan is a short-term loan secured by a taxpayer's anticipated income tax refund. The complaint alleged a variety of deceptive practices by H&R Block including:

• Deceptive advertising designed to disguise refund anticipation loans, which carry fees and other costs, as tax refunds, which the IRS provides without charge; and

• Unfair debt collection practices by which customers' refund proceeds were garnished to pay off debts they supposedly owed.

The settlement provides for up to $2.45 million in restitution for consumers who purchased a
“Refund Anticipation Loan” or a “Refund Anticipation Check” through H&R Block between
January 1, 2001 and December 31, 2008. In addition, H&R Block will pay $500,000 in penalties and $1.9 million in fees and costs.

In addition. H&R Block will be prohibited from marketing these loans and related products in a deceptive or misleading manner and will be required to make clear and conspicuous disclosures to consumers prior to their purchase of these products. Terms of the settlement are limited to three years.

A settlement administrator will be contacting eligible consumers directly. Eligible consumers may also write to the Attorney General’s Public Inquiry Unit at P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550, or may send an e-mail at http://ag.ca.gov/contact/.

Attorney General Brown previously settled claims against Jackson Hewitt and recently concluded a trial against Liberty Tax Service, the second and third largest tax preparation companies in the country, respectively. All three lawsuits involved refund anticipation loans and related products.

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