Financial coaching is an individualized approach, so each participant in the study experienced different outcomes based on their situation. But a number of common experiences highlighted the value of a coaching-based approach.
Study participants who were randomly assigned to a financial coach showed improvements in personal savings and debt levels, and in their credit scores. Those who received financial coaching showed an average increase in savings account balances of $1,187 relative to the control group at the New York City site, where people tended to be lower income and struggled to save. At the Florida site, people tended to be a little better off but struggled with high debt loads. The total debt of people who were coached decreased by $10,644 at this site.
In addition to saving or paying down debt, financial coaching helps people pay bills on time and improve their credit scores. Overall, this study provides strong evidence that financial coaching supports families to achieve higher levels of financial security. More research is needed to explore how financial coaching works in different settings, but the flexibility of the model implies this approach should work in a wide range of situations.
New financial coaching programs are testing technology-enabled coaching using websites, text messaging and video chats. Other models use simplified strategies focused on developing a single financial goal and following up on it, rather than a more comprehensive approach.
In Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin-Extension Family Living Programs and the Center for Financial Security at the UW-Madison have collaborated on multiple projects that have been valuable to the development of financial coaching field. Since 2008, UW-Extension has supported more than 20 workshops that have trained more than 300 financial coaches. Its Financial Coaching Strategies website provides information to develop financial coaching programs. In 2015, alone, UW-Extension-based coaches held 378 coaching sessions and trained or supported 45 volunteer coaches who each provided further services to the public.
Moreover, the Center for Financial Security has developed an easy-to-use financial capability scale for coaches to help people to measure their progress over time. This tool features six questions to inform an eight-point scale that measures an individuals financial capability. The center also maintains a financial coaching mailing list and regularly shares other outreach materials across the state, including financial coaching resource briefs, events and training invitations, a financial coaching newsletter and practitioner coaching demonstration videos.
At the federal level, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has invested in the growth of financial coaching through research and the direct funding of coaches for veterans and economically vulnerable consumers nationally, including one site based at a UW-Extension program. This commitment illustrates the interest federal policymakers have to use financial coaching to help people to achieve long-term financial security.
J. Michael Collins is University of Wisconsin-Extension family and consumer economics specialist, director of UW-Madison's Center for Financial Security, and an associate professor of consumer science and public affairs at UW-Madison.