Just a few weeks after I was hired as an RA, I went out to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where we coordinated with a local nonprofit that sets up free tax preparation sites to ensure that low income individuals receive their Earned Income Tax Credit. Our part of the project involved creating a way for individuals to automatically split their tax refunds between a checking and savings account, so that they didn’t have to take any extra steps to save. And if people didn’t have a checking or savings account, we worked with a local bank to help them set one up.
I went to the site on a daily basis and did everything from asking people to fill out surveys and explaining what the process was about to making sure that the tax preparers understood the splitting service. There was a lot of on-the-ground data collection and checking in with my faculty member regularly.
Once we had input and analyzed our data, we put together a draft of a paper that was eventually published in a journal and as a policy brief. It also eventually led to the creation of an IRS form that makes it easier for people to electronically deposit all or part of their refund into a savings account. I took part in the field work, data analysis, and writing; as an overall process, the work involved nonprofit organizations, banks, and other academic institutions. As one of my first experiences as an RA, it was an ideal preparation for graduate school.