Our Research into Closing the Tax Benefits Coverage Gap
For the past three years, the Code for America Tax Benefits team has been moving steadily forward towards our mission—to ensure all those who are eligible for benefits distributed through the tax system actually claim and receive them. To help people get the benefits they’ve earned, we built and operated two free tax filing products. GetCTC was a simplified filing tool, made in collaboration with the White House and the U.S. Department of the Treasury, that allowed families with low income to e-file returns to claim the pandemic-era Child Tax Credit and stimulus payments through an IRS-developed streamlined process. GetYourRefund is a virtual Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) service that connects clients with accessible, trusted, hands-on tax assistance.
Hundreds of thousands of families have used our tools to claim over $1 billion in tax benefits over the past three years. We’ve also conducted extensive quantitative and qualitative research while running these tools, and have a wealth of findings to share with the field. We look forward to using these findings in service of helping more people and making the distribution of tax benefits more equitable.
This post will be updated periodically as we add new research findings.
GetCTC research and advocacy reports
Simplifying the filing process
- IRS direct e-file tool design prototype. Illustrative design prototypes for a prospective IRS Direct Efile tool, and detailed explanations of design choices. Published: 8 February 2023.
- The importance of simplified filing. Data from GetCTC in 2022 on the impact of simplifying filing processes, including results of experiments comparing filing products, and findings from our implementation of EITC functionality. Published: 24 February 2023.
- Lessons from simplified filing: GetCTC in 2021 (See Chapter 1). Detailed findings from GetCTC use in 2021. Published: 15 March 2022.
Tax benefits outreach
- Lessons from simplified filing: GetCTC in 2021 (See Chapter 3). Detailed findings from GetCTC outreach in 2021. Published: 15 March 2022.
Funnel and user experience findings from GetCTC in 2022. Miscellaneous data on GetCTC use in 2022, including characteristics of clients, how and when clients used the tool, points of drop-off, repeat usage by 2021 clients, and lessons about plain language and tax terminology. Published: 22 March 2023.
Reports on experimental results
The Tax Benefits team ran nearly a dozen randomized controlled trials in 2022, the results of which are cited in various reports above. Detailed technical write-ups of each experiment are available here:
- Comparing levels of service in tax filing (Part II). Findings from sending former GetCTC clients to simplified versus full filing. Experiment date: June 2022. Published: 24 February 2023.
- Offers of assistance in tax benefits outreach. Findings from offering hotline assistance in outreach messages. Experiment date: September 2022; replication: October 2022. Published: 8 March 2023.
- Using government signals to improve trust in tax benefits outreach. Findings from using .org and .gov landing pages for tax benefits outreach, and from increasing the salience of government trust indicators on the GetCTC home page. Experiment date: August-September 2022. Published: 8 March 2023.
- Outreach nudges to GetCTC clients with incomplete returns. Findings from providing outreach nudges and additional hands-on assistance to GetCTC clients who started but did not complete the filing process. Experiment date: November 2022. Published: 8 March 2023.
- Offering assistance to clients using EITC functionality. Findings from offering additional hands-on assistance to select GetCTC clients using EITC functionality. Experiment date: October 2022. Published: 24 February 2023.
- Use of tax terminology and deadline language in tax benefits outreach. Findings from including deadlines and using tax terminology in outreach messages. Experiment date: November 2022. Published: 8 March 2023.
- Unpaid referral program to drive GetCTC returns. Findings from a pilot program to increase friend/family referrals to GetCTC. Experiment date: July-August 2022. Published: 8 March 2023.
- The timing of tax benefits outreach. Findings from sending outreach messages on different days of the week. Experiment date: September 2022; replication: October 2022. Published: 8 March 2023.
- Comparing levels of service in tax filing (Part I) and tax terminology in tax benefits outreach. Findings from sending former GetCTC and GetYourRefund clients to different tax filing options. Results from using tax and non-tax language in tax benefits outreach. Experiment date: April 2022. Published: 8 March 2023.
- Near-term technical fixes for refundable credits administration: October 2022. Technical recommendations to build on successful IRS reforms from the pandemic and improve the coverage of refundable tax credits. Published: October 2022.
Annual Report to Congress on the Refundable Credits Coverage Gap: A Proposal. Proposed scope and draft analysis plan for a yearly report by Treasury or the IRS on those families who are eligible for—but not receiving—key refundable credits. Published: 22 March 2023.
Do you have questions about our research? Get in touch! Contact Gabriel Zucker, the Associate Policy Director for Tax Benefits, or Maximilian Hell, a Senior Data Scientist at Code for America.