Absence of conflict of interest.
- The study’s objective was to examine the impact of a savings and financial counseling program on financial behaviors. This summary focuses on the comparison between participants in the financial counseling group and participants in the control group. The authors investigated similar research questions for another contrast, the profile of which can be found here.
- The study was a randomized controlled trial that assigned participants into one of three groups (Super Savers, financial counseling, or control). Using information from the participants' credit reports and bank accounts, the authors conducted statistical models to compare the financial behaviors of the groups one-year after the intervention.
- The study did not find a statistically significant relationship between participation in the financial counseling program and increased savings balances or improved borrowing behavior.
- This study receives a low evidence rating. This means we could not be confident that any estimated effects would be attributable to the financial counseling program; other factors are likely to have contributed. However, the study did not find statistically significant effects.
Financial Counseling Program
Features of the Intervention
The financial counseling program was implemented in New York City at a branch of the Neighborhood Trust Federal Credit Union in a low-income neighborhood. The financial counseling program included free, hour-long counseling sessions from Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners. In the sessions, trained financial counselors worked individually with participants to set financial goals, develop a budget, manage debt, save money, and develop financial discipline. Participants received a copy of their credit report and a budget including regular savings behaviors. To be eligible for participation in the program, individuals had to be customers of the credit union, complete a baseline survey, and agree to have their credit reports accessed.
Features of the Study
The study used a randomized controlled trial to assess the impact of the savings and financial counseling programs on financial behaviors. The authors used a survey to collect baseline data on financial behaviors. Credit union customers were invited to complete a 10-minute survey on a computer in the lobby of the credit union. Participants were given a subway pass (worth $10.50) if they completed the survey. Upon survey completion, the participants were randomly assigned into one of three groups (Super Savers, financial counseling, or control). The study consisted of 1,167 participants: 381 in the Super Savers group, 397 in the financial counseling group, and 389 in the control group. The participants were classified as low-income with 55 percent reporting an annual income of less than $20,000 a year, and 86 percent reporting an annual income of less than $40,000. Participants also had low education levels with 25 percent lacking a high school diploma and 27 percent having earned a high school diploma. Over half of the participants were women (63 percent), and the average age at baseline was 49 years old. The survey did not include questions about ethnicity or country of origin; however, 74 percent of participants chose to take the survey in Spanish.
Outcomes were estimated at a one-year follow-up using information from the participants' assets at the credit union (savings and checking accounts) and individual credit reports. The authors used statistical models to compare the outcomes between the treatment and control groups.
Knowledge and skills for money management
- The study did not find a significant relationship between participating in the financial counseling program and increased savings or improved borrowing behavior.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
Some participants enrolled in a separate ten-session financial empowerment course during the study period that was not part of the program that was being studied. This course also offered a Super Saver CD to all graduates. This presents a confound as the course may have affected the financial behaviors of the treatment group that was not attributable to the program being studied. Some participants also returned to the credit union to take the survey a second time and the authors were unable to match those individuals with their original treatment assignment, resulting in some individuals being in both the treatment and control groups.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the study has a confounding factor. This means we could not be confident that any estimated effects would be attributable to the financial counseling program; other factors are likely to have contributed. However, the study did not find statistically significant effects.