The financial struggles of U.S. families make news headlines on a daily basis. Feeling the pinch of stagnant and declining incomes (DeSilver, 2014), many have not recovered from the Great Recession, when millions lost their homes and retirement savings. About one in four families has only enough savings to survive financially for 6 days (Pew Charitable Trust, 2015). More than one in three households of color have zero or negative net worth (Wolff, 2017). Among Americans with a credit file, 77 million are in debt collections (Ratcliffe, et al. 2014). People using payday and car title loans paid nearly $8 billion in fees in 2016 (Center for Responsible Lending, 2017). It is no wonder that a majority of low income families with annual incomes under $30,000 report worrying about how to pay for normal medical care (65%), retirement (64%), and monthly bills (63%) (Gallup, 2017).
Although families with low incomes often are skilled at managing their meager finances, knowing full well that a misstep can bring disaster, they still need financial guidance. They—like all Americans—face increasingly complex decisions about their personal finances, such as which bills to pay, how to avoid a home foreclosure, which insurance they need, how to finance their children's education, and how to prepare for retirement. In a world of growing financial complexity (Martin, 2002), few can do without basic financial advice. But the poor mostly receive little professional guidance.
Despite the growing need, social work researchers have paid relatively little attention to how to deliver financial guidance to LMI individuals. This symposium examines why financial guidance is needed, and how it is best delivered in institutional structures that reach millions of vulnerable families. The first paper in this symposium studies the types of financial problems that are faced by one vulnerable and understudied population, military veterans, and establishes the connection between financial and social well-being, the importance of financial guidance. It also sets the stage for an important financial guidance model identified in the next paper. The second paper identifies financial guidance sectors that are reaching out to disadvantaged populations in the United States and assesses the strengths and weaknesses of each, proposing a hybrid model for reaching scale (i.e., reaching millions). The third paper examines the potential and limitations of financial technology (FinTech), which has made important advances in reaching the poor in some countries.