Wal-Mart launches cash pickup option for tax refunds

Wal-Mart is launching a service allowing customers to pick up their tax refunds in cash at about 3,000 stores nationwide.

It's the discounter's latest move offer more financial services, which is seen as a path to bringing more shoppers to its stores.

The world's largest retailer, based in Bentonville, Ark., says the process will take the same time as if customers were to file their returns electronically and then get direct deposit, which could take just a week, says Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of services for Wal-Mart's U.S. division.

The service could help people without bank accounts get their refunds more quickly and avoid high check-cashing fees. Wal-Mart also says it could prove convenient for others.

"We know tax refunds can be one of the largest financial payouts of the year for many of our customers and the last thing they want is to wait for a refund check to arrive and then spend money on unnecessary fees," Eckert said.

Eckert also acknowledged Wal-Mart's business could get a boost by providing an extra "jingle" to their wallets at a time of sluggish sales and customer traffic declines.

The offering marks the latest example of how Wal-Mart is expanding its financial services. Last April Wal-Mart introduced a new money transfer service that it says will cut fees for its low-income customers by up to 40% compared with similar services elsewhere.

Last fall, Wal-Mart teamed up with Green Dot Corp., a company known for reloadable prepaid cards, to bring mobile checking accounts to its shoppers. Also, last fall, Wal-Mart teamed up with an online health insurance comparison site and agency that lets shoppers compare the cost of health care coverage options at its stores.

As part of this new cash refund service, Wal-Mart is aligning with a Green Dot Co. business called Tax Products Group, and Republic Bank & Trust company, two providers of tax-related financial products. These companies have more than 25,000 tax-preparation locations, both in Wal-Mart stores and elsewhere, for the service.

Wal-Mart already offered tax-preparation services at its stores and shoppers could cash refund checks at the stores.

Wal-Mart doesn't charge a fee for the cash pickup. Tax preparers can charge a maximum of $7 for the service at the time of filing. Wal-Mart stores charges a flat $3 to cash paper checks under $1,000 and $6 up to $7,500, but the new service is faster than waiting for a paper check from the IRS.

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