April 15 has come and gone. By now, either A.) your taxes have been filed, B.) you sought an extension or C.) you’re in a heap o’ trouble.
Flynn Muncy beat the deadline by more than two months. He also is among the 54 percent of American filers expecting refunds. But Muncy is hardly a typical taxpayer.
He is homeless. Last year, the Akron man made $1,580.85.
From time to time, Muncy takes refuge at the Haven of Rest, but he doesn’t feel welcome there because some of the other clients “think I’m an undercover cop. They want to kill me. They want to beat my ass.”
Asked where he stays, he responds, “There’s a porch. Nobody’s on it. I’m 52. I shouldn’t be doing this.”
When asked how he ended up in these straits, he offers a rambling story that doesn’t lead to a coherent answer.
Muncy is likable. He has a droll sense of humor and in some ways seems quite savvy. As you talk with him, you can picture him living a very different life had whatever gone wrong not gone wrong.
He insists he wants to work. His 2013 income would have been higher, he says, but he broke his leg two days before he was scheduled to start a job with a landscaping company.
The gray plastic walking boot on his right leg, along with an occasional wince of pain as he changes position, indicate he still hasn’t healed.
Before the injury, he was able to find a little work through Labor Ready, a temp service. His W-2 from Labor Ready shows federal withholding of $106. Combined with an Earned Income Credit of $120, Muncy would have received a refund of $226 had he been able to file his tax return by himself.
A small Ohio refund would have upped the total to $250.
But after getting “help” from a local tax-preparation service that offered him a $50 advance on his refund, his check came to ... $1.05.
That is correct. One dollar, five cents.
In other words, Muncy’s potential $250 turned into $51 when the preparer — Liberty Tax Service, the company that stations people on the sidewalk dressed as the Statue of Liberty — kept $199.
That’s 80 percent of his refund.
“My friend said, ‘I’ll make 50 bucks [from a referral] and you’ll get 50 bucks in advance,’ ” Muncy says. “I go there, the guy is going to give me $50 — OK, that’s cool.”
When asked how much he expected the short-term loan and tax prep to cost him, Muncy looks out from his ball cap and heavy coat and says, “I would have thought it would be anywhere between $35 to $50.”
Shouldn’t he have asked? Of course. That’s basic. But for some folks, during some periods of their lives, handling the basics is a challenge.
Liberty Tax Service has numerous offices in the area, including one on North Main Street in North Hill, where Muncy went with his friend. That franchise is owned by Ryan Allen, who owns five others in Greater Akron.
When I tell Allen about Muncy’s $1.05 check — and say I think his company is guilty of “gouging” — he is apologetic.
“I live locally,” he says. “I’m always interested in helping people in that situation. We obviously wouldn’t have known he was homeless — ”
Yeah, but his income was $1,600, so you knew he wasn’t royalty.
“Absolutely. What frequently happens [with low-income people is] they will come in and we’ll say we will do the return for free, but they don’t get the $50.
“Some say, ‘I don’t care about the refund, I need the $50 right now.’ ”
But 200 bucks to do a return involving nothing but a single W-2? How long would that take, 10 minutes?
Allen says the charge included not only the tax prep but $40 worth of bank fees.
“When we take fees out of a return, which is what we have to do if people aren’t paying upfront with cash or check, we have to contract a third-party bank. They charge processing fees in addition to what we charge.”
Although Liberty’s billing computers automatically spew out specific charges for completing various tax forms, when employees see a tiny W-2 they normally offer to do the return for free, Allen says.
“But when [customers] demand the 50 bucks, I can’t just say I’ll do it for free.”
In the end, “to make things right,” Allen promises to give Muncy $150 back, the amount of his original refund after subtracting his $50 advance and his friend’s $50 referral fee.
“Thanks for letting us address this,” Allen says. “I can’t say how much we prefer to help these guys rather than hurt them.”
Thank you. Good move.
Muncy picked up his money Thursday afternoon. He was happy not only about the cash but about his role in publicizing the situation.
“I guess I’m a whistle-blower,” he says with a laugh.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com.