Expert Commentary

The impact of mandatory financial education: A field study

2010 University of Wisconsin study on the results of mandatory financial education among very low-income families in a subsidized housing program.

Having accurate knowledge about financial products and services is widely perceived to be advantageous, especially for low-income communities.  However, empirical evidence of this assertion has been relatively scarce.

To quantify the benefits associated with a financial literacy program, a researcher from the Center for Financial Security in the University of Wisconsin, Madison, conducted a randomized controlled trial among very low-income families in a subsidized housing program. Families were randomly assigned to a mandatory, five-session financial education program and, afterward, tracked for 12 months.

The results are documented in a 2010 study by the University of Wisconsin, “The Impacts of Mandatory Financial Education: Evidence from a Randomized Field Study.” The study’s findings include:

  • Families that underwent the financial education program reported an improvement in financial knowledge by 30% compared to the baseline level. Improvements were detected in clients’ understanding of credit terms, credit reports and managing money.
  • Self-reported financial behavior improved, including controlling spending, timely bill payment, providing for one’s family and budgeting.
  • Savings increased by an average of $377, with no significant increase in observed indebtedness.
  • The proportion of clients with credit scores less than 680 declined.

These findings suggest that public policies to promote financial education, especially among low-income communities, would be beneficial.

Tags: math, poverty

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