Tax refund loans: Too good to be true?

These loans promise a faster return on your taxes at 0% interest and no fees — but are they actually free?

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New regulations and the recent government shutdown spells stalled returns for some people — even longer than they’ve experienced already. That’s where the tax refund loan comes in.

If that term stirs up thoughts of predatory lending, that’s because tax refund loans used to be. Today, these loans are another way for tax preparation stores to up their foot traffic and they’re becoming increasingly popular.

A tax refund loan might be inexpensive if your tax forms are simple. But most people won’t actually be able to get one for free.

What exactly is a tax refund loan?

A tax refund loan is similar to an advance on your tax refund with 0% interest and no financing fees. These loans are offered by tax preparation services, which use them as a way of bringing in customers to their brick-and-mortar stores. This works because tax refund loans require applying in person to qualify.

It’s a fast form of financing: You can get your money in as little as one day. And there’s no need to make repayments.

Once your federal or state refund comes through, the tax service deducts your loan amount from your refund before sending along your money.

It’s an increasingly popular type of financing. And around 1.7 million Americans applied for one in 2017, according to a study by the National Consumer Law Center.

Who’s eligible for a tax refund loan?

Tax refund loan providers pay attention to standard eligibility requirements like your creditworthiness, age and income.

But the two most important factors in qualifying are:

  • Having your taxes prepared in person. You can only get a tax refund loan from the company that’s also doing your taxes.
  • Knowing how much of a refund you’re getting. You can typically find this out when applying through one of these services.

How much does a tax refund loan cost?

Tax refund loans don’t come with interest or financing fees. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re cheap.

Here are some of the costs that come with tax refund loans.

Tax preparation fees

While online tax preparation is sometimes free, in-office tax preparation often requires a tax filing fee.

Expect to pay something in the ballpark of $50 to $500 when filing your taxes in a store — though it can go a lot higher. The one exception is for those filing Form 1040EZ, the simplest of tax filings, which sometimes doesn’t require an in-store fee. Call ahead to make sure this option is available to you beforehand.

Is a tax refund loan worth it?

If you’re only expecting a return of $500 or $600, you might want to take advantage of one of the many free tax preparation options and take out a personal loan to cover your personal financial needs.

Think about it this way: You’re likely paying at least $100 in tax preparation fees to get your $500 return two months faster. When you do the math, that means you’re paying about 20% of your refund for the convenience of using it early.

If you’re considering this route, do the math to make sure it’s worth it for your needs.

Not right for you? 4 alternatives to consider

Refund anticipation loans

Before a government crackdown in 2012, you might have come across refund anticipation loans. These loans functioned like a tax refund loan but came with high interest rates and fees on top of any tax prep charges.

It’s harder to find anticipation loans today, but they do exist. Look out for lenders charging:

  • Application fees
  • Technology fees
  • E-filing fees

If you think you might be the victim of a predatory lender, file a report with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Prepaid debit card fees

Some services require you to sign up for a prepaid debit card to receive your refund. These cards often come with fees that can sneak up on you — like withdrawal fees, payment fees and even ATM decline fees. Fees are typically small — $2 or $3 for the most part — but they can add up over time, especially if you’re not aware of them.

You might be able to opt out of the prepaid debit card by asking for a check or having your loan deposited directly into your bank account. You probably won’t get your funds as quickly, however.

Who could benefit from a tax refund loan?

Aside from the 1040EZ tax filers, who often don’t have to pay anything for this service, deciding to take out a tax refund loan is not always an obvious choice.

Anyone who relies on tax refunds to cover basic personal expenses might benefit the most from a tax refund loan — if your expected refund is high enough to make the filing fee worth it.

You might also benefit from a tax refund loan if:

  • You claim an Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit. These deductions could mean you’re waiting for more than $6,000 in tax credits that you need to support yourself and your family. But federal regulations require extra scrutiny for EITC and ACTC claims, possibly delaying your tax refunds.
  • You file early. You might be able to get some of your tax refund before the holiday season, a convenience that possibly offsets fees, depending on the service you file with.

3 tax preparation services that offer refund loans

Refund loans haven’t been around too long, and few services provide them. They’re often called advances rather than loans, and are available for a limited time each year.

Jackson Hewitt

Jackson Hewitt offers Express Refund Advances, which are originated by MetaBank. MetaBank may have specific eligibility criteria that borrowers must meet.

Loan amounts $200 to $3,500
Types of fees Tax preparation fee, prepaid debit card fees
Average tax in-store preparation cost $230
Eligibility Prepare your taxes with Jackson Hewitt in person and meet MetaBank’s eligibility requirements
When it’s available January 2 through February 24, 2019
Speed Within 24 hours

Jackson Hewitt also offers a Go Big Refund Advance loan from $1,000 to $7,000 at a 35.9% APR. This loan program ends on February 3, 2019.

H&R Block

H&R Block’s Refund Advance loan is originated by Axos Bank and may come with additional underwriting criteria you must meet to qualify.

Loan amounts $500 to $3,000
Types of fees Tax preparation fee, prepaid debit card fees
Average tax in-store preparation cost $222
Eligibility Prepare your taxes with H&R Block and qualify for an IRS refund
When it’s available January 4 through February 28, 2019
Speed Same day

Read our review of H&R Block

Liberty Tax®

Liberty Tax® offers Easy Advance tax refund loans through Republic Bank & Trust Company, which might have additional eligibility requirements.

Loan amounts $500 to $6,250
Types of fees Tax preparation fee
Average tax in-store preparation cost $233 — additional finance charge may apply to advances over $2,500
Eligibility Prepare your taxes at a Liberty Tax® store or participating location
When it’s available January 2 through February 28, 2019
Speed Within 24 hours

Read our review of Liberty Tax®

Nora takes out a tax refund loan to repair her car

Imagine this scenario: Nora’s car breaks down one cold January, and she can’t scrape together the money to cover the repair costs. She knows her family is due a tax refund of around $4,500 after claiming an Earned Income Tax Credit. She decides to apply for a tax refund loan of $1,000 to cover her car repair costs so she can get to work. First, she talks with her local Jackson Hewitt, H&R Block and Liberty Tax® locations to see how much her filing fees might cost.
Woman on phone in front of car

Considering these extra expenses, she finds that Jackson Hewitt is among the more expensive options:

  • Jackson Hewitt: $230
  • H&R Block: $147
  • Liberty Tax®: $191

Next, she calculates the fees against the convenience of seeing her IRS refund early. At best, she’s paying about 15% of her $1,000 advance in fees.

After looking at potential fees, it’s clear to Nora which is least expensive: H&R Block. Knowing her only alternative is a payday loan, Nora chooses to take advantage of the safer tax refund loan, which doesn’t have the potential to result in more debt.

The next day, Nora goes to H&R Block, pays to have her taxes done and applies for an advance. And she’s soon back on the road.

4 alternatives to getting an advance on your tax refund

The fees for filing your taxes in person can be expensive. If your refund isn’t big enough to justify the costs, consider using a free online service and opting for one of these financing options instead:

  • A personal loan up to $5,000. If you have one big expense you’re hoping to cover with your tax return, it could be worth it to take out a personal loan for that amount instead. Look for a loan that doesn’t come with prepayment fees so that you can easily pay it off as soon as you get your refund.
  • Your credit card. Use your credit card to cover day-to-day expenses and then apply your refund to pay off as much of your card’s balance as you can. It could be a bit more expensive than a personal loan, but it might be cheaper than a tax refund loan.
  • A short-term loan. Payday loans are more risky. But if you can afford to make payments on time and don’t qualify for another option, a short-term loan that you pay back within a few weeks or months might be a viable option.
  • Direct deposit for your refund. You won’t get your money months in advance, but you can get your tax refund a bit faster if you ask for direct deposit instead of a physical check when filing your taxes.

Want a quick cash loan instead? Compare your options

Updated October 21st, 2019
Name Product Filter Values Max. Loan Amount Turnaround time Requirements
1 business day
Direct deposit, meet minimum income requirements
Comes with the option to change your due date so you won’t fall behind on repayments.
As soon as the next business day
Regular source of income, verifiable bank account, US citizen, ages 18+
Get connected with multiple lenders you might qualify with — even if you have bad credit.
1 to 2 business days
Active checking account, regular source of income, email address
Get access to tools to help you plan a career move, make some extra cash or search for a better-paying job.
Varies by state
1 business day
Regular source of income, bank account, US citizen or permanent resident, ages 18+
Sign up for its discount program to get access to coupons and deals on everything from dining out to tax services.
Same business day to 1 business days
$1,000+ monthly income, direct deposit, US citizen or permanent resident, ages 18+
Get offers from potential lenders in minutes by filling out just one online form.
Same business day to 1 business days
Employed, $800+ regular monthly income, checking account, ages 18+, US citizen
Fill out a simple online form to compare offers from several lenders that may be able to help.
1 to 2 business days
Bank account, email address, phone number, US citizen or permanent resident, ages 21+
Plus, get access to check cashing, cell phone top ups, bill pay and more at one of its many storefronts.
As early as 1 business day
$1,000+ monthly income after taxes, valid checking account
Explore its online education center to get tips on budgeting, how to prioritize your bills and more.
As soon as the next business day
Checking account with ACH, proof of income, Social Security number, ages 18+
Get rewarded for making on-time repayments with better rates and terms on future loans.

Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

If you rely on your tax refund to cover personal expenses, need it to offset the cost of the holidays or have an emergency that you don’t have the funds to pay for, getting a tax refund loan could be a safer alternative to other types of short-term financing.

They might also benefit people who’ve filed for tax credits that are subject to extra scrutiny by the IRS and take extra time to come through.

But tax refund loans aren’t free. If you weren’t planning on having your taxes filed by an in-store professional, you’ll be shelling out an additional $150 to $300 for this service.

If you’d like to explore more options for borrowing money this tax season, learn about other offers in our guide to small-dollar loans.

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3 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    BrianJune 14, 2018

    Whats the best loan to take out against my tax refund coming up. I have $5500 in super tax i payed on receiving 18k compassionate grounds payouts this year… Ive been i formed i shoukd recieve most of it back

    • Default Gravatar
      ArnoldJune 16, 2018

      Hi Brian,

      Thanks for your inquiry

      I’m afraid we are not permitted to recommend a specific brand to our users to maintain fairness among all the brands we feature on our site. It would be best to compare the options above to find the right loan for you. If you need help preparing your tax, you may want to reach out to a tax preparer to handle this on your behalf.

      Hope this information helps


  2. Avatarfinder Customer Care
    AnnaApril 5, 2018Staff

    Hi Patsy,

    Thanks for reaching out to! Unfortunately your options are very limited if you don’t have income. Are you collecting Social Security, a pension or other government benefits? If so, you might be in luck because some lenders consider those as income.

    If not, you might want to check out auto title loans if you own a car, visit a pawn shop or see if you can qualify for a signature loan. These can all be highly expensive, however, and aren’t a great choice unless you absolutely don’t have any other option.



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