The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Building the Case for Tax-Time Savings: Replicating Savenyc Findings in a New Cohort

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 10:30 AM
Executive Center 3A (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Clinton Key, MA, Research Manager, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Jenna Tucker, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Michal Grinstein-Weiss, PhD, Associate Professor and Associate Director, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Background and Purpose: Although all citizens have an equal stake in the U.S. economy, lower-income individuals are much less likely to participate in conventional banking services. The results of this situation are large disparities in the savings and asset holdings of individuals at different income levels. In recent years, social workers have led efforts to establish asset building interventions, which are designed to increase access to financial institutions and build savings and assets among low-income individuals. One such innovation is tax-time savings accounts, which promote savings by devoting a portion of the tax refund of a low-income filer to a savings account. Recent research on an early cohort of participants in a tax-time savings program (SaveNYC) found that it increased the likelihood of having savings and the amount of savings held by low-income participants. This study attempts to replicate those findings in a more recent cohort of SaveNYC participants.

Methods: Data are from the 2010 cohort of SaveNYC study participants. SaveNYC is a tax-time savings program that invited tax filers at select New York City Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites to deposit a portion of their refund into a savings account. If participants left the money in the account for an entire year, their balance was matched at a rate of 50 cents for every dollar. Participants in the program and a comparison group drawn from non-participating VITA sites were surveyed at baseline and again one year later. Propensity score weighting was used to compensate for small baseline differences between the two groups. Regression analyses were conducted to predict presence of savings and amount of savings, controlling for important demographic variables and financial covariates. 

Results: Preliminary results suggest that participation in SaveNYC is associated with a greater likelihood of having savings one year later (p<.05). Sixty-six percent of treatment group members reported having at least some savings, compared to 54 percent of comparison group members. The average amount of savings differed slightly between groups ($1514 for treatment group; $1263 for comparison group), but this difference was not significant (p=.47).

Conclusions and Implications: Consistent with previous findings based on an earlier SaveNYC cohort, findings of this study suggests that a tax-time savings program can successfully increase the likelihood that low-income tax filers save money. Although the $250 difference in savings was not statistically significant, the increased likelihood of having savings suggests that participation in a tax-time savings program has the potential to motivate continued saving. Social workers have been at the forefront of the asset-building movement, establishing asset-building programs across the nation. Tax-time savings programs may represent the next powerful tool to increase the financial security of low-income clients. In the long-term, tax-time savings interventions can increase the involvement of low-income households in conventional financial institutions.