WASHINGTON (8/9/10)--The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced that it will not make its debt indicator program available to tax preparers and financial institutions for the 2011 tax season. The debt indicator, which helps financial institutions discern whether a tax filer's refund will be delayed, facilitates refund anticipation loans (RALs). RALs are short-term, high-interest loans that are heavily marketed by paid tax preparation firms during tax time. They can deplete hundreds of dollars from a typical tax refund. Many credit unions offer Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs to steer tax filers away from the costly RALs. VITA is an IRS program that helps low- and moderate-income taxpayers complete their annual tax returns at no cost. Credit unions and community organizations receive IRS- provided training in preparing basic tax returns and establishing tax-preparation sites. The National Credit Union Foundation’s REAL Solutions program estimated in 2009 that the free tax preparation, electronic filing, and refund deposits provided by the VITA program to low-income tax filers has saved those tax filers a combined $20 million. The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) earlier this year announced that it will expand its participation in the credit union-based VITA tax prep program. A total of 541 credit unions participated in the VITA program in 2009, the NCUA reported.