H&R Block Inc. will refund up to $19.4 million in fees to customers who bought an individual retirement account product, which the New York attorney general claims was a money loser because it charged more in fees than it paid in interest.
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced the settlement with Block on Monday.
Block will refund between $11.4 million and $19.4 million to customers nationwide, depending on the number of claims made under the settlement. Those eligible for refunds will be contacted by a court-appointed administrator.
In addition to providing full refunds of fees it charged to all customers who purchased an Express IRA since 2000, H&R Block will pay $750,000 in fines, fees and costs to the state of New York.
H&R Block will also convert all existing Express IRA accounts into a new IRA that does not charge fees. The company also promised to enhance its disclosures of fees and terms and implement other business reforms.
In a statement, Cuomo said Block enticed as many as 600,000 low- and middle-income customers into buying Express IRAs since 2000, telling them the IRA paid "great rates" and was "a better way to save."
However, about 85 percent of the customers who opened the accounts paid more in fees than they earned in interest, Cuomo said. Hundreds of thousands of customers closed the accounts and incurred additional undisclosed fees, he said.
About 30,000 New York customers were involved, Cuomo said.
"H&R Block's aggressive peddling of fee-laden retirement accounts that were virtually guaranteed to lose money needlessly cost families across the country millions of their hard-earned dollars," Cuomo said in a statement. "This settlement will provide a measure of relief in these difficult times."
The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed by Cuomo. It alleged that senior managers at H&R Block knew many customers were losing money on the IRAs, yet took no action.
H&R Block officials were not immediately available for comment.
Cuomo's office claimed the failure to disclose fees and warn consumers that interest paid would not cover the fees violated New York's consumer fraud law.
The New York settlement coincides with an independent settlement of various consolidated federal private lawsuits, based upon the same allegations, pending before the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo., where H&R Block is based.
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