Taxman and Email Intelligence

It’s April 15th, which is traditionally the final date that Americans need to file their taxes. 85% of Americans expect to receive a tax refund this year and the IRS estimates that the average refund will be $2,803, an increase from last year’s average return of $2,700. With larger returns expected, will Americans be in a rush to file their taxes early this year?

Looking in Inbox Insight at the subject lines of campaigns sent by TurboTax and H&R Block show that the biggest e-filing day for both was January 31st.  In fact, out of all taxes e-filed to date at H&R Block, nearly 8% were done on the second day that the IRS started accepting e-file returns. Slightly over half of all e-files to date were done on or before February 15th, a full two months before the last day to file taxes without an extension.

H&R Block

% of Total e-file Returns Submitted, January 30, 2013 – April 13, 2013

TurboTax saw similar e-file behavior with January 31st being the biggest day so far for e-filings and February 1st coming in at a very close second. TurboTax users were slightly less anxious than H&R Block users to file since they didn’t exceed the 50% of total taxes filed until February 23rd.


% of Total e-file Returns Submitted, January 30, 2013 – April 13, 2013

Both businesses saw a decline in the number of e-filings after January 31st. In fact, both started to see an increase in e-filings on April 1st. As you can see in the charts, TurboTax saw a much larger swing of e-filers after the 1st with 18% of all e-files occurring from April 1st to the 13th, compared to 11% of H&R Block’s total e-files. I can only assume that for some, the flip of the calendar to April is a reminder that taxes are due in two weeks, especially for those that will owe the IRS money.

In fact, according to Pew Research, 34% of Americans like or love doing their taxes, and of that 34% that enjoy filing, 29% responded because of the refund they were receiving.  One would think that for those that love filing their taxes because they would be receiving a refund, they would also be early filers. I looked at the subject lines indicating that the e-filer’s tax return would be deposited soon to see when the majority of these emails were sent. 72% of all subject lines indicating a refund were sent before February 28th, showing that indeed early filers were more likely to receive a refund. Refund notifications also continued to decrease after April 1st, indicating the last minute filers were more likely to owe taxes than not.

% of Total e-file Refunds by Date, January 30, 2013 – April 13, 2013

Besides being a fun study of tax filers, there are lessons here for any email marketer.

  1. Tax refund campaigns should start on or right before the first day to file. Most people who are getting refunds are filing on the very first day the IRS allows taxes to be submitted with 75% of all tax forms that are due refunds received in the first 30 days. Don’t wait until before the tax filing date, which I’ve noticed more marketers doing. By that time, it’s too late.
  2. More importantly, the best day to send an email may depend when people feel richer – whether that’s after they file taxes and receive their refund or even on payday, which is typically every two weeks or the 1st, 15th or last day of the month. Using email competitive intelligence can give you insights into the behaviors of competitor’s customers that are likely applicable to you. Consider it part of your testing plan but using other’s tests.

While we wait for the e-file data to pour in for April 14th and April 15th, leave your predictions in the comments on how much you think procrastinators will make up total e-file taxes. Will there be a mad rush to get tax forms in on time, or will those that owe the IRS simply file for an extension?

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