Betsy (me) conducting an interview with a participant in a computer lab. His face and arm tattoo have been obscured for privacy.

Project overview
GetYourRefund offers various avenues for tax filing so that clients have their specific tax needs met. "DIY" (Do-it-yourself) filers are people who are funneled to services such as TaxSlayer to enter their own information and essentially prepare their own taxes. 
Tax filers who opt for the "DIY" option either prefer filing their own taxes or have certain tax cases that cannot be prepared by a VITA preparer. However, they may still take advantage of free tax filing through their preferred VITA location using a special link.
We have an opportunity to understand the typical "DIY" tax filer to build better products suited for their needs.
Research goals
1.) To understand the type of assistance that first-time and returning DIY filers need, especially when inputting sensitive information with confidence.
2.) Compare "DIY" services and understand which features make tax filing easier for people who file their own taxes.
We recruited ten people (5 first time "DIY" filers and 5 "returning" DIY filers) to conduct interviews about the services they currently use, how they use them and what challenges they face using them.
Participants were recruited via reddit from subreddits such as r/tax and r/turbotax. We were looking for anyone who has filed or attempted to file their taxes on their own using CashApp, TurboTax or TaxSlayer before. 
We used a screener survey to ensure participants met our needs as "DIY" filers and qualified for the VITA program (making less than $72,000 annually).
Research method: User interviews
All interviews lasted 30 minutes with a compensation of $30 via gift card at the end of the interview.
Participants who passed through our screener survey were given a consent form to acknowledge participant rights and consent to the interview.

Interview questions were divided into three sections: 
1.) Questions about the participant's tax history.
2.) Questions about the usability of the service they used.
3.) Questions about the kind of support they received or wish they had received.

Afterwards, we gave participants the option to ask us any questions about the interview or how their data will be used at the end of the interview.
User insights 
1.) Why most people chose "DIY" tax filing: Flexibility 
DIY tax services provide flexibility to participants who have fluctuating incomes every year.
Income fluctuation is likely due to the nature of the participant's job (often as independent contractors) and/or life changes such as moving, receiving an internship after college or reaching retirement.
2.) Returning "DIY" filers felt most confident
Returning "DIY" filers felt most confident filing their own taxes because they’ve had practice. 
They know their tax history, their current financial situation, and feel comfortable entering sensitive information on their own, especially if their tax history has remained consistent over the years.
3.) Why people had hesitations toward "DIY" tax filing: Uncertainty for first timers
First timers felt the most hesitation toward a "DIY" option.
These filers did not feel the same level of confidence as returning filers and were more likely to feel overwhelmed, especially if they had other forms of income like survivors benefits. The definition of "earned income" was unclear to this group of participants.
4.) What is "Earned Income"?
Earned income is defined by the IRS as "Wages, salaries, tips, and other taxable employee pay." It doesn't include income such as social security or government benefits such as SNAP. Several participants questioned whether the entitlements they've received were "earned" or not.
Feature recommendation based on findings: Clarify tax jargon and prioritize scanned documents & pre-filled forms
Most first time participants mentioned they were unclear about "earned income" and that inputting information was tedious. Inputting the wrong information also yields consequences from the IRS, instilling fear in people who are doing it for the first time or intermittently.
I would recommend directing DIY clients to a service that clarifies tax jargon to demystify the tax filing process, making it less stressful for both clients and VITA volunteers, who often manage large caseloads of clients during the end of the tax season.
Participants mentioned being impressed with CashApp's scan feature which scans physical W-2s and uploads the information into the app. However, this feature is only available for people with W-2s, which independent contractors usually don't have.
Something as simple as pre-filling information such as name, dependent's names, and address were seen as more useful than entering it manually. It reduces the time to file taxes while increasing tax form accuracy.
Tools used
1.)  Airtable - Recruitment and participant management
2.) Zoom - To conduct and record interviews, meetings with team members
3.) Slack - Communicate instantly with team members, gather team members for meetings
4.) - Transcription, text data storage, and analysis
5.) Google Slides - Deliverable

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