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Financial education for adults

Health Factors: Income
Decision Makers: Community Development Professionals Community Members Employers & Businesses Local Government State Government Federal Government Grantmakers Nonprofit Leaders
Evidence Rating: Insufficient Evidence
Population Reach: 50-99% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: Likely to decrease disparities

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Adult financial education programs often cover topics such as basic budgeting, bank use, and credit management. Specialized education programs can focus on preparing for divorce, bankruptcy, credit building and counseling, homeownership, retirement, or other relevant topics. Financial education may be provided one-on-one or in groups, in person, over the phone, or online. Programs can be offered through non-profit organizations, for-profits, government entities, and employers, and often serve individuals with lower incomes.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes

Improved financial literacy
Increased financial stability

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is insufficient evidence to determine whether financial education for adults improves financial literacy, increases positive financial choices, or increases financial stability (Fernandes 2014, Hastings 2013). Available evidence suggests that financial education programs may lead to small positive changes in financial decisions and financial literacy (Skimmyhorn 2016Xiao 2016Fernandes 2014, Collins 2012, Collins 2010b), but effects vary widely (Hastings 2013). Education in the workplace related to retirement may also increase retirement savings (Skimmyhorn 2016).

Experts suggest that programs designed for specific audiences, focused on a distinct topic, and delivered just before a relevant financial event may be more likely to change participants’ financial behavior than other programs (Hathaway 2008). A large study of military personnel and small studies examining programs that support survivors of domestic abuse, individuals participating in an Individual Development Account (IDA) program, and low income individuals living in subsidized housing appear to support this recommendation (Skimmyhorn 2016, Hetling 2015Reich 2015, Grinstein-Weiss 2015, Collins 2012). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.


United States

Several government agencies provide financial tools or curriculums. The Financial Literacy and Education Commission of the United States Department of the Treasury, for example, has a national financial education website, (US Treasury-Resource center). Also, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) offers Money Smart, a financial education curriculum that can be used by individuals, financial institutions, or other organizations (FDIC-Money smart). Private non-profits, such as the National Endowment for Financial Education, provide financial education resources and training tools for youth and adult learners at all income levels (NEFE).

Implementation Resources

CFPB - Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Resources for financial educators. Accessed on September 12, 2016
FDIC-Money smart - Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Money Smart: A financial education program. Accessed on August 28, 2016 - Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Consumer protection basics. Accessed on September 12, 2016 - US Department of the Treasury. Accessed on August 28, 2016 - National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). Financial Literacy Tools & Resources. Accessed on September 12, 2016
NEFE - National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE). Accessed on August 28, 2016

Citations - Evidence

Collins 2010b - Collins JM, O'Rourke CM. Financial Education and Counseling-Still Holding Promise. Journal of Consumer Affairs. 2010;44(3):483-498. Accessed on August 28, 2016
Collins 2012 - Collins JM. The impacts of mandatory financial education: Evidence from a randomized field study. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization. 2012;95:146-158. Accessed on August 28, 2016
Fernandes 2014 - Fernandes D, Lynch JG, Netemeyer RG. Financial literacy, financial education, and downstream financial behaviors. Management Science. 2014:1-23. Accessed on August 29, 2016
Grinstein-Weiss 2015* - Grinstein-Weiss M, Guo S, Reinertson V, Russell B. Financial education and savings outcomes for low-income IDA participants: Does age make a difference? Journal of Consumer Affairs. 2015;49(1):156-185. Accessed on August 28, 2016
Hastings 2013* - Hastings JS, Madrian BC, Skimmyhorn WL. Financial literacy, financial education, and economic outcomes. Annual Review of Economics. 2013;5(1):347-373. Accessed on August 28, 2016
Hathaway 2008 - Hathaway I, Khatiwada S. Do financial education programs work? Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. 2008: Working Paper. Accessed on August 28, 2016
Hetling 2015* - Hetling A, Postmus JL, Kaltz C. A randomized controlled trial of a financial literacy curriculum for survivors of intimate partner violence. Journal of Family and Economic Issues. 2015. Accessed on September 12, 2016
Reich 2015* - Reich CM, Berman JS. Do financial literacy classes help? An experimental assessment in a low-income population. Journal of Social Service Research. 2015;41(2):193-203. Accessed on August 28, 2016
Skimmyhorn 2016* - Skimmyhorn W. Assessing financial education: Evidence from boot camp. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy. 2016;8(2):322-343. Accessed on September 12, 2016
Xiao 2016* - Xiao JJ, O’Neill B. Consumer financial education and financial capability. International Journal of Consumer Studies. 2016;0. Accessed on September 12, 2016

Citations - Implementation

FDIC-Money smart - Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Money Smart: A financial education program. Accessed on August 28, 2016
NEFE - National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE). Accessed on August 28, 2016
US Treasury-Resource center - US Department of the Treasury (US Treasury). Resource center: Financial literacy and education commission. Accessed on February 28, 2017

Page Last Updated

September 12, 2016

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