Faculty Director, Center for Financial Security
Fetzer Family Chair in Consumer and Personal Finance
Associate Professor, Consumer Science
Associate Professor, La Follette School of Public Affairs
University of Wisconsin-Madison
In addition to serving as Faculty Director of Center for Financial Security, I hold appointments at the La Follette School of Public Affairs, UW-Extension, Cooperative Extension and the Institute for Research on Poverty.
I study consumer decision-making in the financial marketplace, including the role of public policy in influencing credit, savings and investment choices. My current focus is on financial capability and well-being with a focus on low-income families.
I came to academia after consulting and working in the nonprofit/foundation sector, as well as the public sector. My masters is from the John F. Kennedy School of Government and Harvard University and my PhD is from Cornell University.
Areas of Research Interest: Consumer Decision-Making in the Financial Marketplace, Role of Public Policy in Influencing Credit, Savings and Investment Choices, Financial Capability with Focus on Low-Income Families, and Household Finance
This brief examines the characteristics of credit counseling clients who experienced problems paying for their medications and analyzes which factors affect clients’ ability to pay for prescriptions. The data used in this brief were collected by Clarifi, a leading nonprofit financial counseling provider that serves about 15,000 Philadelphia-area residents each year. In the summer of 2016, Clarifi surveyed a sample of its non-housing counseling clients to document their credit status and medication use.
Background: Over the past decade, a number of studies have explored how household finances affect individual health outcomes. Medication adherence is a common subject of these studies, as prescription drugs are both potential stressors for already stretched budgets and key elements of successful treatment for many conditions. Even in households that have insurance coverage for prescription drugs, the co-pays required by many insurance plans may be difficult for households to manage, and for households without insurance, prescription drug costs may be prohibitive. But failing to fill a prescription or quitting a medication regimen early can lead to worse overall health in the long run—when patients fail to take medications as directed, their risk of hospitalization increases and their health care costs generally go up (Viswanathan et al. 2012; Roter et al. 1998). Because they may determine the ability to afford medications, then, household finances may also be a determinant of clients’ overall health.
Thus, interventions that support positive financial management behaviors may, in turn, improve individuals’ health. The first step in developing such interventions is understanding the characteristics and needs of those who would benefit from them.
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Retirement planning and saving is often a difficult task for individuals and families. Studies show that more than one in four workers have less than $1000 in retirement savings. The question of how to stimulate employees to save for retirement has led to a variety of different tactics. Our March 1st webinar, discussed a field study completed by researchers from the Center for Financial Security, which tracks the effect of financial education on retirement savings in an online format. Results of the study show that this information-based intervention increases the reported participation in retirement planning, saving and using a budget. Presenters included Carly Urban, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, Montana State University; Billy Hensley, Senior Director of Education, National Endowment for Financial Education; Tarna Hunter, Director of Strategic Engagement and Government Relations, Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds; and Shelly Schueller, Deferred Compensation Director, Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds.
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For many people who receive a tax refund, tax time can be the perfect moment to start putting away money for retirement or paying down debt. J. Michael Collins offers a range of options and insights into the best ways to make your refund work for you in an article for WisContext.
The Center for Financial Security recently completed an evaluation of My Classroom Economy (MCE), an innovative approach to financial education. In contrast to more traditional financial education programs based around lesson plans, MCE is experiential. Teachers establish a classroom-based economy that integrates into the school day as a classroom management system. Research suggests that this type of experiential approach is a promising teaching strategy, with the added benefit of minimizing time away from other classroom activities.
During the 2015-2016 school year, 24 elementary schools in the School District of Palm Beach County, FL participated in the evaluation. Students in MCE classrooms show consistent gains in financial knowledge, budgeting, financial socialization, and economic experience after 10 weeks. These effects range in size but are all statistically significant and positive. Overall, the results of this study are encouraging and highlight the promise of experiential learning programs like MCE for elementary school–age students.
Presentation slides from the September 21, 2016 webinar are available to view.
A supplementary guide discusses the Center’s development of the survey measures used in the evaluation.
The evaluation was performed under contract TOS-14F-0028 for the U.S. Department of the Treasury.