While H&R Block is testing a prepaid card program at 200 of its U.S. store locations (see main story), the tax-preparation firm announced earlier this year that it is working with a leading convenience-store chain to provide 24-hour access to a check-cashing service for its customers who obtain refund-anticipation loans.
  H&R Block's loan checks now can be cashed at Vcom kiosks deployed at 1,000 7-Eleven Inc. stores. 7-Eleven's Vcoms will cash the checks, up to $7,500, and customers can opt to have up to $1,000 of the check automatically deposited onto a prepaid Vcom E-Cash MasterCard.
  "Vcom has always been capable of cashing tax-refund checks, but this is the first year we have supported the service with dedicated marketing," Rick Updyke, 7-Eleven vice president of business development, said in a statement. "We want to see how customers would respond to the promotion."
  At the end of check-cashing transactions, the kiosk asks customers if they would like to conduct another service, such as pay a bill or buy a money order. If not, they are asked if they want the check proceeds funded in cash, put on an E-Cash MasterCard or both.
  7-Eleven waived the normal $8.95 load fee for the card through February. Other fees include a $2 reload fee and $1.50 fee per ATM withdrawal. No fee is charged when the card is used to initiate PIN- or signature-based debit purchases.
  Fifth Third Bank issues the card, which expires after three years. Alliance Data Systems is the card processor.
  The average fee charged to cash a check at a Vcom is 1.85% of the check value, Updyke said. "This is a better deal because check-cashing chains typically charge between 2% and 2.5%," he said.
  More than 1,000 of H&R Block's 10,000 locations are participating. The Vcom program is available to H&R Block's customers in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, eastern Pennsylvania and Washington. Other locations include Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin and Killeen in Texas, Salt Lake City, Richmond and southeastern Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

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