Pittsburgh-based bank PNC is offering two free programs to help low-income taxpayers access their tax return money this year.
PNC says people without a bank account can opt for either a tax refund debit card or free refund check cashing when they use one of eight local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs in the area. Neither requires the creation of a PNC account and both are free of charge.
PNC Community Development Program Manager John Florio says the programs are meant to help people avoid “high-fee financial services” at tax return time.
“They’re legitimate businesses, but because of their proximity, because of the way they do business, they tend to charge higher fees,” says Florio. “The ones that we’re talking about are the check-cashers and the payday lenders.”
Florio says these businesses usually charge 3-5% fees to people cashing their refund checks, often resulting in a loss of $50 and more from the total refund.
He says the VITA programs in the region are run by United Way and its partners to help people file for tax refunds, and help them avoid fees once the refund checks come back to them.
Florio says for low-income families, it’s often better to use VITA services than a tax preparer.