Low- and moderate-income tax filers often receive refund and tax credit checks that easily total a fifth or more of their total annual income. This study uses data collected in 2009 and 2010 from 79 clients of a volunteer income tax assistance (VITA) program to compare filers’ estimates of their returns before the tax preparation process with their returns calculated by trained VITA volunteers. Most filers (75%) underestimated their refunds, and 52% underestimated by $500 or more. Hence, at least some portion of the refund arrives as an unanticipated windfall. Counseling and planning work with low- and moderate-income families should take these significant lump sum income events into consideration. Keywords: decision making, EITC, low income, prediction, tax refund

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