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Paying to save: tax withholding and asset allocation among low- and moderate-income taxpayers

  • Michael S. Barr
  • Jane K. Dokko
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    We analyze the phenomenon that low- and moderate-income (LMI) tax filers exhibit a "preference for over-withholding" their taxes, a measure we derive from a unique set of questions administered in a dataset of 1,003 households, which we collected through the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan. We argue that the relationship between their withholding preference and portfolio allocation across liquid and illiquid assets is consistent with models with present-biased preferences, and that individuals exhibit self-control problems when making their consumption and saving decisions. Our results support a model in which individuals use commitment devices to constrain their consumption. Using data on other tax-filing behaviors, we also show that mental accounting and loss aversion explanations for tax filers' "preference for over-withholding" are unlikely to explain the patterns in the data. Present-biasedness and dynamic inconsistency among LMI tax filers have important implications for saving policies and tax administration.

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    Paper provided by Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.) in its series Finance and Economics Discussion Series with number 2008-11.

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    Date of creation: 2008
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:2008-11
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    1. Esther Duflo & William Gale & Jeffrey Liebman & Peter Orszag & Emmanuel Saez, 2006. "Saving Incentives for Low- and Middle-Income Families: Evidence from a Field Experiment with H&R Block," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 121(4), pages 1311-1346, November.
    2. Bertrand, Marianne & Shafir, Eldar & Mullainathan, Sendhil, 2004. "A Behavioral Economics View of Poverty," Scholarly Articles 2907437, Harvard University Department of Economics.
    3. Ted O'Donoghue and Matthew Rabin ., 1997. "Doing It Now or Later," Economics Working Papers 97-253, University of California at Berkeley.
    4. Stephen P. Zeldes, . "Consumption and Liquidity Constraints: An Empirical Investigation," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 16-88, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
    5. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-91, March.
    6. Carroll, Christopher D, 1997. "Buffer-Stock Saving and the Life Cycle/Permanent Income Hypothesis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(1), pages 1-55, February.
    7. Lawrance, Emily C, 1991. "Poverty and the Rate of Time Preference: Evidence from Panel Data," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(1), pages 54-77, February.
    8. Loewenstein, George F & Sicherman, Nachum, 1991. "Do Workers Prefer Increasing Wage Profiles?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 9(1), pages 67-84, January.
    9. Samuelson, Paul A, 1969. "Lifetime Portfolio Selection by Dynamic Stochastic Programming," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 51(3), pages 239-46, August.
    10. Jesse M. Shapiro, 2003. "Is there a Daily Discount Rate? Evidence from the Food Stamp Nutrition Cycle," Microeconomics 0304005, EconWPA, revised 21 Apr 2003.
    11. Neumark, David, 1995. "Are Rising Earnings Profiles a Forced-Saving Mechanism?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 105(428), pages 95-106, January.
    12. Robert B. Barsky & Miles S. Kimball & F. Thomas Juster & Matthew D. Shapiro, 1995. "Preference Parameters and Behavioral Heterogeneity: An Experimental Approach in the Health and Retirement Survey," NBER Working Papers 5213, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Paxson, Christina, 1990. "Borrowing Constraints and Portfolio Choice," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(2), pages 535-43, May.
    14. Barsky, Robert B, et al, 1997. "Preference Parameters and Behavioral Heterogeneity: An Experimental Approach in the Health and Retirement Study," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 537-79, May.
    15. Christopher D. Carroll, 1992. "The Buffer-Stock Theory of Saving: Some Macroeconomic Evidence," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 23(2), pages 61-156.
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