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Turn on a television during tax time, and you will see plenty of commercials for tax preparation chains offering to help you get your money fast. What they often don't say is that they intend to get you that money by way of a Refund Anticipation Loan (RAL). Essentially, they prepare your tax return and see how much your refund is going to be. They will give you a loan against that refund so that you can walk out with your money today.

But here's the catch: There are fees associated with those loans, and they're not cheap. Taxpayers will pay, on average, about $100 to get one of these loans. That might not sound like much, but when you figure that they are paying this $100 just to get a ten day loan, it's astronomical.

Ten day loan? That's right... if a taxpayer files electronically and does direct deposit of their refund, it will usually take ten days or less to get their refund. These tax preparation chains are counting on you wanting your money right away, and that's why they push these loans. But you can get your money pretty fast for free. So why not save yourself the money and just do the regular electronic filing and direct deposit!

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.

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