Study: The Long-Range Impact of Financial Coaching

by Brenda Campbell, President and CEO, Make A Difference – Wisconsin

FacebookLinkedInTwitterHow do you know teens are putting what they learned to use in the real world? For graduates of our Money Coach program, we tracked them down and asked them.

We’re celebrating 10 years of financial education programming and nothing makes me more proud than being able to show others the impact of our programs. For years I have dreamed about putting a longitudinal study in place at Make A Difference – Wisconsin. I wanted to follow the teens we served into adulthood and see how they were managing their money. I wanted to know if the lessons they learned in our program were taken to heart and put into action. Unfortunately, we did not have the resources to make this happen – until now!

I am excited to report that we now have a longitudinal study of young adults who completed our Money Coach program. Money Coach was created for mentoring, engagement and empowering those teens deemed “at-risk” of not graduating. The months’ long student outreach was led by our dynamic program manager, Stephaine Crosley (pictured during a summer lunch with alum), and the results she recorded are phenomenal.

In the first two years of the pilot program there were 120 teens who participated and completed Money Coach, which focuses on small group and one-on-one interactions between specially selected and trained volunteer mentors over the course of nine months. Our longitudinal study features responses from 40, or one-third, of those program graduates, who are all now at or nearing age 20. I believe that the most important indicators for potential lifelong financial capability relate to bank accounts (a place to start), budgeting (having a plan and knowing how you will get there) and tracking expenses (knowing where your money is going). We see extremely high percentages for all three indicators at the conclusion of the nine-month program, but we needed to know if our participants would maintain this activity for an extended period of time and without the regular support of their money coach. I am thrilled with the outcomes of the longitudinal study. All three indicators remain very high and that means what these young adults learned two and three years ago has stuck, and that the budgeting and tracking habits they developed in the program have become longer-term behaviors. (See the figure below)

From that pool of students, we asked other questions that relate to their ability to live independently. Nearly all of them were working (95%) and most were continuing their education (70%). On the financial side, 40% reported having a credit card and 20% had used a check cashing store at some point after the program. I’m very disappointed that this many had turned to check cashing stores, but when we saw this trend a year ago, we increased our efforts to emphasize the importance of avoiding them. I’m confident that we’ll see this percentage come down in the next survey. I also worry about how many sign up for credit cards when they may not be ready. Many of those with credit cards reported responsible use, such as carrying no balance. Still, we saw signs of misuse and a need to devote more time to this topic. Our program does not shy away from the value credit can have in your life, but these results and other previous input prompted us to add emphasis on the importance of smart decisions with credit for our current Money Coach participants.

The students in this study came from 10 sites around the Milwaukee area: Hmong American Peace Academy, Urban Underground, Washington High School of Information Technology, St. Anthony High School, Carmen High School of Science & Technology South, Ronald Reagan College Preparatory High School, PEARLS for Teen Girls, James Madison High School, New Horizons Charter School, and Waukesha East Alternative High School (formerly Harvey Philip).

When asked to comment, there were a few powerful – and heartwarming – reflections from these Money Coach grads, now young adults:

• “Money coach taught me a lot that I didn’t know about saving money and managing my finances in a multitude of different ways. Because of this, I am thankful!”

• “The program was a blessing. It opened my eyes.”

• “At first, I never saved money at all. I would try to save but never managed to save anything. I didn’t know about credit cards or how to budget until Money Coach. Because of Money Coach, I started to budget my money and am actually saving.”

• “I wouldn’t have opened a savings account if it wasn’t for Money Coach.”

• “What kept pushing me harder was my coach. She served as a mentor as well as a money coach. She helped me be more responsible.”

These figures and statements tell me that teens really take what they learn into adulthood and share it with friends and family. As I’ve written before, I could talk about our surveys, statistics and impact all day. If you’re looking to find out how financial education fundamentals and coaching could work at your school or community site, please reach out at or (414) 273-8101.