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Importance of Community Financial Literacy

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Sixty percent of U.S. adults say that the pandemic has been “highly disruptive” to their finances. 1 Beyond the impact of the pandemic, American consumers often have little understanding of finances. A 2022 Financial Industry Regulatory Authority study found that there is widespread financial illiteracy 2 in America, with 2/3s of respondents lacking basic financial literacy. Generational patterns of illiteracy make future generations very vulnerable to financial troubles, especially with online shopping and credit card use becoming more prevelant. Parents may not know how to teach their children about financial literacy and most schools don’t build financial literacy into their standard curriculum.

Generational patterns of illiteracy make future generations very vulnerable to financial troubles

Financial literacy allows adults and youth to make sound decisions regarding budgeting, personal finance management, saving, credit management, student loans, taxes, bankruptcy, investing and retirement planning. Trends in the United States suggest that financial literacy is even more important due to the emergence of cryptocurrency and NFTs. Without a basic understanding of the above, Americans may find themselves struggling financially even when they have a decent income.

El Sol values financial literacy as an important Social Determinant of Health and we have designed interventions to successfully educate Inland Empire communities about personal finance management to improve their family’s financial literacy through a basic understanding of how to manage their finances and plan for their futures. We define financial literacy as combining financial, credit, and debt management knowledge that is necessary to make financially responsible decisions, decrease stress, Fand increase quality of life.

The financial literacy services provided by El Sol are critical because:

Inland Empire Schools Generally Do Not Provide Financial Literacy Education

Inland Empire elementary, middle and high schools focus on standard education such as math, language skills, sciences and social sciences. Most higher education institutions focus on teaching their students professional skills like engineering, law, and accounting. One thing they forget is that these students will at some point start earning money from these skills, and how they manage it will have a major impact on the quality of their lives. When schools do focus on financial education, their focus is often theoretical and not practical or accessible.

Teaching young students to be financially responsible gives them the skills and confidence to define their future. So, as an organization that is determined to improve our communities through education, we understand that financial knowledge is one of the most important topics we can cover to address generational poverty and financial illiteracy. We focus on equipping communities with practical financial knowledge and accessible solutions that they can immediately implement in their lives. Community Health Workers/Promotores educate and model these skills, sharing personal experiences and tips to assure that their peers feel comfortable in learning and adopting these techniques.

Reducing the number of people who fall prey to predatory lending.

Predatory lending is any lending practice that imposes unfair or abusive loan terms on a borrower. It also includes practices that convince a borrower to accept unfair terms through deceptive, coercive, exploitative, or unscrupulous actions for a loan. Predatory lending benefits the lender and ignores or hinders the borrower’s ability to repay the debt. These lending tactics often try to take advantage of a borrower’s lack of understanding about loans, terms or finances. 3

To help people achieve prosperous goals in life.

It can be difficult to balance the immediate gratification of spending versus the long-term benefit of saving and investing. El Sol sees an opportunity to support local communities in understanding that spending money on nonessentials today (example: an expensive pair of shoes) will affect how much money they could have saved and invested in the realization of future goals. By teaching basic knowledge and savings strategies on topics like “needs vs. wants,” budgeting, goal setting, and savings strategies–coupled with financial discipline–people can learn to forego the instant pleasure of spending unecessarily and focus on bigger goals that could help them build prosperity.

Financial literacy can reduce personal and domestic stressors.

Research reveals that financial issues are a leading cause of stress in American households. Financial stress can increase the risk of poor health and negatively impact productivity and mood. People who report high debt (compared to assets) also are likely to feel greater levels of mental stress and depression. They tend to have higher blood pressure too. Owing debts other than your mortgage might be particularly stressful, especially if you have credit card debt, personal loans, and more. Alternately,, saving money is associated with better mental health and well-being.

People who report high debt (compared to assets) also are likely to feel greater levels of mental stress and depression. They tend to have higher blood pressure too. Owing debts other than your mortgage might be particularly stressful, especially if you have credit card debt, personal loans, and more. Alternately,, saving money is associated with better mental health and well-being.

Financial literacy can reduce recidivism in communities.

If Americans with college degrees and higher-paying jobs are experiencing stress due to personal finance issues, imagine the stress that offenders coming out of prison experience. When offenders are in prison their basic needs are met and upon release, they sometimes have nothing more than a couple hundred dollars in the pocket of the clothes on their back.4 Anyone would find this situation stressful. By providing financial literacy education to offenders, coupled with other social interventions, we can help them learn new ways to secure a better future for themselves and their families and potentially decrease recidivism.

It can improve the general well-being of people in our communities.

When communities have the knowledge and skills to budget, save, and invest their money, and manage credit, it will be easier to meet their and their family’s needs. That means things like health insurance, educating children, and quality housing will be easier to achieve and sustain. Financial literacy empowers communities and can lead to food security, a stronger and educated workforce, fewer foreclosures in neighborhoods, and even decreased crime rates. Financially capable communities generally experience higher qualities of life.

Solutions in action: El Sol provided financial literacy education to 877 people at the Counsel of Mexico through weekly seminars, small group skill-building activities, and individualized financial advice. Seventy-eight percent of participants increased their knowledge regarding the importance of financial education and economic empowerment.

Contact Angelica Alvarez, Program Director, at angelica@elsolnec.org to learn more about our financial literacy programs, and how we are successfully integrating our model into communities.

Closing thoughts

Community financial literacy increases community confidence to make responsible decisions, heightens their ability to protect themselves, boosts people’s chances of achieving their goals, and provides community with a better quality of life. Unfortunately, many people don’t get the opportunity to optimize their financial knowledge, and they may fall into poor decision making and irresponsible financial habits as a result. El Sol provides financial literacy education to Inland Empire communities to improve their lives. We use community health workers/Promotores de Salud to teach financial knowledge and skills that can be implemented in the day-to-day lives of each person. It is not about learning the sophisticated financial terms, but about getting the basic knowledge that one can apply tomorrow and start seeing results in just a couple of days. We know why financial literacy is important: the core concepts – how to spend, save and borrow, how to invest and accumulate wealth – promote financial independence. But where we teach financial literacy is just as important as what we teach. El Sol brings this education directly to the community in their homes, schools and other easy to access location.

[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2022/05/21/americans-now-have-an-average-of-9000-dollars-less-in-savings-than-in-2021.html
[2] FINRA Investor Education Foundation. “The State of U.S. Financial Capability: The 2018 National Financial Capability Study. Page 33.
[3] https://www.debt.org/credit/predatory-lending/                              [4]https://www.corrections1.com/evergreen/articles/how-financial-literacy-can-assist-offender-rehabilitation-QJWGTiBod3XSgXb3/

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