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Does changing the timing of a yearly individual tax refund change the amount spent vs. saved?

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  • Chambers, Valrie
  • Spencer, Marilyn
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    Abstract

    The empirical evidence surrounding whether federal income tax refunds predominantly stimulate consumer spending or saving remains contradictory. This study is an attempt to combine income tax research findings with research on mental accounting and with the effects of estimated tax payments timing. The authors developed and administered an experiment, using college students as subjects, to test whether tax refunds administered as one lump-sum will be saved (vs. spent) more than tax refunds of the same amount refunded monthly through revised income tax withholding tables. The study also explores the types of saving and spending that result from refunds under both timing patterns. A within subjects experiment of student spending was used, and ANOVA results confirm that a refund delivered in monthly amounts (for example, by changing the federal income tax withholding tables) stimulated current spending more than if the same yearly total tax reduction was delivered in one lump-sum. The findings also suggest that the lump-sum distribution conversely will stimulate private saving more than a monthly distribution will. The study also explores other specific savings and spending tendencies, including the payment of credit cards vs. investments in securities, and the amount spent on durable goods vs. monthly expenditures across several monthly and yearly distributions. It is important to know if and how the timing of refunds affects savings and spending tendencies because tax cuts are often debated on the political stage as a means to stimulate spending, and the timing of the refund might change how effectively a tax cut meets that goal.

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    File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6V8H-4S7BD9R-2/2/8cff11facdc8907bc5ec980cf9b98182
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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Economic Psychology.

    Volume (Year): 29 (2008)
    Issue (Month): 6 (December)
    Pages: 856-862

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:joepsy:v:29:y:2008:i:6:p:856-862

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    Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/joep

    Related research

    Keywords: Decision making Consumer behavior Economics Mental accounting Tax;

    References

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    1. Matthew D. Shapiro & Joel Slemrod, 2001. "Consumer Response to Tax Rebates," NBER Working Papers 8672, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Williamson, Oliver E, 1979. "Transaction-Cost Economics: The Governance of Contractural Relations," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 22(2), pages 233-61, October.
    3. Camerer, Colin, et al, 1997. "Labor Supply of New York City Cabdrivers: One Day at a Time," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 407-41, May.
    4. Milton Friedman, 1957. "Introduction to "A Theory of the Consumption Function"," NBER Chapters, in: A Theory of the Consumption Function, pages 1-6 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Jonathan A. Parker, 1999. "The Reaction of Household Consumption to Predictable Changes in Social Security Taxes," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 959-973, September.
    6. Shapiro, Matthew D & Slemrod, Joel, 1995. "Consumer Response to the Timing of Income: Evidence from a Change in Tax Withholding," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(1), pages 274-83, March.
    7. Milton Friedman, 1957. "A Theory of the Consumption Function," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number frie57-1, May.
    8. Joel Slemrod & Jon Bakija, 2004. "Taxing Ourselves, 3rd Edition: A Citizen's Guide to the Debate over Taxes," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 3, volume 1, number 026269302x, December.
    9. Nicholas S. Souleles, 1999. "The Response of Household Consumption to Income Tax Refunds," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 947-958, September.
    10. John A. Rizzo & Richard J. Zeckhauser, 2003. "Reference Incomes, Loss Aversion, and Physician Behavior," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 85(4), pages 909-922, November.
    11. Matthew D. Shapiro & Joel Slemrod, 2003. "Did the 2001 Tax Rebate Stimulate Spending? Evidence from Taxpayer Surveys," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 17, pages 83-110 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Sheppard, Blair H & Hartwick, Jon & Warshaw, Paul R, 1988. " The Theory of Reasoned Action: A Meta-analysis of Past Research with Recommendations for Modifications and Future Research," Journal of Consumer Research, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(3), pages 325-43, December.
    13. Read, Daniel & Loewenstein, George & Rabin, Matthew, 1999. "Choice Bracketing," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 19(1-3), pages 171-97, December.
    14. Souleles, Nicholas S., 2002. "Consumer response to the Reagan tax cuts," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 85(1), pages 99-120, July.
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    Cited by:
    1. Oppewal, Harmen & Paas, Leonard J. & Crouch, Geoffrey I. & Huybers, Twan, 2010. "Segmenting consumers based on how they spend a tax rebate: An analysis of the Australian stimulus payment," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 31(4), pages 510-519, August.
    2. William Congdon & Jeffrey R. Kling & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2009. "Behavioral Economics and Tax Policy," NBER Working Papers 15328, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Alan J. Auerbach & William G. Gale, 2009. "Activist Fiscal Policy to Stabilize Economic Activity," NBER Working Papers 15407, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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