Connecting Fresh EBT users with free tax help this tax season

Too often low-income taxpayers miss out on thousands of dollars in tax credits or overpay for tax preparation services. During tax season, we’re all used to seeing the ads that pop-up on every corner, physical and virtual, enticing potential customers with the lure of cash back, fast and free service, and rapid refunds. These services vary significantly in the level of quality and value they offer for the consumer, and sorting through the options can be challenging. Often the promises of fast, free cash back end up being the most expensive, though for many the appeal of cash on the spot is hard to resist.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), a program of the IRS, offers a great alternative. VITA sites are free tax preparation sites offered nationwide through community-based organizations like churches, libraries, public assistance offices, shopping malls, and community colleges. This tax season we have added all IRS-approved VITA sites to the Fresh EBT map, now available to users alongside EBT-authorized retailers and farmers markets, food pantries, and SNAP offices. 
 
VITA Free Tax Prep sites are consistently ranked as the least error-prone, with the highest accuracy rate of all tax preparers. Unlike some services, all preparers at VITA sites are trained according to IRS standards. Instead of selling clients products or services with high fees or interest rates, VITA sites tend to encourage personal asset building. Many sites help connect clients to financial coaches, encourage opportunities to save, screen for additional benefits, and refer clients to consumer-friendly financial products.

Despite the quality service they offer, VITA sites often have a hard time competing with the for-profit tax preparers and the millions of dollars they spend on advertising to get people in the door. Fresh EBT hopes to change this. We are informing users of this option by showing messaging about VITA sites on the homepage of the app throughout tax season.

To craft these messages most effectively, we worked with the Common Cents lab — a leader in behavioral economics research — to test a variety of ways to frame the VITA opportunity to users. Through a series of rapid experiments, we tested several messages and calls-to-action to see which most clearly conveyed the value and quality of VITA sites.

By reaching users directly with the right information at the right time, we hope to help users make an informed decision this tax season. We are also pleased to be supporting organizations working on the ground to provide these valuable services. Improving access to VITA sites is another example of the ways Fresh EBT works to help cut through the clutter and connect our users to the highest quality services that save them time and money.

By reaching users directly with the right information at the right time, we hope to help users make an informed decision this tax season. We are also pleased to be supporting organizations working on the ground to provide these valuable services. Improving access to VITA sites is another example of the ways Fresh EBT works to help cut through the clutter and connect our users to the highest quality services that save them time and money.