American Express Co. cardholders can now use their accumulated rewards points to pay their taxes.
Consumers could already — through services operated by Link2Gov Corp. and Tier Technologies Inc. — use Amex rewards points to cover the fees associated with paying their taxes; the company said Monday that it had expanded those relationships to let cardholders apply points to the actual taxes.
Link2Gov, a unit of Fidelity National Information Services Inc., and Tier Technologies' official-payments unit are the only companies authorized to accept card payments on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service; they also process state and local taxes and a variety of other municipal payments.
The IRS is barred by law from covering the interchange fees for card payments, so the two companies charge customers a "convenience fee" to cover the transaction costs.
An Amex spokeswoman said cardholders can redeem 200 points for one dollar applied to their federal, state or local tax bills.
"We know that cardmembers want a rewards program that offers everything from practical and everyday rewards to the extraordinary," Lynne Biggar, Amex's senior vice president of membership rewards marketing and partnerships, said in a press release. This year the company is "focusing on making them more relevant and attainable."
Ron Shevlin, a senior analyst at the Boston research company Aite Group, said the idea is innovative but may have limited appeal to consumers. "This will likely take some marketing and cardholder education and communication to drive usage," he said.
"I would tend to believe that many cardholders will balk at using their points to pay their tax bill," he predicted. "Giving money to the IRS is not most people's idea of a 'reward.' This is a psychological thing."
Shevlin noted that people apply for rewards-based cards because they want to use the points for travel, merchandise or cash. "Getting the money back first," he said, "and then paying the IRS is probably more acceptable to people than having it go directly to the IRS."