Build Savings at Tax Time: A Guide to Split Refunds
More than three-quarters of the nation’s taxpayers receive tax refunds each year. In 2010, the average refund was $3,003, up 5% from 2009 when the average refund was $2859—for many low to moderate income households, this is the largest sum of cash they will receive all year. To encourage individuals and families to make the best use of their refund, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has created a new program to allow taxpayers who use direct deposit to send it to multiple accounts.
Beginning in 2007, taxpayers were able to designate up to three different accounts for their refund—including checking, savings, and retirement accounts—giving them greater control over their money. With appropriate marketing and other complementary services, this simple procedural change—referred to as ‘split refunds’—has already enabled hundreds of thousand Americans to save, and could encourage millions more, especially as suitable product such as U.S. Savings Bonds.
This Guide explores the opportunities and implications of split refunds as they apply to the segment of low and moderate income1 (LMI) tax filers who rely on Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites to process their taxes. The Guide provides information on split refund procedures, appropriate marketing and messaging for VITA clients, integrating refund splitting into VITA site operations, training volunteer tax preparers, and partnering with financial institutions.
While the Guide is directed primarily at those engaged in EITC outreach and VITA site activity, it might also be useful for financial institutions, advocates of asset building, for-profit tax preparers, public officials, and others who acknowledge the importance of saving for LMI households. Links to additional resources on split refunds can be found in Appendix C.