Analyzing and Overcoming Barriers to Immigrant Use of Financial Services

Hispanic woman at ATM

Research Context

Hispanic immigrants constitute a rapidly growing share of the U.S. population. However, when compared to natives, Latin Americans living in the U.S. are more likely to be unbanked, less likely to participate in formal retirement savings programs and have lower levels of financial literacy.

Research Goals

This project investigated the main barriers to the use of financial services faced by Hispanic immigrants and designs and evaluates new financial education materials to help Hispanic immigrants overcome the barriers identified in the initial investigation. Three potential barriers are the focus of our analysis:

  • limited English proficiency
  • lack of U.S. experience and
  • return migration expectations

The analysis of new immigrant survey data that contains detailed foreign and domestic asset holdings as well as rich information on language skills, migration history and return migration expectations allows us to assess the relative importance of these barriers. We then use the findings from this analysis to develop new materials targeted at specific barriers related to immigration status, and compare their efficacy to existing approaches based primarily on translation of generic financial literacy materials.


Using the American Life Panel (ALP), we administered different versions of the educational material to randomly selected test groups as well as having a control group and, in a follow-up survey, compared their behavioral change.

Research Team

Principal investigators: Silvia Helena Barcellos, James P. Smith, and Joanne Yoong, RAND Corporation

This project was undertaken in conjunction with the RAND Financial Literacy Center.


Preliminary results show that financial education materials targeted at Hispanic immigrants have the potential to increase retirement preparedness among this population by increasing the knowledge about Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and 401(k) programs.