(Washington, DC) – The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®) today released the results of a groundbreaking study on the impact of financial counseling on consumer behavior. This independent, scientifically based evaluation was conducted by researchers at The Ohio State University, and examined the Sharpen Your Financial Focus® initiative, launched by NFCC in 2013. The study found that Sharpen clients perform better on a variety of credit outcomes, most notably, showing improvement in levels of revolving debt and total debt, better money management and improved financial confidence as compared to a control group of consumers who did not receive the counseling.
Since its launch in 2013, the Sharpen Your Financial Focus initiative has impacted the lives of more than 60,000 American consumers, helping them identify and resolve immediate financial concerns, gain a deeper understanding of financial literacy and debt management, and move toward long-term financial stability.
“Working together with financial institutions who support financial education, the NFCC Sharpen Your Financial Focus initiative has positively changed American consumers’ knowledge and behaviors related to personal finance,” said Susan C. Keating, NFCC President and CEO. “The Ohio State University research team has provided the most compelling evidence that nonprofit financial education is a catalyst for specific changes that improve financial capability.”
Researchers at The Ohio State University conducted a comparative evaluation, matching 6,094 Sharpen clients to a group of 6,005 similar non-counseled individuals. Outcomes for the two groups were measured on a quarterly basis from the quarter prior to counseling through six quarters post-counseling. When compared to those without counseling, Sharpen clients showed remarkable improvements in available liquidity, levels of revolving debt and overall debt balances. For example, during the 18 months following counseling, Sharpen clients decreased their revolving debt by nearly $6,000— a statistically significant reduction of $3,600 more than the comparison group. Sharpen participants reduced their total debt by almost $9,000—a statistically significant reduction of $11,300 more than the comparison group, whose total debt increased slightly during the same period. Also noteworthy, the ratio of available credit for counseled clients grew at a faster rate than the comparison group after the first post-counseling quarter and was 19% higher six quarters after counseling.
“By tracking an array of credit indicators quarterly for 18 months, we are able to better isolate the impact of credit counseling relative to other life events such as bankruptcies, debt charge offs or participation in a debt management plan,” says Stephanie Moulton, PhD, associate professor at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University who served as the Principal Investigator for this study. “The significant reduction in debt among counseled clients holds even after accounting for these other events.”
Based on the responses from an NFCC survey, Sharpen clients reported that the program is making a positive impact in their financial lives just three months after counseling. Among those, 67 percent say the program helped them better manage their money, 68 percent say it helped them set financial goals, 70 percent improved their overall financial confidence, and 73 percent are paying their debt more consistently.
In addition to tracking survey outcomes, the evaluation tracks credit report outcomes for a subsample of nearly 9,000 Sharpen clients. This analysis also demonstrates that Sharpen is making a positive financial impact on participants’ financial lives. Six quarters after counseling, Sharpen clients achieved $17,000 average decrease in total debt, an $8,000 average decrease in total revolving debt, and a 50-point average increase in their credit score from baseline for those in the bottom 25th percentile of clients.
“Financial counseling and debt management have given me confidence and insight,” said Martha Souder, a client of NFCC member agency Guidewell Financial Solutions. “These are lasting rewards I will carry into the future. It feels great to finally be financially secure!”
Driven by these results, and with the generous support from leading financial institutions, the NFCC is proceeding with additional innovations. In the next phase of Sharpen, there will be an eCoaching feature that leverages technology, helping clients stay on track to meet their financial goals through direct emails and texts. A generous $4 million grant from Synchrony Financial is helping sustain the program for those who will seek financial education in the years ahead.
“When we joined the Sharpen Alliance as one of the original founders, it continued our longstanding commitment to responsible lending and financial education for consumers. The results of the study illustrate the positive impact educating consumers can have through the NFCC program,” said Kurt Grossheim, EVP and COO of Synchrony Financial.
The NFCC also thanks Bank of America, Chase, and Wells Fargo for their role as founders of the Sharpen Alliance, demonstrating their support of the delivery of financial education through NFCC Member Agencies serving every state and in Puerto Rico.
For more information about the Sharpen Your Financial Focus initiative, visit www.sharpentoday.org.
Founded in 1951, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®) is the nation’s first and largest nonprofit dedicated to improving people’s financial well-being. With 600 member offices serving 50 states and Puerto Rico, our NFCC® Certified Consumer Credit Counselors are financial advocates, empowering millions of consumers to take charge of their finances through one-on-one financial reviews that address credit card debt, student loans, housing decisions and overall money management. Make one of the best financial decisions of your life. For expert guidance and advice, call (800) 388-2227 or visit nfcc.org today.