The Four Elements of Financial Well-Being12.11.2017
The CFPB recently published a report titled “Financial Well-Being in America” that discusses the four elements of financial well-being, and how Americans of different income levels display varying levels of financial wellness. Two of the CFPB’s most important conclusions from the study are that “savings and financial cushions provide the greatest differentiation between people with different levels of financial well-being” and that “certain experiences with debt and credit seem to be strongly—and negatively—associated with financial well-being.” Credit unions must understand the four elements of financial well-being and how to help improve the borrowing and saving experience for members to help boost their financial wellness.
The report “Financial Well-Being in America” defines financial well-being as “a state of being wherein a person can fully meet current and ongoing financial obligations, can feel secure in their financial future and is able to make choices that allow them to enjoy life.” It further describes the four characteristics as the following:
- Present Security: Control over day-to-day and month-to-month finances
- Present Freedom of Choice: The freedom to make choices to enjoy life
- Future Security: The capacity to absorb financial shock
- Future Freedom of Choice: The state of being on track to meet financial goals
These four elements address present stability in two categories, which directly impact future financial stability. Members must first be able to keep their daily or monthly expenses in line with their income, in order to save for unexpected expenses in the future and meet financial goals that improve quality of life, such as saving for a home or investing in a more reliable form of transportation.
To help members improve their financial well-being, credit unions can provide members access to tools to control day-to-day and month-to-month finances by borrowing and saving more effectively. Members often need access to the ability to borrow to manage daily and monthly expenses. Inexpensive, small-dollar loan products can help stabilize members in the short-term. Without these alternative loan options, many members risk falling into a cycle of debt through high-interest payday loans or by accruing large credit card balances with high interest rates. Credit unions are uniquely positioned to offer these small-dollar loan solutions to members because they are invested in the long-term financial stability of members, instead of looking for a quick profit.
In order to improve a member’s financial stability enough to start saving, credit unions need to build support for savings. Integrating financial coaching and debt-management counseling services into small-dollar loan products can help members make good decisions throughout the borrowing process. The ability to borrow strategically can directly lead into the ability to save, especially with the guidance of trusted credit union financial coaching professionals. When members turn to a small-dollar loan product offered by a credit union to solve a short-term cash management crisis, the credit union has the opportunity to offer help to build a savings plan once the member’s income has stabilized.
The CFPB’s report on financial well-being indicates that access to savings and financial cushions is one of the primary indicators of financial wellness and stability. Credit unions should work with their members who struggle with their day-to-day and month-to-month expenses to build a plan to stabilize their income and expenditures. By offering access to small-dollar loan products, paired with financial coaching and savings tools, credit unions can help members improve their financial well-being.
Ben Morales is the CEO of QCash Financial, a CUSO providing automated, cloud-based, omni-channel small-dollar lending technology that enables financial institutions to provide short-term loans quickly to the people they serve.