Success story

Making It Easier for People with Low Income to Claim Their Tax Credits

We created GetYourRefund.org to help people access critical tax credits through free, trustworthy help filing their returns

Impact

  • More than 200,000 households have successfully filed tax returns through GetYourRefund.org.
  • We’ve helped distribute more than $509 million in tax refunds.

The challenge

America’s tax code includes credits for households with low income like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the country’s largest benefit for workers. Because the EITC is distributed as flexible cash—that households can use for whatever they need—it’s one of the most effective programs for lifting people out of poverty. But one in five eligible households are not claiming the benefit, often because the process of filing a tax return is complicated, confusing, and burdensome. As a result, more than $10 billion is left on the table every year. 

The IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program provides free assistance for people with low income to file their taxes,  but historically, it has relied on paper-based, in-person assistance at designated VITA sites during specific hours of operation—making it inaccessible to many filers with low income.

We saw an opportunity to build a free, virtual tax filing assistance tool: GetYourRefund.org. Tax filers can access the website through their phone, ask questions about their tax and income situation, securely upload documents, and get connected with VITA volunteers who help file the return.

Our approach

Our intended approach was to build a service in the typical Code for America way: starting with a Minimum Viable Product, gathering feedback and iterating along the way, and gradually scaling to serve more and more people. Our intent was to launch with five partners across the country in March 2020. 

Homepage of GetYourRefund.org reading "Free tax filing made simple."

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the government issued Economic Impact Payments (also known as stimulus checks) to help people during a time of extreme economic hardship. The plan was to distribute these payments through the IRS—but many of the households that could most benefit from flexible cash support like the Economic Impact Payments or the EITC are not required to file a tax return, because their income is below a certain threshold. That meant the IRS didn’t have their information, and they’d be left behind by any benefit distributed through the tax system.

We rapidly scaled the scope of our launch, from a planned partnership with four VITA sites to more than 100. In its first year of operation, GetYourRefund helped 76,260 households access an estimated $294,858,135 in flexible cash through tax credits.

In the years since, we’ve continued to iterate and expand on the service to make it more accessible to tax filers, such as adding Spanish language support and better compatibility with screen readers for those who are visually impaired. And we’ve gathered our learnings into resources about how to reach people who don’t file taxes and therefore miss out on critical tax benefits, which we disseminate throughout the ecosystem of public servants and advocates who focus on tax issues.

Outcomes

As of March 2024, GetYourRefund has helped more than 200,000 people successfully file their taxes. We have partnered with 191 VITA organizations across the country, empowering volunteers to serve tax filers more efficiently.

GetYourRefund has distributed $294,858,135 in flexible cash via tax credits to households with low to moderate income, helping people meet their basic needs. And because we have seen evidence that people of color disproportionately miss out on tax credits, we know that making it easier for people to file taxes can help close racial equity gaps.

Flexible cash like that offered through tax credits is a key factor in helping people achieve financial stability, and we’re proud of the ways that GetYourRefund has helped hundreds of thousands of households access money that helps them meet their basic needs.

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