In an effort to help low-income tax filers receive their refunds quickly and without paying exorbitant fees, PNC is offering clients of Just Harvest and Family Resources a free debit card which can be loaded with their refund amount and can then be used anywhere.

TAX HELP—Brandon Bouchard, a volunteer tax preparer, assists Mary Jones, a clerical aid worker from the Hill District, with her taxes. (Photo by Rossano P. Stewart)

Representatives from all three partners were on hand March 31 at the Hill House First Source Center in the Hill District to remind people they can get their taxes done for free, and can now get their refunds placed quickly on a PNC debit card whether they bank there or not.

Stephanie Cipriani, PNC community development banking vice president said the bankcard program is part of their ongoing community outreach. In this case, she said, it’s designed to help people who might pay exorbitant fees for a tax return advance.

“It’s about trying to help people who need it the most,” she said. “We’ll load their return amount on a card at no charge. Once the IRS confirms it’s been processed, they’ll have it in about seven to 10 days.”

According to the latest statistics, PNC spokesman Joe Balaban said use of the preloaded bankcard for tax refunds has nearly doubled throughout the bank’s service area.

In 2011, the bank loaded 493 cards with more than $672,000 dollars. So far this year, it has loaded 705 cards with more than $1 million.

“We have also cashed 58 tax refund checks totaling more than $108,000,” he said. “These are from unbanked individuals, whose refunds we cashed for free.”

This effort is a product of the larger Money In Your Pocket coalition that also includes Allegheny County Department of Human services, The United Way, Good Will, the Community Human Service Center, United Cerebral Palsy, The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches and the Hazelwood YMCA.

Adam MacGregor, spokes­man for Just Harvest said last year throughout all sites, the coalition found clients $6.4 million in returns, $2.8 million of which was due to the Earned Income Tax Credit.

So far this year, they have already gone over $6.5 million in returns, with the EITC accounting for $3.1 million.

Pittsburgh Councilman R. Daniel Lavalle, visiting the First Source Center site for the first time said he was greatly impressed.

“This is a wonderful operation, and its helped more than 3,000 people in the Hill alone get the EITC,” he said. “And PNC’s part is critical because it helps people avoid the predatory lending that’s prevalent in low-income communities.”

Anyone who still needs to have their taxes done for free can dial 211 to set up an appointment with either the Department of Human services, Just Harvest, Family Resource Centers or the Hazelwood YMCA.

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