Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
- This strategy can help address educational disparities. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve this outcome are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds.
- Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
Building financial literacy: Financial literacy programs equip participants with the knowledge and skills needed to make informed and effective decisions about their personal finances. Ultimately, programs aim to increase participants’ financial knowledge and improve their attitudes, behaviors, and sense of confidence when making financial decisions.
Developing knowledge and skills: Financial literacy programs typically cover a range of personal finance topics, such as budgeting, types of credit (e.g., student loans), insurance, and more. A key component of most financial literacy curricula is developing applied skills, such as learning how to take out a loan or prepare a budget. In addition to educational components, some financial literacy programs offer participants financial counseling to address individuals’ real-life needs.
Tailored to specific populations: Most often, financial literacy programs are offered to high school students or adults, though some programs are designed for children in elementary and middle school. While many of the same general topics may be addressed, programs generally adjust their focus, depth, pace, and pedagogical techniques to match the needs of the intended participants.
Varied formats for program delivery: When delivered to school-aged children, financial literacy programs are typically run by school districts. In these cases, districts may offer dedicated financial literacy courses or the concepts may be integrated into curricula for other courses, such as an economics class. Programs oriented toward adults are typically run by community-based organizations, and may be offered in in-person, hybrid, or online formats.
Evidence and impacts
Multiple studies with rigorous designs demonstrate that financial literacy programs are a well-supported strategy for improving financial knowledge and changing financial behaviors.
A 2020 meta-analysis found that financial education programs have a positive effect on financial knowledge and financial behaviors.
A 2018 systematic review found that participation in a financial literacy program is associated with improvements in financial knowledge, attitudes, and self-reported behavior for children and adolescents.
Best practices in implementation
Tailor instruction to participants: When delivering a financial literacy course, educators should first assess students’ financial wellbeing. By identifying each student’s needs and interests, educators can increase the relevance of the curriculum to each particular class. The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) offers a financial wellbeing questionnaire designed for use by financial literacy educators.
Focus on skill building: For knowledge about financial products and services to transfer into behavioral change, individuals need specific skills to achieve their financial goals. As such, financial literacy programs should support participants in practicing relevant skills, such as locating and properly interpreting information related to financial decisions. Selecting topics that are timely and relevant to participants' lives can provide opportunities to apply learning outside of the classroom.
Provide ongoing support: Financial literacy programs are most effective when they provide participants with opportunities to build knowledge and skills, set goals, and receive feedback on their financial decisions over time. As such, offering one-on-one financial counseling may be an effective strategy to support participants in reaching their financial goals.
Evaluate program impact: Financial literacy programs should nurture a culture of continuous improvement by establishing procedures for data collection, analysis, and reporting. By monitoring program performance, educators can increase the program’s effectiveness and demonstrate its impact to key stakeholders. The CFPB and the National Endowment for Financial Education offer tools to assist in evaluation.