WASHINGTON -- A coalition of consumer and financial activistgroups has denounced a bank's announcement that it will use some ofthe funds it received under the Troubled Asset Relief Program tofund so-called refund anticipation loans.

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Tax preparers offer tax filers the loans in anticipation of thetaxpayer's tax refunds. Advocates and consumer groups havecriticized the loans for generally being far more expensive thanthey need to be and for being a bad deal for consumers. They alsocharged that the loans are most heavily marketed to lower incometax filers who are eligible for the earned income tax credit.

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The bank, Santa Barbara Bank and Trust, funds the loans offeredby tax preparer Jackson Hewitt. Neither the bank, nor its holdingcompany, Pacific Bancorp, has commented on the objections.

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"Santa Barbara is feeding off of taxpayer money twice in makingRALs this upcoming tax season," stated Peter Skillern, ExecutiveDirector of the Community Reinvestment Association of NorthCarolina in an announcement of the group's objections. "First,Santa Barbara is skimming off hundreds of millions in refunddollars in making RALs to working families. Second, it is fundingits RAL loans using tax dollars from the bailout."

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In addition to Skillern's group, the coalition includes theConsumer Federation of America, the Woodstock Institute, and theNational Consumer Law Center, among others.

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