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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Your tax refund has more avenues

By Kathy Chu
USA Today

Financial firms are stepping up their efforts to capture money from tax refunds, hoping to capitalize on a new option that lets you have the IRS directly deposit your refund in up to three accounts.

Citibank, Wells Fargo and Countrywide Bank, among others, are urging taxpayers to take advantage of the change this year to deposit at least part of their refund into a savings or individual retirement account.

The advice to save rather than spend your tax refund isn't new. But the firms hope for a warmer reception from investors this year because of the policy change. Previously, taxpayers could have their refunds directly deposited into only one account.

Because of that limitation, "People would put their tax refund into their checking account, and they may or may not have saved that," says Jeff Pearlberg of Citibank.

"When you're allowed to do a split refund, what you're doing is telling people to pick a savings account."

The marketing efforts come as a rising number of taxpayers arrange for their refunds to be deposited directly into their bank accounts, rather than mailed to them. For the 2005 tax year, $149.2 billion in refunds were directly deposited more than double the level of five years ago the IRS says.

In its branches, Citibank is pitching a no-fee IRA for tax refunds. Wells Fargo tells investors online to "put your tax refund to work" by depositing it into a bank IRA. Countrywide urges taxpayers to consider its menu of savings products.

Those who decide to have their refund directly deposited should be sure, though, that the money is going into the most appropriate investment product.

With an IRA, "You have to look at where you want to open it, what kind of investment options the (company) has," says Ed Slott, an accountant in Rockville Centre, N.Y. "I would never open an account just off a marketing pitch."

Taxpayers should also be aware that while the IRS gives them until April 17 to make an IRA contribution and deduct it for the 2006 tax year, some banks don't go along. Citibank, for instance, will credit refunds that are directly deposited this year into its IRAs only for the 2007 tax year.

Slott also notes that those who delay filing their returns this year could run into trouble claiming an IRA deduction.