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Oregon Considers Prizes to Encourage Savings

PHOTO: Would Oregonians save more money if they had a chance to win prizes for doing it? Four states allow prize-linked savings and others are considering it. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com.
PHOTO: Would Oregonians save more money if they had a chance to win prizes for doing it? Four states allow prize-linked savings and others are considering it. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com.
February 25, 2014

SALEM, Ore. - It's "America Saves Week," but one in four Oregonians does not have enough cash savings to weather a job loss, injury or other major setback. Some think they might save more if they had some incentive - say, the ability to win a prize.

A bill (HB 4079) in the Oregon Legislature would create a savings game administered by the Oregon Lottery. People who bought game tickets would not lose their money - and would be eligible for prize drawings. Only four states now allow what is known as "prize-linked savings," but Janet Byrd, executive director, Neighborhood Partnerships, said research has shown it works.

"It's been proven that it does increase savings behavior, and it helps create that extra incentive for folks to keep money in a savings mechanism or a savings account," Byrd said.

Neighborhood Partnerships administers the Oregon IDA, a savings program for people with lower incomes to match what they save.

A representative of Michigan's prize-linked savings program, called "Save to Win," testified at a hearing on the Oregon bill. Last year, more than 12,000 Michigan residents saved more than $33 million through "Save to Win." And this month, six of them learned they had won $10,000 prizes - including Robert Smith of Alma, Michigan, who said his wife encouraged the idea as an alternative to playing the lottery.

"She said, 'Why don't we just put our money in the credit union? We'll have a chance to win, and we're saving money if we lose - but with the lottery, your money's gone,' he recalled. "So, a couple years later - bang! Ten thousand dollars!"

Proponents of prize-linked savings have called it a way to make savings easier and more attractive, but critics have warned it could still be viewed as a form of gambling.

Byrd said current Oregon law would have to be changed to allow prize-linked savings, and that is unlikely to happen this year, but a work group will continue to look into it.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR