Consumer Education Initiatives in Financial and Health Literacy. Promising Elements from Financial Literacy Initiatives Applicable to Health Literacy


Ongoing assistance, counseling, and coaching can be crucial in helping consumers attain long-term goals. The importance of in-person assistance, counseling, and training was a common thread among many (12 federal, 7 private) of the financial literacy initiatives included in this study. Although expensive, this form of communication can be beneficial when consumers must decipher complex information  for example, regarding intricate public benefits programs, such as Medicaid, or confusing financial products, such as reverse mortgages  as part of their decision making. Such in-person communication can also be valuable with specific groups, for example, low-literacy audiences and older adults, who may have trouble accessing written and web-based information products. Although some health initiatives, such as AoAs Part D Outreach initiative, did incorporate phone-based and in-person assistance, financial programs were far more likely to provide comprehensive ongoing counseling to their recipients than were health programs. Interview participants associated with these financial literacy initiatives felt strongly about the role of intensive counseling in ensuring their programs success. Participants from ACFs ORR noted that their program outcomes, such as lower default rates, were superior to those of mainstream IDA and microenterprise development programs. The ORR interview participants were asked what they perceived as having contributed to these positive results, on the basis of the anecdotal information they received from their program participants. They attributed these successes in part to the strong financial training component that program recipients must undergo prior to making financial decisions with long-term implications, such as buying a home or starting a small business.

I think one major reason we have such a low default rate as part of the IDA program is due to the extent of financial literacy training people get before they enter into these large commitments.
ACF interview participant

In-person interaction did not necessarily stop with education on specific financial behaviors. Initiatives also comprised recurring coaching in order to mitigate ongoing financial risks and achieve financial goals.

A good portion of what were talking about in financial education and coaching is ... decision making, and thats transferrable ... particularly this concept of coaching. Its not just coming to a class on Tuesday nights and being there for an hour. Its that plus having someone available to help you stay on track with your savings and give advice about events that come along that might impact your ability to save and reach your goal.  [Individuals participating in the initiative] do have financial education classes but [they] also have helpers and supports. I consider those other supports to be providing financial education. Maybe [it] isnt training on how to open a bank account, but more on how to stay on track with [a] plan to save money.
ACF interview participant

Five federal health literacy initiatives included in-person interaction with consumers. Such interaction could be important for health initiatives that aim to engage consumers in attaining challenging long-term health goals, such as altering dietary behaviors, achieving and maintaining weight loss, and exercising regularly. Like financial goals, these health issues require an individual to evaluate their well-being or health on an ongoing basis over a long period of time. With respect to financial well-being, lack of planning for the future can result in poor outcomes, such as insufficient retirement funds, poor credit, and loss of housing. Similarly, obesity is an outcome that can result from action or inaction throughout an individuals life. Losing or maintaining a healthy weight requires long-term self-management that may be assisted by ongoing coaching for at-risk individuals. Lack of management of ones weight or obesity has been associated with increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, arthritis-related disability, and some cancers (HHS, CDC, 2009b).

EARNs Alumni program provides yearlong coaching to individuals who have successfully reached their savings goal through their IDA program. Since the alumni already have the knowledge and skills that enable them to build savings, the program provides targeted coaching to allow alumni to achieve additional goals, such as repaying debts or building an emergency fund. The program focuses on empowering individuals to achieve behavior change and helping them identify and address threats to their long-term financial security.

The specific approach to teaching and training is as crucial as the content in determining program success. Financial literacy initiatives placed a relatively strong emphasis on understanding the most effective way to teach particular behaviors to consumers. This observation arose less frequently among the health literacy initiatives, possibly because, of the health initiatives included in this study, most did not provide the level of intense counseling that was present in the financial initiatives. However, the observation may be relevant to health programs for understanding how to connect with a particular audience.

Two participants involved in separate financial literacy initiatives stated that their initiatives addressed the way in which they presented information to a target audience, reinforced the audiences knowledge, and measured its grasp of the material, rather than focusing only on curriculum development. Both participants thought that numerous publicly available consumer tools and financial educational resources  such as the Money Smart curriculum  already existed, and both advocated for a greater focus on identifying the most effective ways to convey this information to a target audience (both small scale and widespread) to enable the audience to master its financial goals. EDs Adult Numeracy Instruction project uses an evidence-based approach to identify techniques to improve the quality of math instruction. Although the initiative does not directly target financial decision makers, it indirectly affects consumers by attempting to understand how individuals learn numeracy in a way that is relevant to their everyday lives. A participant from AoAs WISER initiative noted the importance of presenting information in a manner that was understandable to many audiences:

Information cannot be complicated. [It] has to be at an 8th- or 9th-grade level. Its how its presented, as opposed to whats presented.
AoA interview participant

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