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How do we help 138 million adults who struggle financially?

FinHealthMatters-AL

In America, 138 million adults are struggling financially.* That’s nearly half the country’s population.

Financial health matters. That’s why we’re joining the Center for Financial Services Innovation and the nation’s leading banks, financial services providers and nonprofits in supporting #FinHealthMatters Day on June 27, 2017.

We’re at a critical point in our nation’s history. We need to make a stand and address the root causes of financial instability in this country. I believe the lack of financial education and access to cheaper financial products are two of the key contributors impacting people’s financial health today.

Financial education drives better financial health

Very early in my childhood, I learned the value of a Deutsche mark — or rather a dollar, as we say in the States. I grew up in Germany, where my father was an insurance salesman, a profession where money was sometimes tight. It was my parents’ financial principles that helped them weather the harder days and leverage the better ones.

Their golden rule was always to live within their means. To help me grasp this concept, my parents gave me a modest weekly allowance I had to earn by contributing to household chores. Unfortunately, there were no dishwashers when I was growing up so I had the pleasure of hand-washing every dish at the end of each day. What seemed painful in the moment was rewarded with the funds to be able to do what I enjoyed most, like go to the movies or buy tapes to record my favorite tunes on my tape recorder. I had the freedom to spend my money the way I saw fit, but I could only spend what I had earned. It forced me to learn how to manage my money to have enough for the things I wanted or needed.

In the United States, 23% of households can’t save because they spend more than their income.

-Center for Financial Services Innovation

To encourage their savings principle, my parents added an extra incentive to the allowance. If I didn’t spend all my money but rather saved it, I got a pay raise. Depending on the percentage of how much I saved, I saw incremental increases. The more I saved, the more generous the increase. I quickly learned that saving money had a better return than the hour or so spent in a movie theater.

43% of Americans struggle to pay bills and credit obligations.

-Center for Financial Services Innovation

Thankfully, I was lucky enough to have parents who taught me basic personal finance skills that set me up for success in my adult life. Unfortunately, unless they have parents who are savvy with money, most people will not learn these simple principles because they aren’t taught in most schools.

We know education gives people a step up in life. Imagine how financial education would help people increase their financial health by leaps and bounds. This is why we have a dedicated public education team at Experian to provide consumers with proper credit information. This is also why we financially support nonprofits that share our mission of strengthening financial education.

Access to credit increases financial health

When I moved from Germany to America in 2001, I was part of the underbanked population. I had no credit history. I was invisible to financial institutions. Due to this, I faced many difficulties in accessing mainstream banking services and low-cost loans.

27% of U.S. households are either unbanked or underbanked.

-Center for Financial Services Innovation

This is a common issue for many people in this country, particularly low-income individuals and immigrants. These consumers are forced to turn to predatory lenders, which means it’s costing them significantly more for basic financial services. In 2015, these consumers spent a combined $141 billion in fees and interest just to manage their day-to-day financial lives.*

Fortunately, my bank took into consideration the fact I paid my rent and utilities on time, and that’s how I built my credit. Others aren’t so lucky and will be in the same vicious cycle the rest of their lives, never improving their financial health — unless we do more.

At Experian, we want to give the broader population an opportunity to do the same as I did. That’s why we’re working on bridging the gap between underbanked consumers and financial institutions.

One way we accomplish this is through alternative data — data that has never been considered in credit decisions by financial institutions. Rental payments weren’t considered until Experian led this industry in incorporating this data into credit files. This data helps the underserved community establish credit histories. The result is greater access to more affordable credit and the overall improvement of their financial health.

Our commitment to help improve financial health

The struggling majority is the reason I come to work every day. In my role, I have a huge responsibility to consumers. Knowing firsthand that financial education and establishing credit are the pillars of financial stability, it’s my job to make sure we’re finding innovative ways to help people achieve outstanding financial health.

*2016 Financially Underserved Market Size Study published by the Center for Financial Services Innovation http://cfsinnovation.org/research/2016-financially-underserved-market-size-study/