TAX WITHHOLDING ESTIMATOR TEAM

The IRS Tax Withholding Estimator Team is being recognized for reimagining the Tax Withholding Estimator in conjunction with the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act in 2018. Using a customer-centric effort, they created the refreshed withholding tool to enable citizens to accurately estimate withholdings which is a cornerstone of tax administration and compliance for wage income, and one of the earliest interactions a taxpayer may have with the country’s tax administration system.

A joint team, integrating stakeholders from four distinct IRS divisions, began the redesign effort by putting the customer at the heart of the project. The team conducted user research interviews, benchmarked IRS’ existing tool against similar industry offerings, and conducted heuristic evaluations, and results were distilled into design recommendations in just a few short weeks. Working closely across organizations, the IRS team was able to leverage the existing code while adding critical customer experience features, culminating in the successful launch of the new Tax Withholding Estimator on August 6, 2019.  This tool serves upwards of 5 million customers annually.

 

From the beginning, the Tax Withholding Estimator (TWE) team endeavored to put taxpayers—our customers—at the center of the redesign effort. To ensure customer preferences remained primary, the team planned a thorough research effort that included benchmarking and ethnographic research before taking any steps to reimagine the existing Withholding Calculator. This was one of the first times a customer-first approach has been taken to design an application from the ground-up at IRS.

Almost immediately, the team faced a potential government shutdown. Rather than risk the potential derailing of their work or shipping a lesser product, this team of passionate and dedicated public servants chose to accelerate their research and analysis of existing data to identify critical research questions and create low-fidelity prototypes for testing. This preparation paid off as research efforts continued into taxpayer preferences, expectations, familiarity with tax concepts despite the 35-day shutdown. When operations restarted, the team was able to pick up where it left off without a bump, completing comparative analyses of other financial calculators and planning tools and higher-fidelity design concepts to begin the development process.

 

Within just four months, the integrated team used an Agile development approach to build, test, and launch an entirely new application, designed from the ground-up to address the customer experience. The new design reduces stress and confusion by grouping related concepts, using plain language, serving only necessary content based on a simple Q&A approach, providing context-sensitive help tips, permitting users to skip or go back using a progress tracker, utilizing a mobile-friendly design, and using clear calls to action. 

 

While they represented different disciplines and organizations, the integrated team acted in unison to assess, prioritize, and systematically deliver features based on the value to the customer. After the successful relaunch, the team continued to iterate the design and features, releasing new versions monthly – culminating with a successful update on December 31, 2019, that included many long-requested features including support for self-employed taxpayers and an enhanced results page enabling taxpayers to tailor their desired estimated refund amount. Since launch, the revamped TWE has received accolades from the tax and general press, along with very positive customer feedback. Analytics continues to prove the benefits of a customer-first approach, for example, by showing that customers who use built-in tool tips have an almost 80% higher chance of completing the Estimator.

 

Most taxpayers earn wage income and meet their tax obligations through income withholding. Thus, their most substantial interaction with the country’s tax system is typically passive, allowing unintended errors to compound. Withholding errors can pose a serious challenge for both taxpayers and the US Treasury, potentially triggering intervention by the IRS, reducing a taxpayer’s take-home pay, or incentivizing stolen identity refund fraud that victimizes both taxpayers and the government. The previous Withholding Calculator exceeded expectations by lasting far longer than anyone envisioned, typically serving about 5 million customers per year. To reimagine this service, we collected feedback from over 100 employees and customers and maintained focus on the customers’ needs, preferences, and expectations. As a result, the redesigned and mobile-friendly TWE serves over 8 million customers per year, a 60% increase, with over 40% of customers reporting they will take action based on the results. The TWE project team exemplified the spirit of service to citizens, proving that by putting customers first and working collaboratively, government can deliver innovative and pleasing product experiences, as illustrated in this feedback: “The new tax withholding estimator is REALLY GOOD, much improved, and a huge help to our family. Well done!”

2020

SERVICE TO THE CITIZEN AWARD WINNER

KIRA PRIN

DIGITAL USER EXPERIENCE ANALYST

INTERNAL REVENUE SERIVCE

ALAN H. PLUMLEY

TECHNICAL ADVISOR

INTERNAL REVENUE SERIVCE

MIJI MATHEWS

SUPERVISORY IT SPECIALIST

INTERNAL REVENUE SERIVCE

ERIC MARKOW

PROJECT DIRECTOR

INTERNAL REVENUE SERIVCE

ERIN MITCHELL

DIGITAL USER EXPERIENCE ANALYST

INTERNAL REVENUE SERIVCE

ASHLEY KENT

PRODUCT MANAGER IN ONLINE SERVICES

INTERNAL REVENUE SERIVCE

MICHAEL RATIO

MANAGEMENT & PROGRAM ANALYST

INTERNAL REVENUE SERIVCE

VICTOR ALEDO

ACTING DIRECTOR, TAX FORMS AND PUBLICATIONS

INTERNAL REVENUE SERIVCE

For Questions /  Contact us at STTC@dorrisconsulting.com

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