Cash-strapped workers understandably are tempted to spend their tax refunds, a sort of financial lifeboat that floats by once a year.
Financial experts see the windfall as something more: an ideal opportunity to sock money away. Yet only about 10 percent of low-income workers save their refunds, even though doing so could prevent the financial dominoes – past due bills, late rent payments, or delayed car repairs – from falling. These are common outcomes when their spending gets out of whack.
Past experiments that tried to encourage cash-strapped low earners to save had modest success. A novel research study looks for clues to what motivates them by examining who spends the refund versus who saves it. The central finding in a Journal of Consumer Affairs article: the people who saved had put some thought into predicting the size of their refunds at the time they filed their taxes. This held true whether their estimates were accurate or not.
The act of estimating in advance “appears to be a form of planning,” said the researchers, University of Rhode Island professor Nilton Porto and Michael Collins, director of the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Financial Security.
Porto said they don’t know the reason estimating leads to saving, but he had one idea. The connection between the two could stem partly from the taxpayer having some advantage, such as financial skill or superior knowledge – in short, they might have higher financial literacy. …Learn More
About 15 percent of Americans age 65 and over are poor, according to the federal government’s alternative definition of poverty, known as the Supplemental Poverty Measure, a yardstick that takes into account seniors’ out-of-pocket medical expenses, as well as income and tax effects not included in the standard measure of poverty.
A compelling new video profiles poor older Americans who live in Baltimore, rural West Virginia, and Los Angeles. In the video, produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit research and policy organization focused on health care, the seniors identify rising rents and medical expenses as major explanations of financial hardship, which can mean lacking enough money for food.
Squared Away also has interviewed seniors living in a Boston housing complex for low-income seniors. To hear their stories, click here. Learn More
A new game on the Web – Spent – is a compelling way to experience the impossible choices the poor must make every day about money.
Spent was created by Urban Ministries of Durham in North Carolina, which operates a food pantry, clothing closet, and homeless shelter; and a local advertising firm, McKinney. The game gets its point across so well because McKinney interviewed the ministry’s clients and translated their real-world predicaments.
The challenge: players must get to the end of the month without depleting their small paychecks on routine bills and unexpected expenses. So, your child is invited to a birthday party, but you cannot afford the $5 gift. Do you send your child to the party without a gift, make her stay home, or buy the gift anyway – and risk running out of money? …Learn More