Free simple tax prep available at Wal-Mart stores

Free preparation of simple tax forms will be available at more than 3,000 Wal-Mart Stores nationwide. The nation’s largest retailer has contracted with the top two tax preparation companies, H&R Block Inc. and Jackson-Hewitt Tax Service Inc., to set up kiosks inside its stores where customers can have their tax returns completed by trained preparers. As it is doing in its own retail locations nationwide, H&R Block will offer free preparation of 1040EZ forms at Wal-Mart through Feb. 29. Early filers usually expect a refund. The average refund last year was $2,805, down 2.6 percent from $2,880 in 2010. Customers who have their taxes prepared at Wal-Mart will have the usual options for receiving a refund: direct deposit into a bank account or to a prepaid card, or a mailed check.

IRS revives collections from offshore cheats

The Internal Revenue Service is reviving a program that lets Americans hiding their money abroad pay back taxes and penalties while avoiding criminal prosecution, an effort that in recent years has netted the government billions of dollars. IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman said previous efforts in 2009 and 2011 resulted in the collection so far of $4.4 billion from 33,000 people. Under the new program, those who voluntarily disclose their offshore holdings will face penalties of up to 27.5 percent of their assets, plus back taxes and interest for up to eight years. People whose money hidden abroad does not exceed $75,000 could face penalties of 12.5 percent, and others might face smaller fines.

Netflix unveils video service in UK, Ireland

Netflix’s Internet video service made its debut in the United Kingdom and Ireland on Monday as part of a previously announced expansion that is expected to saddle the company with its first annual loss in a decade. The subscription service will stream TV shows and movies on devices with high-speed Internet connections. It costs 5.99 pounds per month in the U.K. and 6.99 euros per month in Ireland. That translates into about $9 per month. Netflix charges $8 per month for Internet video in the U.S. Netflix shares have rallied in 2012, boosted by encouraging trends in customers’ usage of the Internet video service and speculation that the company could receive a lucrative buyout offer.

Consumer credit jump biggest in decade

U.S. consumers increased their debt in November by the most in a decade, with auto, student and credit-card borrowing all advancing. Consumer credit rose a seasonally adjusted $20.4 billion, the Federal Reserve reported Monday. Monthly debt rose at a 10 percent annual rate in November, a much faster pace than had been expected by Wall Street economists. All types of credit gained in the month. Most significantly to economists, credit-card debt jumped by $5.6 billion, or 8.5 percent.

From Herald news services