Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

July 25, 2014

Financial Literacy Rehash

By David Reiss

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released its second Financial Literacy Annual Report. In blogging about last year’s report, I noted that the CFPB assumed that financial education worked more than research had shown it to work. Unfortunately, this report seems to be mostly a rehash (in many cases an extensive word-for-word rehash) of last year’s (pace Senator Walsh). From what I could tell, the only significant new financial education research that the CFPB has undertaken since last year is its “rules of thumb” project.

“Rules of thumb” are a decision-making and education technique that uses practical, easily-implemented guidelines for making decisions. Existing research has found rules of thumb to be a successful technique for improving decision making in many areas, and more successful than comprehensive education in some instances. Thus, rules of thumb could be a cost-effective method to improve consumer decision making. However, little research exists examining the effectiveness of rules of thumb for financial decision making.

Accordingly, in 2014 the Bureau began a research project to study the effectiveness of rules-of-thumb-based approaches aimed at helping consumers decrease their credit card debt. Rules-of-thumb-based education may be particularly appropriate for improving consumer literacy about credit card use, as credit card decisions are repetitive and frequent. We have finished the first phase of the project to understand how to create rules of thumb, when they are most useful, and how they can be implemented to ensure maximum success. The second phase of the project will test a set of rules of thumb aimed at helping consumers decrease their credit card debt. When we release the final results, which are expected in 2015, we expect that this project will increase knowledge of the efficacy of a rules-of-thumb approach to financial education both within the CFPB and among a range of external stakeholders who serve consumers. (72-73, footnote omitted)

This seems like a great project for the CFPB to undertake. But the rest of its efforts to improve its understanding about the efficacy of financial literacy leaves me under, underwhelmed, particularly because the rule-of-thumb project is limited to just one consumer financial product, credit cards.

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