12:16am

Fri January 14, 2011
Business

Tax Refund Could Go Straight To A Debit Card

The U.S. Treasury Department has come up with a way to expedite tax refunds for people who don't have bank accounts. The idea is to allow people to reduce the cost of getting their money.

Nine million U.S. households -- that's 1 out of every 13 -- don't have a bank account.

They often have to wait to get their tax refund check in the mail, and then pay a fee to a check casher. Or they might get a loan based on their refund through a tax preparation service. Either way, it's costly.

Next week, the Treasury Department will offer 600,000 "unbanked" Americans a debit card that can receive direct deposits.

Chi Chi Wu, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, points out that even the government's debit card isn't free. Some people will have to pay $4.95 a month for the card, but she says that's a lot cheaper than the current options.

The challenge will be for the government's letter to get through to people.

"It's not just another piece of junk mail," she says. "It's legitimately from Treasury, and it's something that could save them money."

The government says it will try different messages in its letters to see which gets more people to sign up. Copyright 2011 WNYC Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wnyc.com/.