Consumer Education Initiatives in Financial and Health Literacy. Content


Financial initiatives are generally similar to one another with respect to the skill sets they want to build in consumers. When asked to describe their initiatives, some interview participants involved with financial literacy initiatives spontaneously listed numerous specific core competencies (see Table 5). Overall, financial initiatives appear to have in common the multiple behaviors or skills that they aim to develop in consumers.

Specifically, initiatives aim to improve consumers knowledge about the financial marketplace, help individuals enter the financial mainstream, reinforce consumer confidence when dealing with financial products, and encourage consumers to work toward achieving a financial goal. Initiatives focus on specific behavioral skills, such as budgeting, monitoring cash flow, saving, reducing debt, planning for long-term care, banking, and improving credit. Specific credit-related behaviors include increasing credit scores, understanding the connection between credit history and credit scores, managing credit, making more than the minimum payment on a credit card, staying within a credit limit, accessing a credit report, and avoiding credit scams. The initiatives also cover topics relating to cash flow; these include managing a checking account, building savings, reducing debt, and spending less than total earnings. Most programs targeted consumers personal spending habits; however, ACFs Microenterprise Development Program trains refugees to start and manage small businesses.

All initiatives within ACFs Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) use direct education and counseling to build financial knowledge among refugees. The Microenterprise Development Program provides financial assistance and counseling to help refugees start small businesses, get work experience, improve credit rating, and graduate to the financial mainstream. The ORR IDA program encourages refugees to build savings, and includes basic and advanced financial literacy trainings that assist refugees in working toward one of the following goals: home purchase, capitalization of a business, education, or vehicle purchase. The main goal of the FDICs Money Smart program is to improve consumer financial knowledge by teaching the basics of personal finance to under-banked and unbanked populations.

Health literacy initiatives tend to have a broader focus than financial literacy initiatives. In general, initiatives that focus on improving health literacy target health behaviors that are applicable to a general audience, and do not focus on particular diseases. Instead, they promote decision making about prevention, disease management, health care providers, and public benefits. Programs that do address specific health concerns focus on disease prevention and health promotion. For example, a participant from ASHs initiative stated that encouraging consumers to engage in preventive behaviors was a key program goal. Table 6 contains a list of common core competencies cited by participants involved with health literacy initiatives.

Table 5.
Examples of commonly cited core competencies of
financial literacy initiatives for low-income audiences
Preventive Measures
  • Creating a budget and savings plan
  • Tracking income and expenditures
  • Creating and using a checking account
Managing Credit
  • Understanding credit and borrowing
  • Distinguishing credit history and credit score
  • Avoiding scams
Planning for Future Expenses
  • Creating and using a savings account
  • Using mainstream financial products (e.g., matched savings accounts)
  • Reducing debt
  • Understanding and building retirement savings
  • Planning for long-term care and end-of-life care
Table 6.
Examples of commonly cited core competencies of health literacy initiatives for low-income audiences
Preventive Health care
  • Understanding prevention benefits and practices (e.g., Welcome to Medicare physical)
  • Understanding disease- or condition-specific preventive practices
Managing Treatment and Conditions
  • Obtaining information on a specific health condition
  • Developing a treatment plan specific to an individuals disease or condition
Planning for Future Health Care Needs
  • Understanding Medicare plan options and choosing among services

While few federal initiatives address both health literacy and financial literacy, none focus on educating consumers specifically about the relationship between health and financial security. Two private initiatives deal with this topic. AARPs Decide. Create. Share. program encourages baby boomer women to make better decisions about long-term-care insurance, and educates them about preventive practices, health risks, and the relationship between health and long-term care expenses. ISU Extensions Small Steps to Health and Wealth educates individuals on ways to attain their health and financial goals, while informing consumers of ways that health and financial well-being influence each other.

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