Liberty Tax Service Inc. said Republic Bancorp Inc. in Louisville has agreed to offer refund-anticipation loans and electronic refund checks to customers at 90% of Liberty's locations.

The three-year agreement "makes Republic the primary originator of tax refund products for our offices," John T. Hewitt, Liberty's chairman and chief executive, said in a press release last week. Hewitt was the founder and former president, chairman and CEO of Jackson Hewitt Inc., a rival tax preparation company; Hewitt left those roles in 1996 and founded Liberty, of Virginia Beach, in 1997.

The refund-anticipation loan business has suffered in the past year. Pacific Capital Bancorp., which supplies loans to Jackson Hewitt, said in July that its profits from the loans were half what they were the prior year. Pacific had to write off a significant number of the loans because the Internal Revenue Service changed some of its policies and denied many of the anticipated tax refunds.

Pacific said in December that the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency would not give it approval to originate refund-anticipation loans this year, and that it would sell the unit offering them.