2014 News

Treasury awards $1 million for CSD retirement savings research

The U.S. Treasury Department has awarded a $1.08 million research contract to the Center for Social Development (CSD) at Washington University’s Brown School. One of 11 contracts awarded nationally under the Financial Empowerment Innovation Fund, this award will fund research on myRA accounts (“My Retirement Accounts”). The new myRA accounts were proposed by President Barack Obama in his January 2014 State of the Union address as a way of helping the millions of Americans whose employers do not offer retirement plans. 

Over the next two years, the “myRA at Tax Time” project will investigate combinations of messages and interest in opening myRA accounts online at tax time to determine which is most effective and appealing to consumers. The testing will inform future development of opportunity to open a myRA accounts during the tax-filing process, which would give tax filers the option to divert all or part of their tax refund to that account.

Intuit Inc., a partner in this research, will modify one version of its online TurboTax tax preparation software to test the consumer messaging and to test taxpayers’ interest opening myRA accounts online. In a second component of the research, Intuit will join with the researchers in surveying a sample of Intuit’s small business customers to assess employer interest in encouraging their employees to participate in myRA accounts.

This innovative research brings together university researchers and industry leaders to find novel solutions to assist lower-income Americans to start their own retirement savings. About half of America’s workers and 75 percent of part-time workers do not have employer-sponsored retirement or pension plans. Finding safe, easy, effective ways to help these workers create retirement accounts has great potential for improving the long-term financial security of these households.

Michal Grinstein-Weiss, associate director of CSD and an associate professor at the Brown School, will lead the project in collaboration with David Williams, chief tax officer with Intuit Inc., and Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University. “The Treasury’s Innovation Fund is a great step in spurring collaborative practical research that can provide evidence for public policy aimed to increase financial security for American households,” Grinstein-Weiss said.

Grinstein-Weiss is a national expert in policy research related to issues of economic inequality, household financial security and social development. She has led government-sponsored research projects and large-scale research initiatives that have explored new ways of creating economic opportunities and bringing safe, affordable financial options to lower income American households. She is an influential voice in the design of policies aimed at increasing household financial security.