Consumer Confidential: Tax preparer goes bankrupt, a new Nook, pricier coffee
--Irony alert: Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, the second-largest tax preparer in the United States, helping millions of people avoid financial trouble, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company got in over its head with loans and now must restructure its debt. The loans in question are so-called tax-refund loans, also known as refund anticipation loans. They're offered by tax preparers and funded by various banks, but banking regulators are tightening the screws, saying the loans are unsafe. While under bankruptcy protection, Jackson Hewitt says it will have the liquidity to operate normally and handle the 2012 tax season. Um, am I the only taxpayer who'd feel a little awkward having his return prepared by a bankrupt company?
--An update from the e-reader front: Barnes & Noble is set to unveil a lighter, slimmer, cheaper version of its Nook for $139, stepping up the pressure on rival Amazon and its Kindle. Available on June 10, the new-and-improved Nook features a 6-inch touchscreen and can hold up to 1,000 digital books. Barnes & Noble Inc. says the latest Nook lets readers look up words, highlight passages, search, and adjust font size by typing on an onscreen keyboard. It says the device weighs 7.5 ounces and is 35% lighter than the first Nook, which launched a year and a half ago. The iPad 2 is nearly three times heavier at more than 1.3 pounds. The newest Kindle, meanwhile, is 8.5 ounces, though it holds more than three times as many books as the new Nook.
--That cup of joe may soon get even pricier. The company that sells Folgers and Dunkin' Donuts and several store-brand coffees has announced its second double-digit price increase this year. J.M. Smucker says the list price for most of its U.S. coffee products will go up 11% on average. Smucker blames a continuing rise in what it pays for unroasted beans, known as green coffee. Coffee companies and analysts say speculators may be causing most of the increase, though demand is rising in emerging markets and harsh weather in some major coffee-growing regions shrank supply. Green-coffee prices jumped 77% last year. Smucker says its latest price increase also affects Smucker's Millstone and Folgers Gourmet Selections packaged coffees. The Ohio company said in early February that it was raising coffee prices by an average 10%. Last August, it announced a 9% price hike, which followed a 4% increase in May 2010.
-- David Lazarus
Photo: Tax preparer Jackson Hewitt needs some financial help. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times