|Type of Product||SAVINGS ACCOUNT (bank); SHARE ACCOUNT (credit union)|
|Minimum Initial Deposit||Usually $25-100 but make certain monthly fees are not charged for small balances|
|Access to Funds||Immediate|
|Where to Purchase||At any bank, thrift, or credit union|
|How to Purchase||In person, online, or by phone|
|How to Make Deposits||Through tellers, ATMs, or automatic monthly transfer from checking account|
|Other Features||At many institutions, minimum balance of $100-500 is required to avoid monthly fees or automatic transfers of $5 - $25 a month.|
A savings account is a bank or credit union account specifically designed to hold money that you are saving for the future. You can use your savings account to save money for short or long-term goals. For example, you can keep $500 in your savings account as a rainy day fund or you can save money for a down payment for a house by opening a savings account that yields modest interest and contributing to the account each time you get paid.
Your savings account is not intended for daily use. Many savings accounts are limited to six transactions a month. This means that if you withdraw money from your savings account too often, you could be charged a fee.
Like checking accounts, deposit amounts up to $250,000 are insured by the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (for banks) or the National Credit Union Administration (for credit unions). It is a risk-free way to save because your account balance will not decrease, like it can with investment accounts.
A savings account opened through a credit union is often called a share account.
|Type of Product||U.S. SAVINGS BOND, SERIES EE
|Minimum Initial Deposit||As low as $25 ($50 for payroll deduction)|
|Access to Funds||After first 12 months, immediate access but loss of 3 months interest|
|Where to Purchase||From the U.S. Treasury|
|How to Purchase||
Through www.treasurydirect.gov - where savers can buy electronic (no paper) savings bonds with checking account deductions, 24/7.
|How to Make Deposits||www.treasurydirect.gov allows periodic deposit or checking account deductions to purchase bonds|
|Other Features||Must cash in after 30 years or no more interest earned; face value of bond twice the purchase price ($50 bond costs $25)|
A U.S. Savings Bond, Series EE is a savings certificate issued by the U.S. government, rather than a financial institution, that can accrue interest for up to 30 years. You can buy an EE Savings Bond online at TreasuryDirect.com. All savings bonds purchased after May 2005 earn interest at a fixed rate. The earned interest is compounded, or added to the bond, each month and paid when you cash the bond.
You can cash your savings bond at any paying financial institution after one year of ownership. If you redeem the value of your savings bond before five years, you will lose the interest earned on it for the past three months.
For more information, click here.
|Type of Product||U.S. SAVINGS BOND, SERIES I (with inflation protection)
|Minimum Initial Deposit||As low as $25|
|Access to Funds||After first 12 months, immediate access but loss of 3 months interest|
|Where to Purchase||Through www.treasurydirect.gov - where savers can buy electronic (no paper) savings bonds with checking account deductions, 24/7.|
|How to Purchase||Through www.treasurydirect.gov - where savers can buy electronic (no paper) savings bonds with checking account deductions, 24/7.|
|How to Make Deposits||EASY SAVER program allows periodic payroll deposit or checking account deductions to purchase bonds|
|Other Features||Must cash in after 30 years or no more interest earned|
A U.S. Savings Bond, Series I is an electronic savings vehicle that earns interest at variable rates. As of May 9, 2018, U.S. Savings Bonds earn interest at a rate of 2.52 percent. The earned interest is compounded, or added to the bond, each month and paid when you cash the bond.
You can redeem the value of your savings bond after one year of ownership. Your bond can earn interest for up to 30 years. If you redeem the value of your savings bond before five years, you will lose the interest it earned for the previous three months.
To learn more, click here.
|Type of Product||Money Market Account|
|Minimum Initial Deposit||As low as $250 at some institutions|
|Access to Funds||Immediate|
|Where to Purchase||In person, online, or by phone|
|How to Purchase||Money market fund|
A money market account is a type of savings account that often yields interest at a higher rate than a standard savings account. To open this type of account, you usually have to maintain a higher balance than the standard savings account.
You can open a money market account or fund. A money market fund is an investment vehicle that is not insured by the FDIC, while a money market account is similar to your standard savings account.
You should place the savings you want to access easily in your money market account rather than your money market fund. The interest rate on your money market account will vary depending on the investments available to the bank you’ve opened your account with.
Some money market accounts require you to wait a certain amount of time before you can make a withdrawal. Your money market account will also usually have a six-time monthly withdrawal limit.
* Accounts at some credit unions are privately insured.
If you’re looking to get started on saving, here are some easy ways to build your wealth every day. Be sure to check out our other resources to help you build your way towards your financial goals.
Here are just a few extra ideas on how to earn money to save
- Do odd jobs for family, neighbors, or friends
- Start a dog walking or lawn mowing service
- Baby and child care
- Window washing
- Car washing
- Bike repair
- Collecting cans or bottles
- House painting
- Part time job
Once you have earned some money, be sure to set aside a few dollars a week and put it into a savings account or into a piggy bank at home. As weeks go buy, watch your savings grow! Be sure to stick with your savings plan and only spend your savings on things you really want.
We know that the hard work of getting people to change their financial behavior takes time, which is why America Saves wants to assist your efforts to encourage financial action and savings behavior change throughout the year. Sign up to receive news and updates if you would like to be among the first to know when we release a new packet.
Quarterly, we provide organizations with a resource packet that focuses on one aspect of saving. We hope that this material will help you communicate with the public, constituents, and other organizations about how your company or organization promotes and encourages saving.
Each packet includes:
- A guest post from America Saves
- Social media content
- Tools and resources
The 2018 themes are as follows:
- Financial Foresight During Holiday Fun (November 2018)
- Extra Credit: Do you know your credit score? (August 2018)
- Income Volatility: Give Your Savings a Lyft (July 2018)
- Tax Time: The Perfect Time to Save (January 2018)
- America Saves Week Digital Toolkit (January 2018)
The 2017 themes are as follows:
- America Saves Week Digital Toolkit (December 2017)
- Saving for College at Any Stage in Life (September 2017)
- Women and Finances (June 2017)
- Tax Time Preparedness and Planning (January 2017)
The 2016 themes are as follows:
- Ring in the New Year with a New Financial You (November 2016)
- Financial Wellness for People with Disabilities and Their Families (September 2016)
- Make College Affordable with Savings and a Plan (August 2016)
- Living at Home: A New Normal for Millennials (June 2016)
- Retirement Savings (May 2016) (Word)
- America Saves Week 2016 (January 2016) (Word)
The 2015 themes are as follows:
- Tax Time Saving (November 2015) (Word)
- Holiday Spending & Saving (October 2015) (Word)
- Saving for Big Ticket Items (August 2015) (Word)
- Saving for College (July 2015) (Word)
- Plan for Your 'Someday' Today (June 2015) (Word)
- What's Your Score? Important Changes to Credit Scores & Reporting (May 2015) (Word)
- Turn Financial Literacy into Financial Action (March 2015) (Word)
- America Saves Week 2015 (January 2015) (Word)
The 2014 themes are as follows:
- Getting Ahead at Tax Time (December 2014) (Word)
- 'Tis the Season to be Saving (October 2014) (Word)
- Saving for Retirement (September 2014) (Word)
- Saving for College (July 2014) (Word)
- How to Build an Emergency Fund (June 2014) (PDF) (Word)
- Test Your Credit Score Knowledge (May 2014) (PDF) (Word)
- Money Smart Week (March 2014) (PDF) (Word)
- America Saves Week 2014 (January 2014) (PDF) (Word)
The 2013 themes are as follows:
- Tax Time Savings (December 2013) (PDF) (Word)
- Holiday Spending (October 2013) (PDF) (Word)
- Retirement (September 2013) (PDF) (Word)
- Credit Card Debt (July 2013) (PDF) (Word)
- College Savings (June 2013) (PDF) (Word)
- Savings and Older Americans (April 2013) (PDF) (Word)
- Overall Financial Health (April 2013) (PDF) (Word)
- America Saves Week (February 2013) (PDF) (Word)
The 2012 themes are as follows:
- Holiday Spending and Savings Resolutions (December 2012) (PDF) (Word)
- Saving for Emergencies (October 2012) (PDF) (Word)
- Teaching Youth to Save (August 2012)
- Paying Off High-Interest Debt (July 2012)
- Saving for a Large Purchase (June 2012)
- The Importance of Credit History and Successful Savings (May 2012)
America Saves encourages you to use this material to:
- Augment the financial information you already provide staff, members, volunteers
- Encourage individuals to participate in America Saves Week by assessing their savings status and taking action
- Promote savings opportunities within your organization like retirement plans or access to more affordable products
- Position your organization as “in front” of the savings message and the need to save, particularly in uncertain economic times
- Share the material with partner organizations
- Encourage employees or other constituents to save a portion of their tax refund or to purchase a Savings Bond
Build an emergency fund. It can make all the difference. Low-income families with at least $500 in an emergency fund are better off financially than moderate-income families with less saved up. Learn more about emergency funds here.
Establish your budget. Are you looking for an easy way to begin? On the first day of a new month, get a receipt for everything you purchase. Stack the receipts into categories like restaurants, groceries, and personal care. At the end of the month you will be able to clearly see where your money is going.
Budget with cash and envelopes. If you have trouble with overspending, try the envelope budget system where you use a set amount of cash for most spending. And once the cash is gone, it's gone. Learn more about the envelope budget system here.
Don't just save money, save. There’s a difference between saving money and saving money for your future. So don’t just spend less, put the money you save into a savings account to plan for college expenses, retirement, or emergencies that can leave you financially better off. Learn more about what you should be saving for here.
Save automatically. Setting up automatic savings is the easiest and most effective way to save, and it puts extra cash out of sight and out of mind. Every pay period, have your employer deduct a certain amount from your paycheck and transfer it to a retirement or savings account. Ask your HR representative for more details about how to set this up. Or every month, have your bank or credit union transfer a fixed amount from your checking account to a savings or investment account. Learn more about automatic savings here.
Aim for short-term savings goals. Make a goal such as setting aside $20 a week or month, rather than a longer term savings goal. People save more successfully when they keep short-term goals in sight.
Start saving for your retirement as early as possible. Few people get rich through their wages alone. It's the miracle of compound interest, or earning interest on your interest over many years, that builds wealth. Because time is on their side, the youngest workers are in the best position to save for retirement. Learn more about different options for saving for retirement in your workplace or on your own here.
Take full advantage of employer matches to your retirement plan. Often as an incentive, employers will match a certain amount of what you save in a retirement plan such as a 401(k). If you don't take full advantage of this match, you're leaving money on the table.
Save your windfalls and tax refunds. Every time you receive a windfall, such a work bonus, inheritance, contest winnings, or tax refund, put a portion into your savings account.
Make a savings plan. Those with a savings plan are twice as likely to save successfully. That's where America Saves comes in. If you take the America Saves Pledge, we'll help you set a goal and make a plan. And it doesn’t stop there. America Saves will keep you motivated with information, advice, tips, and reminders to help you reach your savings goal. Think of us as your own personal support system. Take the America Saves Pledge here.
Save your loose change. Really! Putting aside just 50¢ over a year will get you 40 percent of the way to a $500 emergency fund. And some banks and credit unions or apps offer programs that round all your purchases to the nearest dollar and put that money into a separate savings account.
Use the 24 hour rule. This rules helps avoid purchasing expensive or unnecessary items on impulse. Think over each nonessential purchase for at least 24 hours. This is particularly easy to do while shopping online, because you can add items to your cart or wish list and come back to them a day later.
Treat yourself, but use it as an opportunity to save. Match the cost of your nonessential indulgences in savings. So, for example, if you splurge on a smoothie while out running errands, put the same amount into your savings account. And think of it this way, if you can't afford to save the matching amount, you can't afford the treat either.
Calculate purchases by hours worked instead of cost. Take the amount of the item you're considering purchasing and divide it by your hourly wage. If it’s a $50 pair of shoes and you make $10 an hour, ask yourself if those shoes are really worth five long hours of work.
Unsubscribe. Avoid temptation by unsubscribing from marketing emails to the stores you spend the most money at. By law, each email is required to have an unsubscribe link, usually at the bottom of the email.
Place a savings reminder on your card. Remind yourself to think through every purchase by covering your card with a savings message, such as "Do I really need this?" Write the message on a piece of masking tape or colorful washi tape on your card.
Participate in a local Investment Development Account (or IDA) program. If your income is low, you may be eligible to participate in an IDA program where your savings are matched. In return for attending financial education sessions and planning to save for a home, education, or business, you typically receive at least $1 for every $1 you save, and sometimes much more. That means $25 saved each month could become several hundred dollars by the end of the year. Find an IDA program near you.
Pay off credit cards in full each month. The miles and cash-back are only valuable if you're not falling into debt or paying interest. Learn more about debt and credit here.
Start with a goal of reducing your credit card debt by just $1,000. That $1,000 debt reduction will probably save you $150-200 a year in interest, and much more if you're paying penalty rates of 20-30 percent.
Use only the ATMs of your bank or credit union. Using the ATM of another financial institution once a week might seem like no big deal, but if it's costing you $3 for each withdrawal, that's more than $150 over the course of a year.
Check your credit report for free once a year. Use your annual free credit report from the three credit reporting bureaus to look for inaccuracies or opportunities to raise your score. Credit scores are used by loan providers, landlords, and others to determine what they’ll sell you, and at what price. For example, a low credit score can increase the cost of a 60-month, $20,000 auto loan by more than $5,000. Learn more about your credit score here.
Pay all of your bills on auto-pay. This ensures they are paid on time, in full to avoid late charges. As a bonus, some loan providers offer a small interest rate deduction if you enroll in auto-pay.
Get free debt counseling. The most widely available help managing your debt is with a Consumer Credit Counseling Services (CCCS) counselor. CCCS’ network of non-profit counselors can work with you confidentially and judgement-free to help you develop a budget, figure out your options, and negotiate with creditors to repay your debts. Best of all, the 45-90 minute counseling sessions are free of charge and come with no obligations. Get started here.
Freeze your credit, literally. If you are having trouble controlling your credit card use, but don't want to cut up your credit card in case you need it at some point, freeze your credit card in a bag of water. Needing to thaw your card will force you to really consider the purchase before you make it.
Take advantage of your library. More and more libraries are offering e-books, so you don't even need to visit in person. Many libraries are also part of an intra-library loan system where you can borrow anything you want, but that they don't have, for a minimal shipping charge. Just ask. And some libraries allow you to borrow things like tools and sewing machines.
Get unadvertised theater ticket discounts. Call, email, or tweet your nearby theater to ask about discount options that are often not well-advertised. Many theaters offer discounted seats for seniors, students, and young adults, such as pay-your-age or pay-what-you-can programs. Or they'll offer rush discounts of any unsold seats immediately before a show.
Volunteer at local festivals. Cultural festivals and events often offer free admission to event volunteers. Contact the organizers of your favorite event to ask about volunteer opportunities and benefits.
Create a family spending limit on gifts. Discuss placing spending limits on gifts within your family and/or a system where you only purchase one gift for one person over the holidays. These limits tend to reduce expenditures and be greatly appreciated by family members with less financial flexibility.
Plan gift-giving well in advance. That will give you time to decide on the most thoughtful gifts, which usually are not the most expensive ones. And if these gifts are products that must be purchased, you will have the opportunity to look for sales.
Start saving for college at the baby shower. It's never too soon to start a college savings account for junior. Ask for contributions to a college fund instead of clothing and toy gifts for your new baby.
Don't buy cheap clothes for cheap's sake. It sometimes make sense to prioritize quality over price when purchasing clothes for the family. An inexpensive shirt or coat is a poor bargain for older family members if it wears out in less than a year, but could make sense for quickly growing children. Consider fabric, stitching, washability, and other quality related factors in your selection of clothes.
Organize a neighborhood swap meet. Here’s how it works: gather your friends and neighbors with kids around the same age and everyone brings gently used clothing, books, and school supplies, toys, etc., and receives a ticket for each item they bring. Each ticket entitles you to one item from the swap meet. If you contribute six books, you can leave with up to six new-to-you books. If you contribute seven items of clothing, you can leave with up to seven new-to-you items of clothing. All leftover items are donated.
Designate one day a week a "no spend day." Reserve one night a week for free family fun. Cook at home, and plan out free activities such as game night, watching a movie, or going to the park.
Brown bag your lunch. The reason you hear this tip so much is that it works! If buying lunch at work costs $5, but making lunch at home costs only $2.50, then in a year, you could afford to create a $500 emergency fund and still have money left over.
Commit to eating out one fewer time each month. Save money without sacrificing your lifestyle by taking small steps to reduce your dining budget. Start off with reducing the amount you eat out by just once per month.
Plan your meals in advance and stick to a list while grocery shopping. People who do food shopping with a list, and buy little else, spend much less money than those who decide what to buy when they get to the food market. The annual savings could easily be hundreds of dollars.
Shop by unit price. Many grocery stores list a cost per unit of each item, such as the price per ounce or pound. Use these stickers when comparison shopping for the same product, just in a different size.
Stick to water. It’s standard in the restaurant industry to mark up the cost of alcohol by three to five times. So an easy way to cut down on your restaurant spending without changing your habits too drastically is to skip the beverages, alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
Save time and money by doubling the recipe. Next time you make a family favorite, double the recipe and freeze the leftovers for another day. That way you can get two meals out of one and use the ingredients more efficiently with less waste. Aluminum pans of various sizes can be purchased on the cheap, especially when buying bulk, and make freezing and reheating a snap.
Don't skimp on preventive healthcare. Routine dental checkups, for example, help prevent fillings, root canals, and dental crowns, which are expensive and no fun.
Go generic. Ask your physician if generic prescription drugs are a good option for you. Generic drugs can cost several hundred dollars less to purchase annually than brand-name drugs. And since physicians often don't know the costs you incur for a particular drug, you often have to ask.
Comparison shop for prescription drugs. Don't just rely on the closest drugstore because the cost to you can vary significantly from pharmacy to pharmacy. Make sure to check out your local pharmacist, supermarkets, wholesale clubs, and mail-order pharmacies.
Purchase store brand over-the-counter medications. Store brand medications often cost 20-40 percent less than nationally advertised brands, but are the exact same formula. The premium you're paying on brand names is for nothing but the marketing.
Comparison shop for homeowners insurance. Before renewing your existing homeowners insurance policy each year, check out the rates of competing companies.
Refinance your mortgage. Explore if you have the option to refinance your mortgage to a lower interest rate. On a 15-year $100,000 fixed-rate mortgage, lowering the rate from 7 percent to 6.5 percent can save you more than $5,000 in interest charges over the life of the loan. And, you will accumulate home equity more rapidly, thus increasing your ability to cover large emergency expenditures.
Audit your home energy use. Ask your local electric or gas utility for a free or low-cost home energy audit. The audit may reveal inexpensive ways to reduce home heating and cooling costs by hundreds of dollars a year. Keep in mind that a payback period of less than three years, or even five years, usually will save you lots of money in the long-term.
Weatherproof your home. Caulk holes and cracks that let warm air escape in the winter and cold air escape in the summer. Your local hardware store has materials, and quite possibly useful advice, about inexpensively stopping unwanted heat or cooling loss.
Keep the sun out. Keep your blinds or curtains closed during hot summer days. Blocking the sunlight really does help to keep your house cooler.
Use less water. Install low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators to reduce your water usage and water costs.
Cut laundry detergent and dryer sheet use in half. The laundry detergent sold today is usually highly concentrated and powerful. Use the smallest suggested amount, and often you can use less than what's on the bottle and still get clean clothes. In many cases, using less actually washes more effectively because there’s no leftover soap in your clothes. And tearing your dryer sheets in half gives the same result for half the price.
Lower the temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees. For every 10 degree reduction in temperature, you can save up to 5 percent on water heating costs.
Comparison shop for auto insurance. Before renewing your existing auto insurance policy each year, check out the rates of competing companies.
Invest in car maintenance. Keeping your car engine tuned and its tires inflated to their proper pressure saves money in the long run. Doing both can save you up to $100 a year in gas.
Check multiple sites for low airfares. Don't rely on a single airline search engine to show you all inexpensive fares. Some discount carriers do not allow their flights to be listed in these third-party searches, so you need to check their websites separately.
Looking for more tips to save money? Or need motivation to save? Let America Saves help you reach your savings goals? It all starts when you make a commitment to yourself to save. Take the first step today and take the America Saves pledge to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth over time. And it doesn’t stop there. America Saves will keep you motivated with information, advice, tips, and reminders to help you reach your savings goal. Think of us as your own personal support system.
America Saves, a campaign managed by the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America, seeks to motivate, encourage, and support low- to moderate-income households to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth.
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The Savings Crisis
The Savings Potential
The Social Marketing Approach
With the decline of the U.S. savings rate to near zero last year, household asset accumulation warrants greater attention as a national priority. Until recently, low household savings has received limited attention from government officials, the press, and nonprofit organizations, much less than that of continuing campaigns to reduce smoking, curtail drunk driving, use safety belts, test homes for radon, practice safe sex, "say no" to drugs, and even, despite low oil and gas prices, conserve home energy.
This neglect of household savings is especially troubling because most low- and moderate-income households have accumulated few assets that will allow them to survive financial crises and sustain levels of living into retirement. With no or low assets, these families have difficulty investing in a home, car, education, or a business that can help them improve their economic condition. In the absence of such improvement, the larger society may pay a high price ranging from larger income transfers to greater crime-related costs.
Two groups of institutions stand out for their efforts to promote household saving. One group is led by The Ford Foundation, which has committed substantial resources to helping low- and moderate- income households build assets. Ford's initiative has two parts: first, increasing homeownership and, eventually, home equity among these families; and second, building private savings, especially through Individual Development Accounts (IDAs). Not only has Ford funded dozens of non-profit organizations to work toward these goals; it has also helped persuade large financial institutions and other private foundations to participate in its initiative.
A second effort is led by the American Savings Education Council (ASEC), which has been a catalyst in promoting savings and retirement planning among all households. The coalition that ASEC represents includes such diverse groups as investment firms, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and the American Association of Retired Persons. Also part of this group is the Cooperative Extension System, which sponsors a savings/debt reduction program, Money 2000, whose general goal is quite similar to that of The Ford Foundations's asset development initiative. ASEC helped to organize last June's House/Congressional National Summit on Retirement Savings at which the President, Senate Majority Leader, and Speaker of the House spoke. While members of the ASEC coalition have not yet focused much attention on the least affluent, most recognize the need for this targeting of low- and moderate-income households.
The premise of this paper is that asset development efforts directed at the least affluent will have limited effect unless this development becomes an important national goal whose values are incorporated into America's dominant culture. Once such an incorporation occurs, a broad array of institutions and individuals will promote savings -- policy makers will make household savings a priority; schools will add the topic to their curricula; small employers will show greater interest in introducing and promoting retirement programs; financial institutions will develop and aggressively market savings products for low- and moderate-income workers; and most importantly, individual households will make far greater efforts to build assets and teach their children to do the same.
The principal purpose of this paper is to explore strategies for making asset development a societal priority. Most of these strategies have been employed in other campaigns to reform institutions and individuals. Many of these strategies are utilized by what marketing experts call social marketing. This paper will also explore the role of various organizations, especially those already promoting savings, in placing asset development on the agendas of the nation and its 101 million households, especially the more than 40 million units with low or moderate incomes.
The paper will begin by outlining the problem -- the importance of asset accumulation and the paucity of wealth accumulated by most American households, particularly the least affluent. It will then review research that seeks to explain these low levels of asset development. Subsequently, the paper will discuss the relevance of social marketing and related campaigns to the development of savings strategies. Finally, it will propose strategies for making saving, especially among lower income groups, an important national priority.
Most Americans have tended to judge their own affluence, and those of others, by level of income and products purchased with this income. Their judgements about their economic well-being and that of others are strongly influenced by knowledge of their annual incomes, and the homes, cars, and clothing that money will purchase.
For most households, income is the most important source of wealth. During the course of their lifetime, a family with income of around $45,000 can expect to receive, in current dollars, nearly $2,000,000. During the past several decades, American households have allocated, on average, more than 90 percent of this income to consumption. But whether they have saved, say, two percent or ten percent can have a dramatic impact on their levels of living during the lifetimes of their members. Assuming the relatively high average annual return of 8 percent, over a 40-year period the household that saves $10 a week ($520 annually) will accumulate $151,277 while the family that saves $75 a week ($3,900 annually) will accumulate $1,134,578.
This saving critically affects lifetime levels of living and well-being. It of course helps ensure adequate income after retirement -- not just because it supplies gross income but also because, if used to purchase a home and pay off the mortgage, it can dramatically lower housing expenses. Savings, however, also helps households meet financial emergencies -- large unexpected income losses or expenses -- well before retirement. Savings can be drawn down, or assets can serve as collateral for reasonably priced loans, that help families meet these emergencies. Beyond these necessities, adequate saving helps households improve themselves and their children. These funds can be used, for example, to pay for education or invest in a business. In brief, members of households without adequate savings subject themselves to extraordinary financial risks during the course of their lifetimes and lack resources to improve their economic condition and that of their children.
In this context, the lack of adequate saving by many American families, including the large majority of low- and moderate-income households, is deeply troubling. Other than increasing earnings, most Americans can accumulate assets effectively in three ways: they can build home equity through the purchase of a home; they can save for retirement through employer retirement programs and IRAs; and they can save for major pre-retirement expenditures related to emergencies, education, or deferred consumption (e.g., new car). (A fourth way Americans can build substantial assets is through inheritance, but few lower income Americans receive much wealth from this source and may not have access to these resources until retirement years.) The data that measures these assets most accurately for low and moderate income households are collected by the U.S. Bureau of the Census through its Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). Those data try to capture all assets except accumulations in employer defined benefit programs (i.e., a subset of pensions). (The other major source of wealth data is the Federal Reserve Board's Survey of Consumer Finances.)
According to Census data, as analyzed by Capital Research Associates, in 1995 the median net financial assets of households were only $1,000. That is, the typical household held -- after consumer debts were subtracted from all cash, bank and stock savings, defined contribution retirement plans, and other financial assets -- practically no assets at all. For the 43 percent of households with incomes under $25,000, net assets barely exceeded $100. In fact, the 40 percent of households with the least assets had negative financial assets -- their consumer debts exceeded their gross assets.
Adding home equity accumulation to net financial assets to arrive at net worth does not improve the picture significantly. In 1995, according to the analysis by Capital Research Associates, median household net worth was $35,459. Significantly, the 43 percent of households with incomes under $25,000 held less than $10,000 of median net worth. And, the 40 percent of households with the least assets held median net worth of less than $5,000.
To complete this dismal picture, wealth apparently has been declining for the least affluent. In a recent paper on trends in wealth ownership (using Survey of Consumer Finances data), Edward N. Wolff reported that, between 1983 and 1995, the least wealthy 40 percent of households had suffered losses (in constant dollars) of 68 percent in financial wealth and 80 percent in net worth. Much of this decline, it appears, reflects the failure of these households to save, the low return on the assets they did hold (chiefly, homes and bank deposits), and increasing consumer and second mortgage debt.
As low as these net assets are for the typical American household, the net wealth of many groups is much lower. That is especially true for the typical African-American and Hispanic households (Oliver and Shapiro).
There is the possibility of one mitigating factor that is not measured by wealth data -- defined benefit pensions that, together with social security benefits, could provide an adequate level of living for the least affluent during retirement years. Unfortunately, the available evidence suggests that most low- and moderate-income households hold low or no pensions. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, only 19 percent of workers earning less than $15,000 annually participate in any type of retirement plan at work. For the lowest income quintile of the over 50 population, median income from private pensions is $1,752; in the second lowest quintile the median private pension income is $1,764; and in the middle quintile it is $4,356.
In addressing the savings crisis, a threshhold question must be considered -- can low- and moderate-income households afford to build wealth? After all, research and common sense suggest that the least affluent have relatively little discretionary income that can be allocated to asset development.
While no researcher has argued that it is as easy for lower income households as more affluent households to save, there is ample evidence that low- and moderate-income families can build assets. Most importantly, research suggests that some of these households do save. In her 1998 review of research on savings for the American Association of Retired Persons, Sophie Korczyk noted that "even among the lowest-income households, many people save, and some people save a great deal more than others." In a 1997 working paper for Washington University's Center for Social Development, Sondra Beverly reached the same conclusion. Research completed in 1997 by Princeton Survey Research Associates for NationsBank and the Consumer Federation of America found that, even among households with incomes of $20,000, those with a financial plan saved twice as much as those without one.
Much of this saving has been through the build-up of home equity. In 1995, according to the Fed, 37 percent of households with income under $10,000 and, 56 percent of households with incomes between $10,000 and $25,000, owned a home. These low- and moderate-income households, many of them elderly, had accumulated median home equity of more than $40,000.
There is also other evidence that the least affluent have the ability to save at least modest amounts even if they do not do so. Some of these households spend relatively large sums on high-cost loans, lotteries, alcohol, cigarettes, entertainment, and other discretionary items that could, at least in part, be allocated to asset development.
In evaluating variation in savings among low-income households, Beverly discussed the role of demographic, psychological, sociological, behavioral, and institutional factors. She suggested that opportunities and constraints (whether real or perceived) influence behavior at least as much as individual characteristics such as motives and preferences. She singled out institutional mechanisms that facilitate and reward saving as worth particular attention by researchers. Most lower income households lack access to institutions which subsidize saving, such as tax deductions for mortgage interest payments and tax-deferred and/or employer matched pension plans.
John Caskey's 1997 anthropological research for the Consumer Federation of America on the savings behavior of lower-income African Americans and Hispanics concluded that both opportunity and motive help explain lack of asset development. While almost all of those studied had access to traditional banking institutions, they received no encouragement from these providers to save money. At the same time, many in the two sample populations believed that savings would make them ineligible for government subsidies. And, most of those studied were not aware that saving modest amounts over an extended period of time could result in asset accumulation of tens of thousands of dollars. Even if they had this knowledge, most of the sample were under considerable social pressure to use any savings to meet the financial needs of family and friends. As a result of these and related factors, the communities and subcultures in which the subjects participated placed a relatively low value on saving.
This lack of social acceptance of saving is a factor that deserves more attention. Given the influence of peer pressure, if family and friends not only do not encourage saving but even actively discourage it, is it any wonder that only a minority of those participating in social groups that do not value saving actually accumulate substantial assets? If the culture in which individuals participate ranks saving as a low priority, should we be surprised that most lower income households save little? It is striking that some programs offering heavily subsidized IDAs have had difficulty recruiting participants. Even when some lower income households are offered savings products with astronomical yields, these households are reluctant to defer any current consumption. (The decision of most middle-income households to save little money through universally available IRAs, offering attractive long-term, after-tax yields, illustrates the same point.)
This paper argues that the emphasis on and opportunity for debt-financed consumption, together with the lack of a strong saving ethic in the dominant culture, help explain America's low household savings rate. Over the past decade, the marketing of products has grown more sophisticated. Advertising expenditures have grown more rapidly than GDP while direct mail and telemarketing expenditures have risen even more quickly. In the same period, low- and moderate-income households have gained greater access to credit allowing the financing of consumption. Just in the past five or six years, credit card lenders have begun targeting large numbers of lower income households. In a 1997 survey conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, more than 50 percent of low- and moderate-income card-carrying households said they were having "a great deal of difficulty making monthly credit card payments." These families had a limited ability to build assets.
Two examples help make this general point. American households saved at a rapid rate during World War II because leaders emphasized its importance -- mainly through a savings bond campaign -- and because consumption was not attractive -- relatively few goods were available. Today in Japan for example, there are plenty of consumer goods available, but the saving ethic is so strong that most households are reluctant to splurge on debt-financed consumption. Yet, before World War II Japan's saving ethic was much weaker.
These two examples, and many others that could be cited, suggest that a saving ethic is highly variable, not determined by factors such as race, place, and the past. If so, it is reasonable to conclude that a concerted societal effort could greatly strengthen the saving ethic of American households and the country as a whole, setting in motion a "virtuous circle" in which many factors combined to encourage asset development. In such an America, parents would encourage their children to save, schools would instruct students on the importance of saving and how to do so effectively, employers would offer and encourage retirement savings options, the news media would report extensively on the extent to which Americans were saving successfully, and public officials would continually stress the importance of this saving to the country's welfare and put in place public policies that facilitated such saving.
In lower income communities such as those studied by Caskey, a significant percentage of households would save and be encouraged to save by the dominant culture. Consequently, these savers would face less pressure from friends and family for contributions to emergencies. Non-savers would, unlike today, be expected to save and have available institutional mechanisms for doing so relatively easily. Because of greater savings accumulation within the community, when non-savers needed short-term financial assistance, it would be more readily available.
Establishing a new norm (or expected behavior) in society at large is an ambitious undertaking. According to two marketing experts (Bloom and Novelli), it requires more ingenuity and imagination than is needed to sell products. But efforts to change the culture can succeed. Largely because of social marketing initiatives, Americans smoke less, drive drunk less frequently, wear safety belts more frequently, eat less saturated fat, practice safer sex, and use recreational drugs less frequently than they did twenty years ago.
Social marketing involves using research to develop strategies for changing societal behavior that usually include education, persuasion, and social influence (see Andreasen). These strategies recognize that individual decisions to change behavior are largely influenced by three factors: an analysis of personal costs and benefits; perception of the expectations of others; and an evaluation of whether one can succeed in changing behavior. Past social marketing efforts have important general implications for any campaign to increase household asset development. These implications include the following.
First, the campaigns take many years to succeed. Evidence of actual behavioral change may not be evident for a year or two. Significant societal change may take five or even ten years to occur. These changes typically involve only 10 to 20 percent of the population. (Still, that is 10 to 20 million households.)
Second, successful campaigns tend to emphasize consequences that are both negative and positive, and short-term and long-term: For instance, smoking makes you less personally attractive and represents addictive behavior; not smoking will help you live longer, make you feel better, and save you money. Or, driving drunk is illegal and could get you in a lot of trouble with law enforcement; driving drunk threatens friends and loved ones; preventing friends from driving drunk is an act of friendship. Or, taking recreational drugs is a self-indulgent act that will cost you money, cause you to lose control, and seriously damage your health. Research suggests that negative consequences are most successful for getting the attention of people while positive consequences are most effective at convincing them to actually change their behavior.
Third, as the campaigns progress, the change in behavior often accelerates. That is because the growing strength of the norm itself provokes additional change. Research suggests that the "tipping point" occurs when approximately one-half the community have changed their behavior. This acceleration can be seen most powerfully in changes in smoking behavior. As late as the 1960s, smoking was the "cool" thing to do in most of secular society (mainly religious fundamentalists proscribed it). Today, the dominant culture considers smoking to be so foolish and socially irresponsible that, except among some rebellious youth, in most of the middle class it is shameful to be known as a smoker.
Fourth, successful campaigns are integrated and coordinated. In the 1980s, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) took the lead in building a national movement. In the mid-1980s, the Advocacy Institute helped coordinate efforts among disparate anti-smoking advocates. In the early 1990s, when the gay community recognized that AIDS was a killer, its leadership mobilized so effectively that, today, the nation's AIDS education focuses mainly on the least affluent and minorities.
Fifth, these campaigns are helped by the development of powerful, relentlessly communicated messages. These messages are usually short, memorable, and motivational -- in themselves, they tend to encourage behavioral change. "Just say no" (to drugs); "buckle up"; "smoking causes lung cancer"; "eat right to stay fit"; "friends don't let friends drive drunk." But these messages serve the additional function of giving focus and prominence to the campaign. Individuals often fail to connect disparate efforts by different groups directed at the same goal. Once they remember a message, however, they are more likely to understand and remember associated activities.
Sixth, both national and local efforts are essential. At the national level, general strategies, messages, and materials should be developed; national spokespersons should be recruited; media coverage through news, public service announcements, and possible paid ads should be generated; and efforts in local areas should be coordinated and evaluated. While these countrywide activities raise awareness, they rarely in themselves produce behavioral change. Typically, the most effective work takes place at the local level. Most importantly, programs need to be developed that touch people individually at work, in public places, in schools, in neighborhoods, and in the home. These programs are more likely to be successful if individuals not only can receive individualized assistance but also are convinced that family, friends, fellow workers, other members of social groups, and/or the entire community expect behavioral change.
Seventh, public policy can provide critical support for changes in behavior. State and local safety belt use requirements were instrumental in persuading tens of millions of drivers to buckle up. Tougher drunk driving laws and stricter enforcement of these regulations played important roles in reducing drunk driving. Laws restricting smoking in public places may represent the most effective communication of societal disapproval of this smoking. These types of public policy do much more than seek to inform or persuade; they actually mandate behavior.
Eighth, each campaign is unique, reflecting differences in type of goal, target population, available resources, and other factors. That is especially true of campaigns to change financial behavior because the large majority of social marketing campaigns have sought to influence health and safety-related behaviors. Thus, developing a campaign to increase household saving cannot assume that successful campaigns to reduce smoking or drug use offer reliable guideposts.
The fact that most social marketing campaigns have been directed at improving health and safety or reducing related threats needs comment. Take the most ambitious U.S. social marketing initiative -- the reduction of smoking. Anti-smoking efforts were motivated primarily, not by a desire to reduce economic costs, but by the desire to prolong life. In fact, by shortening life and reducing societal resources that are spent during retirement years, smoking may actually reduce these expenses.
One may be tempted to assume that it is far easier to change behavior affecting health and safety than that affecting finances. Such a conclusion, however, is dubious. Anti-smoking advocates faced two huge obstacles. The first was resistance from smokers who were physically gratified by and often addicted to smoking. The second was ferocious opposition by the tobacco industry. Because of smoker denial and industry obfuscation of scientific research, it was difficult for advocates to convince heavy smokers that they were taking about ten years off their lives. Even many smokers who understood this harsh reality found it impossible to quit or decided to trade off these years for the pleasures of smoking.
Advocates of increased saving, even among lower income groups, do not confront such substantial barriers. While debt-financed consumption is pleasurable, it does not appear to be physically addictive. In addition, there is no well-organized opposition to asset development. Although increased saving would certainly reduce the income of credit card lenders and probably depress retail sales somewhat, it is extremely unlikely that these businesses would make concerted efforts to oppose asset development. In fact, the leading credit card lenders -- a few big banks -- have somewhat conflicting goals since they sell savings and investment products as well as loans. And some types of credit, mainly first mortgage loans, can be used to build wealth. (One of the most visible savings initiatives of the past several years was initiated and funded by NationsBank, which collaborated with the Consumer Federation of America on joint research, public education, and community outreach.) Apart from lenders, most financial services companies, especially investment firms, would benefit greatly from increased household saving.
It is true that, for most people, building wealth is not as important as preserving health and safety. But many can be convinced that asset development should be a high priority in their lives, and not just because of related economic benefits. Wealth building can also confer psychological benefits. Individuals who accumulate assets can achieve some of the same satisfactions as do business persons who accumulate capital. For many, attaining a savings target -- $10,000, $100,000, $1,000,000 -- can be gratifying in and of itself. Most upper and upper middle income households have already experienced some of these economic and psychological benefits. Our challenge is to help confer these benefits on lower income households as well. That will only occur widely, it appears, if the dominant American culture places a higher value on wealth building.
The following discussion loosely weaves together ideas for promoting more effective asset development, especially among lower income groups. It includes suggestions for message development and delivery, grassroots community outreach, policy advocacy, and coalition-building.
It is important to ground these strategies as much as is feasible in research. Messages and their packaging should be tested on focus groups. Community outreach in specific communications should be reviewed by community leaders and educators. And the effects of all efforts on savings behaviors should be examined and traced. This assessment should be used as the basis for a periodic review of the effectiveness of general and specific strategies.
Messages must convince households both that they need to save and that they are capable of doing so. That addresses two of three key decision-making factors. (The third, societal expectation, is mainly influenced by the percentage of households who value and succeed at saving.) A mix of negative and positive messages may be most effective.
The key negative messages are that the large majority of American households have not saved enough to meet their projected financial needsand that a significant minority have saved practically nothing at all, with potentially disastrous consequences. These consequences should be spelled out, expressed in personal terms, and repeated frequently.
One effective way to disseminate these negative messages is to release to the press a series of reports on societal savings inadequacy and its personal costs. One set of reports could discuss the best data available about asset accumulation. That data has been collected by the Bureau of the Census and the Federal Reserve Board. (In the past couple of years, financial services companies have released a number of studies of household savings. The findings of these reports do not always agree largely because most are based on surveys utilizing relatively brief interviews with subjects. As a result, while useful, these studies are not considered nearly as authoritative as those based on Census or Fed data.)
A second set of reports could profile households who suffered as a result of inadequate savings. It would be particularly effective to compare two sets of similar households who differ in only one respect -- one set saves adequately while the other set does not. Demonstrating that the non-savers are far more likely to experience financial crises, spend far more on high-priced credit, lack the ability to make "capital expenditures" (i.e., education and training), and face bleaker retirement years would help personalize the importance of asset development.
The key positive message should emphasize that, if all assets including home equity accumulation are counted, nearly all households can save relatively large amounts. An example of such a message is: "You can save at least $100,000 ... and maybe even $1,000,000." These dollar figures should attract attention, as should the claim that nearly everyone has the ability to accumulate them. Are they realistic? A household that averages only $25,000 of annual income over a forty-year period can accumulate more than $200,000 of assets through as little as $1,000 of annual personal saving and the purchase of a modest home.
While the "you can save at least $100,000" message should be featured the most prominently, it should be followed whenever possible by a summary of the most effective strategies to pursue in reaching the financial goal. Five should receive emphasis:
Pay off high-cost consumer loans.
Households that carry credit card balances pay an average of $1,000 a year in interest and fees. Other types of credit, such as payday loans, can carry rates of several hundred percent. Paying off these loans is the best investment you can make. It makes no sense to save at 5 percent, or even 8 percent, if you are paying off loans of 15 percent and up.
Buy a home and pay off the mortgage before retiring.
For the middle class, the most important form of private saving is home equity build-up. Once the mortgage is paid off, housing costs drop considerably. Before that, home equity can be used as collateral for reasonably-priced consumer loans.
Take full advantage of any employer-related retirement program.
Employers contribute to most of these programs, making them the most lucrative "investment" available to most people. But to take full advantage of this employer contribution, many employees must make a contribution first. Unfortunately, an estimated one-quarter to one-third of employees fail to take full advantage of this employer subsidy.
Contribute regularly to an IRA.
Saving only $1,000 tax-free a year for 40 years with a 5 percent yield will accumulate $127,840. Saving $4,000 a year in the same way will accumulate $511,359. This strategy is particularly important for those without access to a employer retirement program.
Maintain liquid savings for emergencies.
Experts recommend keeping at least three months expenses in a reliable, liquid account though even an extra $1,000 can be a life-saver. Given the low yields of traditional savings accounts, money market funds and short-term certificates-of-deposit (CDs) are currently the most attractive accounts. (Early withdrawal penalties on a CD rarely lower the yield below that of a savings account.) Most importantly, do not keep savings in a checking account, which pays no or low interest and is too easy to access for current consumption.
Other strategies do not appear to be as helpful. The amount and timing of inheritances are often not predictable, especially when one is young. Cash-value life insurance provides reasonable yields only to purchasers who hold policies for at least 15 years, and most do not. Risky investment products provide returns that cannot be relied on for needed income.
There is also a general message that needs continuing emphasis -- wealth is as important as income to one's economic well-being. As noted earlier, most Americans consider income to be much more important. If they perceived wealth to be of equal importance, they would try harder to accumulate it.
This delivery is a two-stage process. Messages must first be packaged then communicated. Packaging could include the following:
Basic pamphlet stressing positive messages but also including negative ones. This document also should explain precisely how one can develop and carry out a wealth building plan.
Poster that illustrates how one can accumulate $100,000 to $1,000,000 by saving continuously over a lifetime. A graph showing savings accumulations over a 40-year period with $500 and $4,000 annual contributions would serve this purpose. Such a poster might be attractive to a a variety of community agencies, but it would probably be most helpful in the schools. The backside of the publication could explain various ways that saving could be taught to different levels of students. Posted in tens of thousands of classrooms, this document might have the impact of the four food groups poster to which many were exposed in the 1950s and 1960s.
Video that uses case histories to illustrate the benefits of saving, the costs of not saving, the ease of saving, and the most effective ways to save. There could be a 5-7 minute video that was used to introduce speeches, workshops, and one-on-one sessions. There could be a 20-25 minute video that was used as a classroom presentation and also possibly shown on public television.
TV/Radio PSAs that communicate simple messages with an emphasis on the positive. These announcements should list a 800-number which can be called for additional information and materials, such as the pamphlet. ASEC has developed several excellent PSAs of this type.
Calculators that can be used by individuals to assess their savings potential. The simplest could be a manual savings calculator that computed savings accumulation taking into account periodic contributions and the time period of these contributions. ASEC has developed one such calculator. A more sophisticated calculator could take into consideration all types of assets (and debt) including home equity, retirement programs, IRAs, other financial assets, and inheritance. This computer-based calculator could be available on a web-site or to those who called an 800 number and responded to recorded questions by punching in numbers.
Studies that demonstrated inadequate asset accumulation by many households. These studies were discussed earlier in the treatment of negative messages.
The messages incorporated in these "materials" can be delivered in a number of ways which include:
Press releases and conferences, especially when research on inadequate asset accumulation has been completed.
Talk shows and evening news magazine shows that will report data on savings inadequacy and potential but may wish to feature individual success stories (talk shows) or failures (magazine shows).
Community-based organizations including schools that may be especially interested in brochures, posters, and calculators. "Educators" will also be interested in any videos.
Web-site that will be especially useful to these "educators" -- anyone who has responsibility for financial education or training including school teachers, reporters, counselors, and social service workers.
Grassroots Community Outreach
National efforts cannot succeed without complementary intiatives at the grassroots. The latter will vary considerably from area to area. What will often make sense are efforts, within metropolitan areas, that are spurred and coordinated by a coalition of groups. Leadership of these coalitions is most likely to come from those institutions already working on asset development or interested in doing so. Prime candidates are community-based groups promoting IDAs, cooperative extension agents, non-profit credit counseling services, and possibly credit unions. But the coalitions should welcome all organizations that support the core program. Members might include the media, banks, investment firms, financial planners, labor unions, public officials, public school teachers, college professors, consumer groups, ethnic/minority groups, senior organizations, and social service agencies. However, in organizing the coalition, it is more important to find individuals who will work on coalition activities than to recruit as many groups as possible.
It would be helpful for the coalition to define specific goals, such as persuading "x" number of households to develop and begin implementing a savings plan, and a general strategy for achieving these goals. The following tactics are some of those that should be considered. All should be assessed in terms of costs and benefits, and the extent to which they complement each other.
Distributing materials -- e.g., pamphlets, posters, PSAs -- developed nationally, especially to those agencies that service lower income households and their children.
Advising/training individuals in individual counseling sessions, group counseling sessions, workshops, classes, and forums. Many county extension agents and credit counselors have impressive track records in this area. Asking participants to make a commitment and following up later to note progress and offer additional assistance is important.
Organizing saving, or wealth-building, fairs similar to health fairs. Often sponsored by a local television station, the health fairs provide rudimentary testing, supply general information, and provide personalized advice. The challenge of creating a saving fair is to prevent it from becoming a venue for product promotion. There must be a meaningful concept for the fair to which institutions are invited to make specific contributions. These could include distributing materials, conducting workshops, providing individual advice, and helping attendees assess their potential for lifetime asset accumulation.
Training financial educators who belong to groups such as churches and social organizations to encourage asset development and refer interested individuals to experts in financial planning.
Persuading schools to adopt or improve asset development curricula. Persuading community organizations to establish saving programs for members. Persuading social service agencies to institutionalize savings education and savings programs.
All of these tactics could be utilized to promote the creation of a new type of voluntary organization (proposed by Jay Seaton and Jay Miller) -- thousands of small savings (investment? wealth-building? asset development?) clubs that function somewhat like Alcoholics Anonymous or Weightwatchers. Monthly meetings would keep participants focused on savings goals and provide social support, and ideas, for their attainment.
One major challenge of such campaigns is ensuring adequate savings and investment opportunities once consumer demand has been stimulated. To an extent, this increased demand will encourage financial institutions to offer convenient products with reasonable yields. An attractive option that depository institutions could offer is regular electronic transfer of a fixed amount of checking deposit into a higher yielding account such as a certificate of deposit, money market fund, or stock mutual fund. Employers could facilitate this transfer through a combination of electronic paycheck deposit and request that the banking institution electronically transfer a portion of it to another account. For this option to become widely available in an area, not all depository institutions have to offer it. If only several institutions made it available, consumers would probably have available convenient options.
Once successful programs have been established in certain communities, they can be used as models in other areas.
Public Policy Initiatives
Advocating new public policies can be useful simply because this advocacy provides opportunities to educate and build support among policy makers, the press, other advocacy groups, and other opinion leaders. The adoption of these policies, however, can advance asset development even more effectively. Below are examples of several types of policies that savings advocates might consider advancing.
Financial incentives to save, targeted at lower income households, either through tax policy or direct subsidies.
One limitation of the former is that most lower income households pay relatively little taxes that could be reduced and rarely utilize the itemized deductions that are often easiest to persuade policy makers to approve. Direct subsidies are more useful. The federal government has seriously considered, and several states have actually approved, modest appropriations to match household contributions to IDAs. There would seem to be potential to persuade policy makers to confer the same level of asset development subsidies -- chiefly, the mortgage interest deduction -- that many middle income households enjoy. Washington University's Michael Sherraden, who developed the IDA concept, has suggested making these subsidies part of the successful earned income tax credit program.
Funding and/or agency sponsorship of asset development programs.
Federal and state agencies could promote wealth building, especially among the least affluent, through sponsorship of research, program initiatives, and grants. The Assets for Independence Act just passed by Congress will facilitate this type of initiative.
Mandates or subsidies for small employers to assist employee retirement savings.
Only a small minority of small employers offer retirement programs. At the very least, these organizations could be required to assist workers in establishing retirement accounts, including direct deposit of a portion of paychecks. Research suggests that one of the two easiest ways for households to prepare for retirement -- the other is paying off a mortgage -- is to have savings contributions deducted from paychecks.
A requirement that depository institutions be willing to receive electronic deposits for individuals allocate, at no or little cost, all or a portion of these deposits into savings accounts. Given the low yields on traditional savings accounts, it would be even more helpful if banks would allow consumers to add funds electronically to CDs.
Not only at the grassroots but also at the national level there needs to be a coalition or working group that helps develop, support, and evaluate specific initiatives. The potential influence of such an alliance has been demonstrated by many other coalitions, especially the Concord Coalition, which along with Ross Perot, played essential roles in persuading the public and policy makers to make balanced federal budgets a high priority. The Coalition's research, public information efforts, and lobbying of government officials were instrumental in continuing and even building support for deficit reduction that Perot and his charts had helped initiate.
Developing a savings coalition or working group in the near future is timely. As noted earlier, much of the work to advance asset development is being undertaken by two clusters of organizations: those funded by The Ford Foundation which are promoting the creation of IDAs by low- and moderate-income households, and those including ASEC and the SEC that have undertaken public information and education to advance lifelong financial security. (There are also extensive efforts by numerous public, private, and non-profit organizations to encourage homeownership.)
As ASEC and other members of the latter group expand their public education efforts to lower income households, such efforts would help build consumer and public support for IDAs and other programs assisting the least affluent. Similarly, Ford Foundation-funded groups would benefit by supporting social marketing efforts to make asset development, especially among lower income families, a high national priority. As explained earlier, increasing the importance of this wealth-building would help build societal support for specific program initiatives.
One model for such a coalition or working group has been developed by the Consumer Federation of America to promote consumer health and safety and to publicize money-saving consumer tips. The two coalitions that promote these goals respectively -- the Coalition for Consumer Health & Safety (organized in 1988) and the Consumer Literacy Consortium (organized in 1993) -- are made up of between 25 and 40 member groups. Representatives from these organizations meet quarterly. Between meetings, the work of the coalitions is carried out by standing (and sometimes ad hoc) committees and by CFA staffers who manage both efforts.
Both coalitions spent much time (six months to two years) developing policies to serve as the basis for advocacy and/or education. Members of the CCHS eventually agreed to a detailed document analyzing consumer problems in seven product areas and proposing policy remedies for these problems. Members of the CLC developed consumer advice about saving money in 28 product areas that took the form of a publication, "66 Ways to Save Money." One barrier to such an agreement was that many of the Consortium's members had, for years, been disseminating money-saving tips that did not agree precisely, or in some cases even approximately, with the 66 tips. Nevertheless, even operating on a consensus basis, CLC members were able to reach unanimous agreement on consistent messages.
A coalition or working group to advance asset development among lower income households could function much like the CCHS and the CLC. Members could meet quarterly. Committees -- research, education, policy, grassroots outreach? -- could work between meetings with the assistance of full- or part-time staffers. The group could set specific savings goals, develop a general strategy for attaining them, and implement the strategy through various activities including message development and delivery, research on both problems and proposed strategies, grassroots outreach, and policy development and advancement.
Initial funding could be sought from foundations. At a later date, annual contributions could be solicited from affluent members.
Possible names for the coalition include -- America Saves, Americans Save, and The Wealth Coalition. Reviewers of the first draft of this paper strongly preferred America Saves. They suggested that, in specific communities, the campaign could include the name of that community (e.g., Cleveland Saves, Houston Saves).
Reviewers also suggested that a logo with the campaign's name be created. If used by all participating groups, this logo would help link the campaign's diverse efforts in the minds of individuals and encourage them to take the campaign more seriously.
Anderson, Joseph M. The Wealth of U.S. Households in 1995. Report to Merrill Lynch by Capital Research Associates, May 1998.
Andreasen, Alan R. Marketing Social Change: Changing Behavior to Promote Health, Social Development, and the Environment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995.
Beverly, Sondra. How Can the Poor Save? Theory and Evidence on Saving in Low-Income Households. Working Paper No. 97-3. Report published by Center for Social Development, Washington University, 1997.
Bloom, Paul N. and William D. Novelli. "Problems and Challenges in Social Marketing." Journal of Marketing. 45 (Spring 1981), 79-88.
Caskey, John. Beyond Cash-and-Carry: Financial Savings, Financial Services, and Low-Income Households in Two Communities.
Report published by Consumer Federation of America, December 1977.
Korczyki, Sophie M. How Americans Save. Report published by American Association of Retired Persons, July 1998.
Oliver, Melvin L. and Thomas M. Shapiro. Black Wealth, White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality. New York: Routledge, 1997.
Other information for organizers: