The power of Behavioral Science: 75% increase in use of a tax filing service


United Way is a global nonprofit that works to find long-lasting innovative solutions to positively impact communities. One of their main focuses is increased financial stability in low-to moderate-income populations. They launched a scan-and-go filing service called Valet VITA, which cuts down on wait time in filing centers and allows people to take advantage of other on-site services that can help with their savings and banking.


People were uncomfortable using the Valet VITA service because they had never used it before and they weren’t sure it would help. How could we encourage people to make use of this program and save time, money, and energy?


With Common Cents Lab, a nonprofit organization created by Behavioral Science expert Dan Ariely, and United Way, we collaborated on a variety of interventions that would help more people save. We then created a guide for United Way employees to use when working at filing centers.

  1. The power of labeling

    We created a handout card that utilizes Behavioral Science intervention labeling, which means that people rise up in accordance to labels that you give them. We targeted busy people who need to get back to work as they are the ones who will benefit the most from the service. By calling these labels out on the card, it is more likely that they will identify and take advantage of the service.

  2. Don’t underestimate pre-commitment

    Another helpful intervention is a worksheet that is given to the filers along with their intake paperwork. These worksheets are meant to help people distribute their refund into multiple categories and avoid spending it all at once. Making use of the Behavioral Science intervention called pre-commitment, filers who fill out the worksheets make a plan for their refund before they actually receive it, making it more likely that they will stick to it.

  3. KISS - Keep it simple, stupid!

    One of the most important Behavioral Science interventions is cognitive fluency, what we think of as the art of being clear in your language & design. Since we had the unique opportunity to work on the materials for the tax filers as well as the United Way staff, we were able to showcase cognitive fluency for both audiences. Reducing overload & confusion is extremely important in helping people make decisions.


The decision aid increased use of Valet VITA from 16% to 28%, a 75% increase. More people are able to make choices that will continue to benefit them for years to come.

  • Shirin Oreizy
    Shirin Oreizy
  • Lizzie Kreitman
    Lizzie Kreitman

Curious how Behavioral Science can guide your users?Contact us today.

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