Want more 'free' money with your tax refund?
Tax filers this spring can hope to make extra bucks with TurboTax's retail gift-card reward program.
By Parija Bhatnagar, CNNMoney.com

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - It sounds too good to be true but the folks at Intuit, maker of the TurboTax tax preparation software, are promising customers "extra" free money this spring on top of their refund checks.

Intuit (Research) has teamed with more than 50 national retailers and American Express (Research) to offer "bonus dollars" that are included on gift cards to anyone who signs up for the TurboTax "Refund Bonus" this tax filing season.

According to the company, some of the retailers already on-board include Lowe's, Starbucks, J.C. Penny, Sharper Image, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Gap, Pier 1 Imports, Borders and Blockbuster.

"We've had similar reward programs in the past but this is the first time that it's on this broad a scale," said Brad Henske, general manager with Intuit.

How does it work?

"On average, 80 percent of people receive of about $2,000 in refunds," Henske explained, adding that the company processed $44 billion worth of refunds last year. "You can allocate a portion of that refund onto gift cards from participating retailers for everyday purchases."

And depending on the retailer, people can get between 10 to 100 percent of the total amount spent put back on the gift cards.

"It could vary anywhere from between $50 to $100 back," Henske said. For example, you can get $300 worth of goods for $250, with the $50 bonus dollars put back on your gift card.

And whatever was left over from the refund is deposited back into customers' accounts.

People can choose whatever amount they want to put on the cards although a higher amount boosts chances of a bigger "rebate" from retailers, Henske said.

"Also, if you do the math it doesn't make sense to allocate just $20 or $40 of your refund because you'll end up spending half or more than half on shipping and handling," he said.

TurboTax said the giftcards don't have expiration dates but consumers should read the fine print for other terms and conditions. More importantly, consumers need to know that the program isn't completely free of charge.

According to Henske, there is a $14.95 shipping and handling fee that applies to the cards which are mailed to customers' homes.

Henske declined to comment on whether or not the service was hitting a home run with customers, saying it was still too early to tell.

Britt Beemer, a retail industry expert and head of market research firm America's Research Group, said "bonus dollars" angle was a "great marketing and strategy ploy" by retailers to bring consumers back into their stores.

"This is a fantastic opportunity for those retailers participating to see some big numbers in the spring season," he said. "25 percent of spring sales are tied to tax refunds. So this program is a clever yet gentle way to force customers with some substantial refund money to spend more in their stores. If the rebates really are as high as $100, that's a great deal for consumers."


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