Who’s calling? The effect of phone calls and personal interaction on tax compliance.

with Daniel Ortega and Carlos Scartascini

International Tax Public Finance (2021)

Most tax agencies use letters as the method of communicating with taxpayers. Still, other technologies exist that could be more effective. This paper reports the results of a field experiment conducted by the National Tax Agency of Colombia (DIAN), using phone calls to reduce tax delinquencies. DIAN randomly assigned 34,000 tax debtors to a phone call operation using a fixed script to communicate existing debts and invite taxpayers to a meeting at the local tax agency office. Phone calls were very effective to increase collection of unpaid taxes. Conditional on the phone call being made, the effect on the treatment is about 25 percentage points higher than the control group (about a fivefold increase). We also find suggestive evidence that the personal interaction seems to be an important channel for explaining taxpayers’ behavior. Faced with a tax agent, taxpayers tend to commit to attending the meeting and paying the tax owed. However, many taxpayers who commit do not make payment effective. The findings complement a nascent literature that shows that there are plenty of gains from innovating in the communication strategy. They also indicate that personal interactions are important, but they have to be paired with easy-tofollow and immediate actions. Paying taxes is easier said than done.

Working papers

Ticket to the middle class? Long term effects of Public Universities on Labor market and Financial outcomes. Link

with Christian Posso.

We construct a novel longitudinal dataset from administrative records to examine the impact of selective college education on asset accumulation, consumer credit usage, as well as short and long-term earnings. Our empirical strategy is a fuzzy regression discontinuity design that employs the admission policies of a selective public university in Colombia, relying solely on the national high school exit examination scores. Scoring above the admission threshold has no short-term effect but raises access to consumer credit by 4 percent and earnings by 24 percent eight years after college entry. While the gains in consumer credit stabilize after 11 years after college entrance, earnings returns keep growing up to 32 percent 16 years after college entry. The impacts on asset acquisition take longer to emerge as admission raises the likelihood of homeownership by 12 percent when individuals are 30 to 35 years old. Students admitted to the selective university reported more days with formal jobs per year, hinting that better earnings and employment outcomes likely contribute to gains in credit market access. The results on financial indicators shed light on the college education impact on dimensions such as durable purchases and financial inclusion describing economic wellbeing in the long term.

Three Years in the University: Learning Outcomes and Transition from Technical to Bachelor’s Degrees . New! (Click here to download a copy)

ICFES Documentos de Trabajo Saber Investigar N. 2. 2022

This paper examines the effect of admission to a technology degree program in a university on educational attainment, learning outcomes, and transition to the bachelor’s degree program. I exploit the admission rule to the city university of Bogota in a regression discontinuity design to estimate the causal effects of admission. I follow applicants for the technology degree in this university at the administrative records tracking the entire higher education system. Also, I construct learning outcomes from the national standardized test assessing skills specifically for students graduating from technology programs. The findings show that admission increases the probability of enrollment in technology degrees with modest substitution from bachelor’s degrees, thus offering an entry point for students who otherwise would not have accessed the higher education system. Second, admission increases overall score in the exit examination by 0.2SD, mainly driven by gains in critical reading skills. Lastly, this paper compares the terminal degree and the degree- by-cycles pathways offered within the same university. The finding suggests that students in the degree-by-cycles pathway are more likely to enroll in a bachelor’s degree after finishing the technology degree.

Food assistance and mobility during COVID-19 lockdown. with Juan Mogollon and Catalina Villamil. (Click here to download a copy)


This paper examines the effects of emergency food assistance on human mobility patterns between March and August of 20 20. We study a large public-private initiative in Colombia, created to deliver food aid to one million households at risk of falling into poverty and previously not included in other assistance programs. The impact is estimated using the quasi-exogenous roll out of the food distribution within municipalities. The high-frequency data set links detailed daily deliveries with georeferenced food recipients’ location and mobility indicators measuring out-of-home events. This information is then aggregated at the urban tract level. The specification includes a rich set of fixed effects using sector, time and department-week trends. The main findings indicate that receiving food assistance delivered to the home reduced outof-home mobility by 1.6 percent during a two-week window. The estimated coefficient after that window is imprecise, suggesting a short-term effect. The program reduced out-of-home activities by reducing visits to grocery stores. Delivering food assistance proved to be an effective intervention to reduce population movement, thus helping households in distress comply with national lockdown orders.