Computer glitch results in debit card refunds

A programming glitch resulted in 8,000 Louisiana taxpayers receiving prepaid debit cards or checks instead of bank deposits for their income tax refunds.

State Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield said Monday that his agency discovered the problem last week and repaired it.

“It was the first year we’ve done this, and we had a programming snafu. We fixed it,” Barfield said.

The revenue department is offering to cancel the prepaid debit cards and issue refund checks. Other options include using the prepaid debit card or transferring the funds from the debit card to a bank account. Letters went out detailing the options.

Barfield said there was no way to anticipate the problem. This is the first year the state allowed people who file paper returns to choose direct deposit into a bank account for their refunds. In the past, filers received a prepaid debit card or a check.

“We had a programming error. It was a program we couldn’t really test because we couldn’t send out refunds to bank accounts,” he said.

A few years ago, the Jindal administration decided to save money by switching from paper checks to prepaid debit cards. The cards are called MyRefund cards. Taxpayers flooded legislators’ offices with complaints, and the administration quickly decided to offer several options for receiving refunds.

Kathleen Simon, of Leesville, said she received a MyRefund card the first year it came out. She couldn’t find a bank that would handle it. The cards are issued by Chase, and Simon said there isn’t a Chase bank in her area.

In January, Simon and her husband filed a paper return with the state. They just received a prepaid debit card in the mail even though they wanted the refund deposited into their bank account.

“I’ve been contacting the Governor’s Office. Never once have I gotten a call back,” Simon said.

Barfield also answered questions about his agency’s decision to stop providing Louisiana income tax booklets at libraries around the state.

State Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco, said the agency quit mailing the booklets, but they were still available at libraries. He said he’s been getting calls from constituents who complain “now we can’t get them at the library anymore either.”

Barfield said a majority of the libraries do not want to deal with the tax booklets.

“We have gotten some out to libraries in rural areas,” Barfield said. “It’s the first time we didn’t send to the libraries wholesale.”

“If a constituent needs one they can get one mailed to them,” Barfield said. He said people just need to call the revenue agency and leave their name and address and one would be mailed.

He said the vast majority of taxpayers file electronically.