At first glance, it may seem that the ideas of paying taxes and helping people build financial security are at odds with each other. And that Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen would be an unlikely headliner at the Corporation for Enterprise Development’s biennial Assets Learning Conference.

Those perceptions would be wrong.

Speaking during the conference’s opening plenary session, Koskinen explained the critical role the IRS plays in providing financial security to American families.

His argument easily captured the audience’s attention as an increasing number of the 1,200 attendees are working to use tax time to help families build financial security. Koskinen lauded the success of IRS programs such as Free File and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, which collectively helped nearly 7 million households file federal tax returns for free this past tax season.

 

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He also spoke about the importance of administering tax credits and increasing savings opportunities. Programs such as myRA, a new retirement savings product offered by the Treasury department, helps low-income households by enabling them to directly deposit their tax refunds to their personal accounts.

Koskinen was not alone in discussing the opportunity the tax filing process holds for households to manage their finances and build financial security. Robert Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, had a three-point message about savings: “First, saving is hard. Second, saving is important. Third, saving is possible.” He spoke about the immense effort – described as “leather and shoe grease” – that the bureau has put into tax-time savings efforts this past year.

The opportunity to use tax time to build financial security was a major theme throughout the three-day conference. A handful of breakout sessions, with experts from government agencies, VITA programs and consumer advocates, covered topics including “Innovations in VITA,” “Challenges and Opportunities Ahead for Tax Time and Tax Prep,” and “Preparing Filers for Delays in 2017 Tax Refunds.”

Sessions also highlighted research studies in the field on tax-time savings initiatives, including the Refund to Savings, Save Your Refund, and CFPB’s Project Catalyst. The feeling in the rooms was one of exploration and shared commitment to making this just the beginning of tax time financial wellness efforts.

The momentum from the ALC conference is likely to spur new efforts and innovations to use tax time as an opportunity to help households build financial security. We look forward to hearing and seeing those bold ideas. Read more about the conference, browse session materials, and download speakers’ presentations and handouts by visiting the ALC Program Page.

General support for the ALC provided by Intuit Financial Freedom Foundation.

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