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Savings Accounts are Critical for Wisconsin Families

Having a cushion of savings can help families avoid making bad financial decisions (rkankaro/iStockPhoto.com)
Having a cushion of savings can help families avoid making bad financial decisions (rkankaro/iStockPhoto.com)
January 20, 2016

MADISON, Wis. - As in many other states, there is a wide gap in savings between white families in Wisconsin and families of color. The Annie E. Casey Foundation has just released a brief recommending federal policy changes to help narrow that gap. The brief says a modest federal investment in universal children's savings accounts could have a huge positive impact on families.

Beadsie Woo, senior associate of the Casey Foundation, says every family needs the financial cushion of a savings account.

"Saving both for short-term emergencies such as a car repair," she says. "But it's also saving for long-term aspirations like post-secondary education or chances that will change their kids' lives."

The brief points out that a family's assets strongly correlate with indicators of child well-being, such as academic performance and self-esteem. It suggests that by creating universal savings accounts from the moment a child is born, a young person could use the funds for education, staring a business, or buying a home - giving a boost to the individual and their community.

Woo says without a savings account, and without having developed the habit of saving, lower-income families often turn to extremely expensive options like payday loans.

"The typical amount borrowed from a payday lender is about $500," says Woo. "It is, in lots of ways, a very thin margin between what can keep a family from going into debt and being stable."

Wisconsin has 428 payday lenders, and the Department of Financial Institutions says the interest on payday loans can easily reach 500 percent or more.

The Casey Foundation brief states that families receiving public benefits should be allowed and encouraged to save money by raising asset limits, so that families most in need of a financial cushion can become more financially secure as they work to end their reliance on such programs.

Woo says this would have many benefits, for both the parents and their children.

"The opportunity to save, changes the way that children think about their future," says Woo. "Research shows children that have modest savings in their own names are more likely to go to college than those who do not."

The Casey Foundation says if families don't have a financial cushion to handle everyday emergencies, the dream of going to college or owning a home becomes nearly impossible.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI