Tax Day – April 18 – is just around the corner. But you probably don’t need the reminder since you effortlessly filed your return in January, right?
Taxes are a pain. You have to track down documents, navigate jargon, and answer countless questions. On top of the hassles, it’s anxiety-inducing to figure out how much more money you may owe (“lose”), and thinking about your finances isn’t exactly the ideal way to spend a nice spring day. Plus, the headache doesn’t end when you hit “file”. Even after submission, you may grapple with looming suspicion that a few innocent miscalculations might lead to an audit or a correction that leaves you owing more.
Governments and social service organizations have tried to reduce inefficiencies and simplify this process. They offer programs like Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) to provide free tax filing support for low-income and older populations. But local VITA sites face their own behavioral and operational challenges. Many VITA sites are overwhelmed with demand in January, when W-2s arrive and taxpayers who expect a refund immediately come in for support. Then there’s another demand peak – the mad rush to submit on time in the last few available days before the deadline. Many sites aren’t staffed to handle these surges.
So what could be done to spread visits throughout tax season and keep volunteer tax preparers from being overwhelmed by the traditional spikes in demand? What can we do to enhance this helpful service for these taxpayers?
It is exactly to explore these types of efficiency and delivery related questions affecting VITA and many other programs that we created our latest initiative, Gov42: Behavioral Science Innovations in Government. Through Gov42, we’ll be working with state and city government agencies, helping them to apply the insights and methods of behavioral science to improve programs and better serve the American people.
Wherever people interact with a government program or process, behavioral science can be applied to make it more convenient and easier. Whether it’s simplifying an application form or making it more manageable to weigh seemingly complicated options, good behavioral design helps people cut through the clutter and focus on what’s most important for them.
Our Gov42 team is now actively exploring a number of significant partnerships with state and city governments interested in designing and testing innovative, behaviorally-informed solutions to improve policies or programs across a variety of issues, including health insurance, child welfare, education, and unemployment.
Results from our Gov42 work will be widely shared to maximize social impact and promote efficiency across all levels of government, all at no cost to state and local agencies.
Click here for more info on Gov42 and to engage with ideas42 as a partner.