Case Study

The Power of Anchors to Motivate Tax-time Savings


Saving rates among low- and middle-income households tend to be low, but the benefits are high. What can increase the likelihood of individuals saving their tax refunds as opposed to spending it immediately?


We designed several interventions to encourage people to divert money from their refunds into savings accounts. To test which methods were most effective, we relied on two primary behavioral mechanisms: motivational prompts and suggested savings amounts (anchors). The motivational prompts encouraged TurboTax users to think of concrete reasons to save: an emergency, their family, or the future. This was compared with a generic prompt to save (the control). Anchors were implemented by recommending a savings level (as a percentage of the refund and/or a specified dollar amount) and pre-populating a web form with these different amounts: 25%, 50%, 75%, $100, or $250.

The research was supported by Intuit, a business and financial software company that develops and sells financial, accounting and tax preparation software and related services.


While the general prompt did encourage users to save more than no prompt at all (a 6.8% increase), we found that on average the targeted prompts had a higher effect on savings (7.6%).

Why it matters

While the increase between the two behavioral mechanisms appears modest, the translation to the number of new savers is substantial: 4,800 participants. Overall, the combined impact of these behavioral interventions increased the amount saved by roughly $6 million. Organizations, policymakers, and consumers should consider using motivational prompts and anchors to savings during tax refund time.

In Collaboration With