Image: Tax refund © Rubberball, Jupiterimages

The number of ways to get your tax refund from the Internal Revenue Service has increased during the past few years. Here's a look at the pros and cons of each option so you can find the right one for you.

1. Direct deposit

Having your refund check deposited electronically into your checking or savings account certainly ranks among the most convenient ways to receive it. E-filers who elect to receive their refund checks via direct deposit should expect to receive it seven to 14 days after they have sent in their federal returns. "In past years, e-filing with direct deposit has worked efficiently," says Michael M. Eisenberg, a certified public accountant with Eisenberg Financial Advisors.

2. Paper check

Not surprisingly, it will take longer to receive a paper check from the IRS, especially if you also opted to mail in your return. (As MainStreet has previously reported, those who filed electronically and requested paper checks could wait up to three weeks to receive theirs, while those who mailed in their returns could wait up to six weeks, though two to four weeks is more typical.) But William Perez, a tax professional who writes for About.com, says checks that get lost in the mail are granted better protection by law than direct deposits that are done incorrectly. "That's why it's so important to have the account number (on your returns) checked by two or three pairs of eyes," he says.

3. Prepaid debit card

Major tax preparers H&R Block, TurboTax and Jackson Hewitt all give taxpayers the option of having their refund checks deposited directly onto a prepaid debit card. The debit cards are a good way for people without bank accounts to get access to their refund checks earlier, but there are fees associated with them.

However, when prepaid cards are used correctly, these fees can be minimized and are still collectively cheaper than most check-cashing services, though Wal-Mart is currently charging flat $3 and $6 fees to cash checks.

4. Refund anticipation loan

These loans have been largely phased out due to the high costs associated with them, though they are still available at Jackson Hewitt. However, this will be the last year they are offered, thanks to a recent Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. settlement with Republic Bank, the last major financial institution left in the refund anticipation loan business. (According to the National Consumer Law Center, Jackson Hewitt's $1,500 RAL includes $61.22 in charges, which translates into an annual percentage rate of 149%.) As such, these loans should be utilized only if you truly can't wait for the cash.

5. IRS credit

If you got a refund but don't need the cash right away, the IRS will hold on to it for you and let you apply it to next year's tax return. "It's called a credit elect," Perez says. "It's great for people who are self-employed."

6. U.S. savings bonds

In 2010, a feature was added to tax forms that allows you to designate part or all of your federal income tax refund to purchase paper U.S. savings bonds known as I-bonds -- an option that allows taxpayers to collect interest on the money. Of course, "this is an investment product, so you're not going to be able to take it to a bank and spend it the next day," Perez says.

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