12 INVESTIGATES: Free tax preparation services

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It's the end of the year - and that also means tax season is upon us.

Tax preparation ads will soon hit the airwaves - but local experts warning you to stay away from tax refund loans.

Last year, hundreds in Richmond took their W-2's to Mo' Money - and had major problems with their refunds.

Checks never arrived, bounced, and local banks refused to cash them.

"They were trying to charge me $500 to prepare my taxes," said Shusonya Whitaker. "That's unheard of. So I know I can't allow that. I work too hard for my money."

"They started not answering the phone," said Leonard Haskins. "I started calling cell phones that they gave me, and now they don't answer that no more. I find out it's disconnected."

"It's happening everywhere," said Andre Chiles. "Everybody is scared, everybody want their money."

The incident sparked a federal investigation and congressional hearing. The Better Business Bureau gave Mo' Money an 'F' rating. This year, the company changed its name to Marquis Taxes.

But before you sign up for a rapid tax refund this year, Metro Cash is asking you to think twice.

"I don't believe people realize how much money they're losing," said Maureen Goode.

Goode is with Metro Cash - an IRS-sponsored service that allows families with combined incomes of less than $51,000 to file for free. She says those rapid tax loans are tricky, because the companies take the fees out of your refund - so customers often don't realize how much they're paying.

"The average income of the people that we served last year is $19,000, so these people cannot afford to pay that much to have their taxes done," said Goode.

Metro Cash will open 15 locations starting February 1 around greater Richmond.

"It won't cost them any money, and they're going to get their refund," said Goode.

The service is absolutely free. You will get your entire refund.

Last year, the agency says it filed more than 2,000 returns and brought more than $2.4 million back into the economy.

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