State-by-state: How are families in the U.S. using their Child Tax Credit payments?

The temporary expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) is projected to cut American child poverty by more than half. The CTC expansion provides families with $3,600 for every child in the household under the age of six and $3,000 for every child between the ages of six and 17. The vast majority of U.S. […]

How are families in the U.S. using their Child Tax Credit payments? A 50 state analysis

The temporary expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) is projected to cut American child poverty by more than half. The CTC expansion provides families with $3,600 for every child in the household under the age of six and $3,000 for every child between the ages of six and 17. The vast majority of U.S. […]

The Socioeconomic Impacts of COVID-19 Study: Survey Methodology Report

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, and economic shutdowns began in March 2020, households across the United States were faced with an unprecedented crisis that would affect their health, financial security and overall well-being for an unforeseeable amount of time. In order to examine and track the wide-ranging impacts of the pandemic on households, as […]

“Take my word for it”: Group Texts and Testimonials Enhance State and Federal Student Aid Applications

As the cost of college continues to rise, it has become increasingly important for students to apply for financial aid. However, many students are unaware of the benefits of FAFSA. We launched a field experiment with a non-profit organization to explore the impact of text message interventions on FAFSA application rates. 2,236 potential students were […]

Pinching pennies or money to burn? The role of grit in financial behaviors

We explore whether gritty individuals are better savers by virtue of their wealth or due to diligent choices that benefit their long-term economic health. We test these competing hypotheses by examining the ways in which grit influences how LMI tax filers report spending or saving their tax refund in the months following tax filing. We […]

Timely and Well-Targeted Financial Assistance during Covid-19

The Social Policy Institute (SPI) at Washington University in St. Louis partnered with PerkUp Financial Health LLC, a financial services technology company, to study an emergency financial assistance program offered to employees of three hotels in New Orleans, LA who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. PerkUp serves as a technology hub for a […]

The Impact of State Earned Income Tax Credit Increases on Material and Medical Hardship

The federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provides substantial financial assistance to low- and moderate-income workers and has been shown to reduce poverty and encourage employment. Many U.S. states have also implemented their own EITCs to supplement the federal tax credits. Leveraging unique administrative and survey data and employing a difference-in-differences approach, this study investigates […]

Material Hardship among Lower-Income Households: The Role of Liquid Assets and Place

Lower-income households are at risk for material hardship, particularly amidst the economic fallout of COVID-19. Where one lives (e.g., suburb, small town) may affect this risk due to variable access to resources, yet the evidence is mixed concerning the influence of place. We used a pooled, national cross-sectional sample of 66,046 lower-income tax filers to […]

Assessing the Short-Term Stability of Financial Well-Being in Low- and Moderate-Income Households

Much of the literature on household finance tends to focus on relatively objective measures of financial security (e.g., savings, income, financial knowledge), and there has been less research on measures of subjective financial well-being. This gap is due in part to the absence of a common understanding on defining and measuring subjective financial well-being. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau […]

Can Workplace Financial Counseling Help Lower-Income Workers Improve Credit Outcomes?

Financial counseling has been found to be effective in improving consumers’ credit outcomes and could be expanded through the workplace to reach lower-income workers who struggle with various financial challenges. We examine engagement and credit outcomes associated with a workplace financial counseling program offered to 2,849 frontline workers in New York City. Age and credit […]

Fintech as a Solution for Employee Financial Health: Findings from Five Exploratory Studies

The financial technology (fintech) sector has grown rapidly in recent years. Awareness and use of fintech has grown as companies in this sector have increased their user-friendly design, convenience, and accessibility. A unique fintech niche that has developed rapidly alongside the overall industry is known as “employer-channel fintech.” Offered by employers, these solutions or benefits […]

Saving for a Rainy Day: Making it Easier for Employees to Build Emergency Savings

In this study, we examined Onward, an employer-based mobile app that enables workers to save via payroll deduction and receive financial education and coaching as a means to address financial challenges such as difficulty paying bills on time, managing debt, and accruing savings. An important feature of Onward is that employees can save automatically through […]

Financing Workers’ Health Care Cash Flow Needs: A Pilot Study

MedPut offers a way for employees to pay their out-of-pocket health care expenses through payroll deducted or Health Savings Account (HSA) payments capped at 5% of gross pay. Employees that use MedPut are much more likely to report having problems paying medical bills and to report putting off health care due to cost concerns. Nearly […]

Don’t Cash Out or Leave Them Behind: A Pilot Study of a 401k Plan Transfer Digital Platform

In this study, we examined Manifest, a digital platform that makes it easier for employees to transfer 401k retirement accounts when they change jobs. Transferring accounts reduces the likelihood employees cash out and helps them consolidate their retirement savings. We examined 401k plan activity among nearly 15,000 employees of a private university over a four-year […]

From Financial Struggle to Short-Term Financial Relief – An Exploratory Study on Small-Dollar Lending for Low-and Moderate-Income Employees

In this study, we examined HoneyBee, a service company that provides access to 0% APR loans and financial coaching through the workplace. HoneyBee aims to offer employees in need a more affordable credit alternative to payday and auto title loans and therefore help addressing significant cash flow emergencies. Data for this exploratory study included 65 […]

Employer-Sponsored Financial Planning: A Study of the Brightside Platform

In this report, we explore employee usage trends of Brightside, an employee financial health platform that is designed to improve the financial health of working families. Using this platform, employees can open “cases” to address a financial need or goal they have. Brightside connects these employees with financial assistants who, in turn, connect the employees […]

Are Foreclosure Spillover Effects Universal? Variation Over Space and Time

Government intervention in the housing market in response to the 2007–2010 mortgage crisis was driven in part by research showing that foreclosures lower neighboring housing values and thus increase neighbors’ risk of foreclosure. Researchers have consistently identified a negative spillover effect of foreclosures on nearby housing values, but the magnitude of the effect varies widely […]

Household Spending Patterns and Hardships during COVID-19: A Comparative Study of the U.S. and Israel

The combined supply and demand shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic have created the largest shift in consumer behavior in recent history, while exposing millions of households to material hardships like food insecurity and housing instability. In this study, we draw on national surveys conducted early in the pandemic to investigate the COVID-19’s effects on self-reported […]

From intention to action: A systematic literature review of provider behaviour change‐focused interventions in physical health and behavioural health settings

It is clear there are significant delays in the uptake of best practices as part of routine care in the healthcare system, yet there is conflicting evidence on how to specifically align provider behaviour with best practices. Method We conducted a review of interventions utilized to change any aspect of provider behaviour. To extend prior […]

Nudging Parents to Improve Children’s Oral Health: A Field Study

This research brief is part of a series by the Social Impact Nudgeathon initiative. This initiative incorporated insights from behavioral economics into the design and delivery of social welfare programs. Developed through a partnership between the Joint Distribution Committee in Israel (JDC-Israel) and the Social Policy Institute (SPI) at Washington University in St. Louis, this initiative is among the first of its kind to launch in Israel. […]

Increasing Successful Completion of Practical Engineering Diploma Programs

This research brief is part of a series by the Social Impact Nudgeathon initiative. This initiative incorporated insights from behavioral economics into the design and delivery of social welfare programs. Developed through a partnership between the Joint Distribution Committee in Israel (JDC-Israel) and the Social Policy Institute (SPI) at Washington University in St. Louis, this initiative is among the first of its kind to launch in Israel. […]

All over the Map: A Systematic Literature Review and State Policy Scan of Medicaid Buy-In Programs for Working Individuals with Disabilities

While supports for people with disabilities have increased, significant healthcare and financial barriers persist. State-administered Medicaid Buy-In programs for working people with disabilities, distinct from broader buy-in discussions that have emerged as some states consider expanding access to health insurance, are intended to incentivize employment and protect against a loss of Long-Term Services and Supports. […]

Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Housing Instability during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Stable and adequate housing is critical in the midst of a pandemic; without housing, individuals and families cannot shelter in place to prevent the spread of disease. Understanding and combating housing hardships in vulnerable populations is therefore essential to a sound public health response. This study aims to explore the pandemic’s disproportionate impacts on housing-related […]

Who relocates, where do they move, and why?

The lack of socioeconomic mobility among marginalized populations leads to the concentration of poverty, a long-standing issue in American cities. Empirical studies on neighborhood effects have found that poverty concentration adversely affects the socioeconomic mobility of residents—associated with their economic well-being, employment, education, health, and safety—in lower-income neighborhoods. Through a variety of neighborhood revitalization projects, […]

Working Parents in COVID-19: The Impact and the Policy Response

Michal Grinstein-Weiss, director of the Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis (SPI), and Nisha Patel, senior fellow at SPI, spoke on a panel hosted by the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences on Oct. 29, 2020 about the impact of COVID-19 on working families, including original research from the Socioeconomic Impacts […]

Can pre-commitment increase savings deposits? Evidence from a tax-time field experiment

This experiment tested combinations of behavioral strategies to promote savings including (1) asking filers at the start of tax preparation to pre-commit to saving their refund, and (2) choice architecture manipulations that emphasized directly depositing their refund into savings accounts or savings bond purchases.

Employee financial wellness programs: Opportunities to promote financial inclusion?

Findings suggest that these services are reaching a population that experiences financial exclusion, though evidence is mixed concerning how these services help workers with LMI resolve key financial challenges. Community collaboration focused on employee financial wellness presents opportunities to advocate for higher wages and better benefits.

Employee financial wellness programs: Promising new benefit for frontline workers?

Availability of different EFWP benefits ranged from 11 to 15% and over a third of workers were unaware of whether their employer offered an EFWP. Experiencing financial difficulties predicted both EFWP awareness and use suggesting that employers should take time to assess employees’ specific financial challenges to select benefits. Yet, use of EFWPs by LMI workers may suggest the need for better compensation and work conditions.

Strategies for Debt Reduction: Comparing Financial Tips and Financial Counseling

Interest among employers is growing in Employee financial wellness programs (EFWPs), a new type of benefit to address financial stress among employees. EFWPs benefits include financial counseling, small-dollar loans, and savings programs that address employees’ non-retirement financial needs. Little evidence exists concerning the availability and use of and outcomes associated with EFWPs, especially among low- and moderate-income (LMI) workers who may be in greatest need of these benefits. We present findings concerning awareness and use of EFWPs from a national survey of LMI workers (N=16,650). Availability of different EFWP benefits ranged from 11 to 15% and over a third of workers were unaware of whether their employer offered an EFWP. Experiencing financial difficulties predicted both EFWP awareness and use suggesting that employers take time to assess employees’ specific financial challenges to select benefits. Yet use of EFWPs by LMI workers may suggest the need for better compensation and work conditions.

Material hardship among lower-income households: the role of liquid assets and place

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provides substantial financial support to low-income workers, yet around a quarter of EITC payments are estimated to be erroneous or fraudulent. Beginning in 2017, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 requires the Internal Revenue Service to spend additional time processing early EITC claims, delaying the issuance of tax refunds. Leveraging unique data, we investigate how delayed tax refunds affected the experience of hardship and unsecured debt among EITC recipients. We find that early filers experienced increased food insecurity relative to later filers after the implementation of the refund delay.

Employee Financial Wellness Programs: tips for providers

There are several types of Employee Financial Wellness Programs (EFWPs), such as workplace financial counseling, workplace credit building, and employer-sponsored small dollar loans. Each program benefits the company and its employees in different ways.

The Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, with generous support from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, studied the implementation of EFWPs at several diverse organizations, including a nonprofit in the Midwest and several supply chain locations of a national retailer, to understand the impact. As a result, we’ve identified five ways in which providers can maximize the benefits of EFWPs and avoid pitfalls along the way.

Employee Financial Wellness Programs: tips for employers

There are several types of Employee Financial Wellness Programs (EFWPs), such as workplace financial counseling, workplace credit building, and employer-sponsored small dollar loans. Each program benefits the company and its employees in different ways.

The Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, with generous support from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, studied the implementation of EFWPs at several diverse organizations, including a nonprofit in the Midwest and several supply chain locations of a national retailer, to understand the impact. As a result, we’ve identified four ways in which organizations can maximize the benefits of EFWPs and avoid pitfalls along the way.

Financial counseling for front-line workers: a pilot study of engagement and outcomes

Although financial counseling has been studied in community-based settings, programs offered in the workplace are understudied and yet may aid low- to moderate income employees in improving their financial situations. This study examines workers’ engagement in and associated credit outcomes from an employer-based financial counseling program in the New York City area. Findings suggest that participants engaged equally in services except for older and non-English speaking workers, who had lower levels of digital engagement. In-person engagement in services was minimal. Credit score improvements were modest, but greater for workers who had

scores in the lowest quartile at baseline. These credit score increases may be due to the reduction of delinquent accounts for workers with the lowest baseline scores.

Employee financial wellness programs: promising new benefit for frontline workers?

Interest among employers is growing in Employee financial wellness programs (EFWPs), a new type of benefit to address financial stress among employees. EFWPs benefits include financial counseling, small-dollar loans, and savings programs that address employees’ non-retirement financial needs. Little evidence exists concerning the availability and use of and outcomes associated with EFWPs, especially among low- and moderate-income (LMI) workers who may be in greatest need of these benefits. We present findings concerning awareness and use of EFWPs from a national survey of LMI workers (N=16,650). Availability of different EFWP benefits ranged from 11 to 15% and over a third of workers were unaware of whether their employer offered an EFWP. Experiencing financial difficulties predicted both EFWP awareness and use suggesting that employers take time to assess employees’ specific financial challenges to select benefits. Yet use of EFWPs by LMI workers may suggest the need for better compensation and work conditions.

Tax-time saving and the earned income tax credit: results from online field and survey experiments

Tax refunds are an opportunity for Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) recipients to build emergency savings. Randomly assigned behavioral interventions in 2015 and 2016 have statistically significant impacts on refund saving take-up and amounts among EITC recipients who filed their taxes online. From a survey experiment, we also find that EITC recipients have a 49 percent and 59 percent increased likelihood of deferring 20 percent of their refunds for six months when hypothetically offered 25 and 50 percent savings matches (p < .001), respectively. These findings can inform policy development related to encouraging emergency saving at tax time.

Promoting public retirement savings accounts during tax filing: evidence from a field experiment

Many U.S. households—especially those with low- to moderate-incomes (LMI)—struggle to save for retirement. To address this issue, the Department of the Treasury launched myRA, a no-fee retirement account designed primarily to help people who lacked access to employer-sponsored plans build retirement savings. In this paper, we report findings from two myRA-focused field experiments, both of which were administered to well over 100,000 LMI online tax filers before and during the 2016 tax season. The first experiment involved sending one of three different myRA-focused email messages to tax filers immediately prior to tax season, and the second experiment involved incorporating myRA-focused messages and choice architecture directly into an online tax filing platform. Messages were chosen to address different barriers to retirement savings LMI households may face. We find that, though the general level of interest in myRA was very low in this population, interest and enrollment in myRA depends heavily on the way in which the benefits of the accounts are framed. Results from both experiments indicate that messages emphasizing the possibility of receiving a larger refund in the future were the most effective at increasing interest in myRA, while messages focused around the simplicity and ease of use of the accounts were less effective. We also conduct several subsample analyses to investigate the extent to which these effects differed by key household characteristics.

The impact of tax refund delays on the experience of hardship and unsecured debt

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provides substantial financial support to low-income workers, yet around a quarter of EITC payments are estimated to be erroneous or fraudulent. Beginning in 2017, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 requires the Internal Revenue Service to spend additional time processing early EITC claims, delaying the issuance of tax refunds. Leveraging unique data, we investigate how delayed tax refunds affected the experience of hardship and unsecured debt among EITC recipients. We find that early filers experienced increased food insecurity relative to later filers after the implementation of the refund delay.

Using financial tips to guide debt repayment: experimental evidence from low-and moderate-income tax filers

Much of the literature on household finances tends to focus on discrete or relatively objective measures like savings, debt, economic mobility, and there has been a lack of research on holistic measures of financial well-being. This gap is due in part to the absence of a common understanding of how to define and measure financial well-being; a gap that was recently addressed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s development of a financial well-being scale. However, the research on this scale is still scarce and little is known about how financial well-being evolves over time. To that end, this paper uses a two-wave survey of low- and moderate-income tax filers to present the first longitudinal analysis of the CFPB’s financial well-being scale. Using a combination of descriptive analysis, OLS regression, and fixed effects panel regression, we assess (1) the stability of financial well-being over a six-month period; (2) the extent to which household characteristics predict volatility in financial well-being; and (3) the relationship between the experience of adverse financial events, including financial shocks and material hardships, and financial well-being. We find that financial well-being scores are extremely stable over the short-term, and that household characteristics are generally not strong predictors of financial well-being changes. We also find that, while adverse financial events like the loss of a job are significantly associated with declines in financial well-being, these changes are not large. These findings have implications for researchers and practitioners interested in using the financial well-being scale in program and policy evaluations.

Improving Educational and Career Opportunities for Youth with Disabilities in the Future Trend Program

This research brief is part of a series by the Social Impact Nudgeathon initiative. This initiative incorporated insights from behavioral economics into the design and delivery of social welfare programs. Developed through a partnership between the Joint Distribution Committee in Israel (JDC-Israel) and the Social Policy Institute (SPI) at Washington University in St. Louis, this initiative is among the first of its kind to launch in Israel. […]

Improving the Take-Up of Homecare Services Among Holocaust Survivors in a Jewish Charitable Organization

This research brief is part of a series by the Social Impact Nudgeathon initiative. This initiative incorporated insights from behavioral economics into the design and delivery of social welfare programs. Developed through a partnership between the Joint Distribution Committee in Israel (JDC-Israel) and the Social Policy Institute (SPI) at Washington University in St. Louis, this initiative is among the first of its kind to launch in Israel. […]

Household Savings Decisions in Israel’s Child Savings Program: The Role of Demographic, Financial, and Intrinsic Factors

Israel’s Child Development Account (CDA) program, the Savings for Every Child Program (SECP), is universal and automatically enrolls all children under the age of 18, depositing approximately $14 into their accounts every month. Parents can transfer an additional monthly $14 into these long-term savings accounts and can choose an investment vehicle for their children’s deposits. […]

Does Savings Affect Participation in the Gig Economy? Evidence from a Tax Refund Field Experiment

This paper investigates how saving the federal tax refund affects gig economy participation for low-income online tax filers in the six months following tax filing. Using longitudinal survey and administrative data, we leverage random assignment in a unique refund savings experiment as an instrument for refund savings. We find significant heterogeneity in estimated effects that are consistent […]