H&R Block loan review: A no-interest loan — with strings attached

Young man sitting on living room sofa holding digital tablet and reading about an H&R Block loan Image: Young man sitting on living room sofa holding digital tablet and reading about an H&R Block loan

In a Nutshell

H&R Block offers no-interest tax refund advance loans at the beginning of tax season. But you’ll have to pay H&R Block’s tax preparation fees — and you’ll have to get your loan funds on a prepaid Mastercard, not by check or direct deposit.

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Pros Cons

You use your tax refund, when you get it, to pay off your refund advance loan

 

The only way to get your loan funds is on an H&R Block prepaid Mastercard
0% APR loan The prepaid Mastercard comes with a lot of fees, including charges for reloading, bill pay services and ATM use — and even a charge for not using the card (inactivity fee)
You’ll have to file through H&R Block and pay its tax preparation fees

What you need to know about an H&R Block loan

H&R Block is a large tax preparation and tax software firm that offers refund advance loans at the beginning of tax season in five loan amounts: $250, $500, $750, $1,250 and $3,500. For the 2019 filing season, H&R Block will offer refund advance loans from Jan. 4 to Feb. 29, 2020.

A no-interest loan

The biggest selling point of the H&R Block Refund Advance is that it’s offered as a 0% APR loan — meaning you won’t have to pay any interest on it. That’s a big deal since many lenders charge interest on their loans.

But there’s also a catch or two.

Money must be deposited onto an H&R Block prepaid card

If you’re approved for an H&R Block Refund Advance loan, the money will be loaded onto an H&R Block Emerald Prepaid Mastercard® rather than deposited directly into your bank account.

There’s no charge to make a one-time transfer via check or automated clearing house from your card account to your bank account. But the H&R Block Emerald Prepaid Mastercard® has a lot of fees that could pile up fast if you use it like a traditional debit card.

  • Reloading fees – Up to $4.95 for cash reloading, depending on the reload provider
  • Bill pay fees – 95 cents each
  • ATM fees – $3.00 per withdrawal and $1.50 for each balance inquiry or decline, plus you may be charged additional fees by the ATM operator

There’s even a $4.95 monthly fee for “inactivity” that kicks in if you go 60 days without a transaction.

You must file your taxes through H&R Block and pay its fees

To be eligible for a refund advance loan from H&R Block, you’ll need to file your tax return at a participating H&R Block office and pay its tax preparation fees.

If you prefer to do your own taxes, don’t want to make an in-person appointment or already have a tax preparer, this is a major drawback.

Repayment options

Remember that an H&R Block Refund Advance isn’t your tax refund from the IRS. It’s a loan. You’ll have to pay back what you borrow, and H&R Block gives you a couple of options.

  • Refund transfer — H&R Block will withdraw the money you owe, including tax preparation fees, from your refund account. Any remaining refund amount will be given to you based on what you choose during tax preparation: direct deposit, check or H&R Block Emerald Prepaid Mastercard®.
  • H&R Block Emerald Prepaid Mastercard® — You can repay your loan by having the funds taken directly from your tax refund, with the remaining amount loaded onto your H&R Block Emerald Prepaid Mastercard®.

A closer look at an H&R Block loan

If you’re considering an H&R Block refund loan, here are a few more things you should know.

  • Same-day funding possible — If your application is approved, you may get your money the same day you apply. Just remember that the maximum loan amount offered is $3,500.
  • Prequalification option — An H&R Block Refund Advance won’t hurt your credit since H&R Block’s partner, Axos Bank, says it uses a soft inquiry to check your credit before deciding whether to issue a loan. Keep in mind that even if you expect to get a refund, prequalification is no guarantee of loan approval. You must submit a formal loan application when you file your tax return.

Who is an H&R Block loan good for?

If you already plan to use H&R Block for tax preparation this tax season, you may want to consider an H&R Block Refund Advance to take care of a pressing, high-interest bill or loan, such as a payday loan.

Having to use H&R Block’s Emerald Prepaid Mastercard® means transaction fees could pile up — unless you move your refund advance funds to a regular account using the one-time, free transfer and then close the card once your refund comes in. The Emerald Prepaid Mastercard cardholder agreement says you may cancel the card by returning it to the issuer, and it’ll send you a check (or deposit funds in another account) for any balance you might have.

Otherwise you may want to avoid borrowing through H&R Block altogether and just wait for your tax refund.

How to apply with H&R Block

To apply for an H&R Block Refund Advance, you’ll first have to make an appointment at a local H&R Block office. You can do this online.

In the meantime, you can apply for prequalification online. You’ll need your Social Security number, last year’s tax refund amount and personal contact information.

Remember, prequalifying isn’t a guarantee of approval. You’ll need to submit a formal loan application when you file your tax return.

Not sure if an H&R Block loan is right for you? Consider these alternatives.

  • Jackson Hewitt: If you prefer to file taxes with Jackson Hewitt, you may qualify for a refund advance loan of up to $3,200. Fees may apply depending on the amount of your loan.
  • TurboTax: A refund advance loan with TurboTax may make more sense if you’re OK with a smaller loan amount. The max TurboTax offers is $2,000.