Project: Financial Literacy Tools for Low-Income Americans with Limited English Proficiency

woman on phone

Background

Poor Americans live on such razor-thin margins that they need to avoid a $39 credit card late fee that effectively raids their savings budget. In collaboration with the nonprofit organization Doorways to Dreams Fund (D2D), the research team is developing and evaluating "financial entertainment" designed to improve the financial literacy of the working poor.

Casual video games that teach a discrete lesson—and forgo the the long-term commitment and special skills required by traditional video games—have great potential because they facilitate repetitive engagement with lessons, create a "performative" learning environment, and and are very popular among women. These engaging new products can be played on everything from mobile phones to personal computers, and are more likely to encourage saving among younger, lower-income, and new workers than traditional financial education.

Overview

As part of the new Financial Literacy Center established in 2009 with support from the Social Security Administration, D2D developed two games, described above, which were released in November 2010. In the next phase of this project, with support from the Financial Literacy Center, D2D will leverage these two games to reach minority adults with limited English proficiency.

This project is focused on meeting the cultural and linguistic needs of Spanish-speaking Hispanic audiences through the use of financial literacy video games. Such games hold tremendous promise as a way to attract financially vulnerable Americans to the financial education they need, and are generally well suited to adaptation for more specific audiences, such as a Spanish-speaking Hispanics.

Building on Year 1 work and leveraging the two games it created, this project is testing its theory that a tailored approach to financial education content and delivery can generate higher take up (and, potentially, impact) for a low-income Spanish-speaking, Hispanic audience.

We will count how many people visit and use the game sites to learn about the game players themselves and track players’ progress over time. We capture anonymous player data through voluntary site registration, voluntary surveys, thoughtfully designed in-game questions that do not interrupt game play, and an array of web site metrics. We will also conduct six small sample formal testing sessions to assess pre- and post-play levels of knowledge and self-confidence.

Research Team

Research team: Peter Tufano, Harvard Business School and D2D Fund; Timothy Flacke, D2D Fund; and Nicholas Maynard, D2D Fund

Video Games to Teach Financial Literacy

Bite Club

screenshot of Bite Club video game

For low-income adults, building retirement savings can seem completely out of reach, given pressing needs to pay down debt and cover daily expenses. In Bite Club, players manage a "day club" for vampires and, as the game unfolds, experience the familiar tension between servicing debt, managing current spending, and saving for the future. By featuring vampires, who live forever, the game highlights the impact of long-term savings over a 45-year span in a 15-round game.

Farm Blitz

screenshot of Farm Blitz video game

Many poor financial decisions occur because of a failure to appreciate how quickly debt can accumulate, how important it is to build a savings habit, and how the misuse of debt will sabotage efforts to build savings. Farm Blitz has players take on the role of farmers. As the game unfolds, players experience firsthand how quickly compounding debt—such as high-interest credit cards and pay-day loans—can make it impossible for long-term savings products to take root.

Other Video Games by D2D

Celebrity Calamity

screenshot of Celebrity Calamity video game

In this video game, be the business manager for three capricious celebrities: Jessica Albudget, Buster Buyin, and Missy Moolah.

Groove Nation

screenshot of Groove Nation video game

In Groove Nation, five dance teams compete on a limited budget.