February 21, 2010


About four years ago I wrote about a HORRIBLE investment product -- the H&R Block Express IRA. Anyone that has read anything I've written for any period of time knows how much I love the Roth IRA; a great way to save for retirement (making after-tax contributions that grow tax free)! H&R Block steered more than half a million people into a money losing IRA that the lawsuit that was filed against them described as an "unsuitable, fraudulently marketed, poorly performing, fee-ridden account that actually shrinks over time"... Fraudulently marketed seems pretty apparent given the fact that for the majority of participants, the fees exceeded their interest payments (that was the case for 85% of the accounts as of the time I wrote the original blog)! I've tried to wrap my arms around who this product might be appropriate for; sorry, I can't think of anyone who would be best served by a retirement account whose only investment option is a money market.

Obviously, the story of predators taking advantage of consumers is not a new one. It is painful given the fact that these are people that at a very base level did the right thing (investing their tax returns into an IRA). It is more painful because many of these people compounded their problem. When they realized the "scam" they pulled their money. Many of them closed their account, incurring termination fees from H&R Block, as well as tax penalties from the IRS since they cashed out the account rather than rolling it over to a "reputable" account.

I was pleased to read last month that H&R Block will refund nearly $20 million to those customers who bought the junky IRA product. If you are looking to roll over your account or open a new account. I have several past posts relating to quality companies - I've also supplied some additional links below.

Investing Resources
- Consumer-friendly Investment Company
- Financial Planning Resources

- Clark Howard Investing Guide
- Get Rich Slowly
- Mutual Fund Investor's Center

February 02, 2010


Numerous resources are available to assist the majority of taxpayers with free tax preparation assistance as well as free electronic filing of tax forms. Assistance is now available through the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) Program, Tax Counseling for the Elderly (through AARP), and MilitaryOneSource (in addition to VITA) for members of the military. These free programs are a tremendous boon to consumers as they provide an avenue to avoid tax preparation fees as well as costly refund anticipation loans.

In addition to free assistance in preparing tax returns, most sites also provide free electronic tax filing (e-file). E-filing will also enable you to receive your refund more quickly; offering options for directly depositing the refund into checking, savings, IRAs, or splitting your refund between multiple accounts.

The VITA Program offers free tax help to low- to moderate-income (generally, $49,000 and below) people needing assistance in preparing their own tax returns. VITA sites are generally located at community centers, libraries, schools, and other convenient/ accessible locations. To locate the nearest VITA site, call: 1-800-829-1040.

The military also has a strong VITA Program. Marines, airmen, soldiers, sailors, guardsmen, and their families receive free tax preparation assistance at offices within their installations. These sites provide free tax information, tax preparation, and assistance to military members and their families. The primary distinction with this and other VITA sites is the ability to work with individuals that are trained and equipped to address military-specific tax issues.

The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program provides free tax help to people aged 60 and older. In conjunction with the IRS-sponsored TCE Program, AARP offers their Tax-Aide counseling program at more than 7,000 sites nationwide during the filing season (February 1 – April 15). Trained and certified AARP Tax-Aide volunteer counselors help people of low-to-middle income with special attention to those ages 60 and older. For more information on TCE call 1-800-829-1040. To locate the nearest AARP Tax-Aide site, call 1-888-227-7669 or visit the AARP Tax-Aide website.

-- Current Tax Info (deductions, exemptions, tax brackets, etc.)
-- Do I Have To File? (often worthwhile even if you don’t “have to”)
-- Education Tax Benefits
-- Federal Tax Forms
-- Free File Online Tax Preparation Sites
-- State Tax Forms
-- Understanding Taxes (interactive IRS tutorial)