Financial Literacy: What Works? How Could it be More Effective?

31 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2011

See all articles by William G. Gale

William G. Gale

Brookings Institution

Ruth Levine

Stanford Law School

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: October 1, 2010


This paper highlights the extent and effects of financial illiteracy among American households, reviews previous efforts to promote financial literacy, and discusses new directions for such initiatives. None of the four traditional approaches to financial literacy - employer-based, school-based, credit counseling, or community-based - has generated strong evidence that financial literacy efforts have had positive and substantial impacts. Nevertheless, the apparent success of financial planning efforts and of simplification initiatives suggests that there are both private actions and public policy strategies that can influence saving behavior. There is a key role for the private sector in enhancing financial literacy and the market is responding rapidly to try to fill the void. At the same time, there is an at least equally important role for the public sector, via a campaign that revolves around a comprehensive website, and through better coordination of existing policies toward saving. We conclude that improving financial literacy should be a first-order concern for policy-makers, and that gains could accrue not only to the affected individuals, but also to their family members and society at large.

Keywords: financial literacy, saving

JEL Classification: E20

Suggested Citation

Gale, William G. and Levine, Ruth, Financial Literacy: What Works? How Could it be More Effective? (October 1, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

William G. Gale (Contact Author)

Brookings Institution ( email )

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202-797-6148 (Phone)
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Ruth Levine

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

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