Do behavioral nudges in pre-populated tax forms affect compliance? Experimental evidence with real taxpayers
Journal of Public Policy & Marketing
American Marketing Association
© 2017, American Marketing Association
Reason for embargo
Defaults, in the form of prepopulated fields within the tax form, have been identified as potential mechanisms that tax authorities can use to reduce noncompliance. They achieve this by simplifying the process of filing taxes, thus reducing the scope for errors. However, defaults may increase the scope for evasion if set incorrectly. The authors report experimental data on the effect of correct and incorrect defaults. They find that prepopulating tax returns is a worthwhile policy only if it is done with highly reliable information. Setting default levels that underestimate taxpayers’ true tax liability leads to significant drops in compliance and tax revenue. The authors also study whether nudges that contain messages with descriptive norms about compliance can mitigate the adverse effect of prepopulated returns with incorrect values. Nudges that react to inputs from the taxpayer effectively raise compliance, whereas static nudges do not. This result demonstrates the limits to the applicability of nudges in a public policy sphere as well as possible adverse effects resulting from poor implementation.
Funding from the Tax Administration Research Centre, ESRC/HMRC/HMT grant ES/K005944/1 is gratefully acknowledged.
This is the final version of the article. Available from American Marketing Association via the DOI in this record.
Published online 12 April 2017