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Investigating Behavioral Responses to Positive Inducements for Filing Tax Returns

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  • James Alm
  • Todd Cherry
  • Michael McKee
  • Michael L. Jones

Abstract

A significant amount of non-compliance associated with the personal income tax is due to the taxpayers who are not “in the system,” not having filed a tax return in the recent past or perhaps ever. We use experimental laboratory methods to examine two types of positive incentives for filing tax returns: tax credits and social safety net benefits, both of which are conditional on tax filing. Our experimental design captures the essential features of the voluntary income reporting and tax assessment system used in many countries. Human participants in a controlled laboratory environment earn income through their performance in a task. The participants must then decide whether to file a tax return and, conditional upon filing, how much income to report. Taxes are paid on reported income only. Unreported income of filers may be discovered via a random audit, and the participant must then pay the owed taxes plus a fine based on the unpaid taxes; non-filers are not subject to an audit. Inducements for filing are introduced in several alternative treatments. In one treatment we introduce a social safety net (e.g., unemployment replacement income) that is conditional on past filing behavior. In a second treatment we introduce tax credits that are available either to low income participants or to all income levels, but again only to those who file a tax return. Our results suggest that a tax credit increases filing but only if the credit is targeted to low income earners. The provision of a social safety net via unemployment benefits also has a positive, albeit indirect, impact on participation. Key Words:

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File URL: http://econ.appstate.edu/RePEc/pdf/wp1011.pdf
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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Department of Economics, Appalachian State University in its series Working Papers with number 10-11.

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Date of creation: 2010
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Handle: RePEc:apl:wpaper:10-11

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Web page: http://www.business.appstate.edu/departments/economics/
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  1. Yitzhaki, Shlomo, 1974. "Income tax evasion: A theoretical analysis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 3(2), pages 201-202, May.
  2. James Alm & John Deskins & Michael McKee, 2009. "Do Individuals Comply on Income Not Reported by Their Employer?," Public Finance Review, , vol. 37(2), pages 120-141, March.
  3. Bernard Fortin & Guy Lacroix & Marie-Claire Villeval, 2004. "Tax Evasion and Social Interactions," CIRANO Working Papers 2004s-61, CIRANO.
  4. repec:att:wimass:9610 is not listed on IDEAS
  5. James Andreoni & Brian Erard & Jonathan Feinstein, 1998. "Tax Compliance," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(2), pages 818-860, June.
  6. Alm, James & Jackson, Betty R. & McKee, Michael, 1993. "Fiscal exchange, collective decision institutions, and tax compliance," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 285-303, December.
  7. Cummings, Ronald G. & Martinez-Vazquez, Jorge & McKee, Michael & Torgler, Benno, 2009. "Tax morale affects tax compliance: Evidence from surveys and an artefactual field experiment," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 70(3), pages 447-457, June.
  8. Alm, James & Bahl, Roy & Murray, Matthew N, 1991. "Tax Base Erosion in Developing Countries," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 39(4), pages 849-72, July.
  9. Blackwell, Calvin & McKee, Michael, 2003. "Only for my own neighborhood?: Preferences and voluntary provision of local and global public goods," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 52(1), pages 115-131, September.
  10. Wojciech Kopczuk & Cristian Pop-Eleches, 2005. "Electronic Filing, Tax Preparers, and Participation in the Earned Income Tax Credit," NBER Working Papers 11768, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Joel Slemrod & Shlomo Yitzhaki, 2000. "Tax Avoidance, Evasion, and Administration," NBER Working Papers 7473, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Steven D. Levitt & John A. List, 2007. "What Do Laboratory Experiments Measuring Social Preferences Reveal About the Real World?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(2), pages 153-174, Spring.
  13. Cherry, Todd L. & Shogren, Jason F., 2008. "Self-interest, sympathy and the origin of endowments," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 101(1), pages 69-72, October.
  14. Alm, James & McKee, Michael, 2004. "Tax compliance as a coordination game," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 54(3), pages 297-312, July.
  15. Klarita G�rxhani & Arthur Schram, 2002. "Tax Evasion and the Source of Income," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 02-098/1, Tinbergen Institute.
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