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Stacey Vanek-Smith: A lot of us are checking our mailboxes right now for tax refunds. Last year, more than 8 million people got them early through so-called rapid refunds. Those Refund-Anticipation Loans tend to come with high fees and interest rates. Consumer advocates say they're predatory, but as Marketplace's Alisa Roth reports, a clampdown on credit could kill them off.
Alisa Roth: To get one of these loans, you go to a tax preparer, like H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt or thousands of mom and pop operations. But the money actually comes from a bank, and these days, fewer and fewer banks are doing this kind of business.
John Hewitt is CEO of Liberty Tax Service, it's a big tax prep chain based in Virginia. He lost his bank this year.
John Hewitt: The regulators said you can no longer be in the business anymore. So one of the major players exited the business.
That was Santa Barbara Bank and Trust. It was a casualty of the Fed's crackdown on lenders. Hewitt says not only are fewer banks offering these loans, but those that do have tightened up their standards. Hewitt had to go to Kentucky for a new lender, to Republic Bank. He say all this has been bad for business and bad for borrowers.
Hewitt: Because Santa Barbara exited the industry and because Republic had a lower approval rate, there are going to be less loans this year than the previous year.
That's certainly been the case for Jim Doyle. He owns a chain of six tax prep offices in Little Rock, Ark. They did about 10 percent fewer refund anticipation loans this year.
Jim Doyle: And I think that has a lot to do with the economy. When we go back and we looked at our numbers for this year, we were down a little bit. A lot of the clients who would come in who made between say maybe zero and $7,000 that you know just had a part-time job, those part-time jobs weren't available.
He says many people without jobs didn't have taxes to file, which means no refund. And no reason to get one of these loans.
Consumer advocates have a different point of view. Josh Zinner is an advocate at NEDAP, a consumer advocacy group in New York. He says the IRS is processing electronic returns a lot faster than it used to.
Josh Zinner: And it's a lot simpler for people to get tax returns in short period of time just by filing conventionally.
Zinner says there's no point in applying for a refund anticipation loan when your refund will get to you just as quickly for free.
In New York, I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.