Henny Youngman, the late self-proclaimed "King Of the One-Liners" used to joke that his accountant assured him that he had amassed enough money to live on for the rest of his life -- provided he died by 2 p.m. the following day.
Happily, my situation is somewhat different.
Armed with a vast knowledge of investment vehicles and by diligently monitoring the swings of the market, my financial planner told me that I can safely last through Memorial Day.
Which, according to a recent lawsuit filed in New York, may be far longer than purchasers of H&R Block's "Express IRA" accounts.
Eliot Spitzer, New York's Attorney General, slammed the tax-prep giant with a $250 million fraud suit, charging that the company steered hundreds of thousands of clients -- typically those in the lower income brackets -- to the product, which is riddled with setup, maintenance and re-contribution fees so high that purchaser were "virtually guaranteed to lose money."
The suit says Block sold the Express IRAs to roughly 500,000 clients, including 30,000 in New York.
According to the complaint, about 85 percent of customers who opened the Express IRA accounts, paid Block more in fees than they earned in interest. As an example, the median Express IRA account, with a balance of $323, earned about $3 in interest per year -- far below the fees that typically would have been charged to the account.
The H&R Block IRA has only one investment option: an insured money-market account, which currently is paying an interest rate of 1.5 percent.
Block denied the claims and said it would fight the suit. In an interview, Block chairman Mark Ernst was quoted as saying that the company believed in the Express IRA product and was proud of the opportunities it presented to clients.
Now whether the company mislead investors is for the courts to decide, but it does raise several interesting points.
First, this is the latest in a series of recent missteps to impact the Kansas City-based tax-prep giant.
In what can only become fodder for a Jay Leno or David Letterman monologue, last month the company admitted that a miscalculation of its own state taxes would cost the company about $32 million in back taxes.
Last year it agreed to pay $62.5 million to settle class-action lawsuits over its use of refund anticipation loans, and more recently, California's Attorney General filed a lawsuit in an attempt to halt the tax prep giant's RAL program in that state. That's not good for a company that has made no secret of its desire to expand beyond tax preparation.
Second, it underscores the importance of financial literacy and how vital it is for more people to take advantage of the programs available to boost their financial IQs, such as the AICPA's 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy and those offered by many of the state societies.
Had any H&R Block clients understood the language of the product's prospectus they probably would have understood all the embedded fee ramifications.
Then perhaps one or more customers would have rephrased Henny's signature line to "Take my IRA - please."
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