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Can a financial literacy program deliver knowledge and shift behaviours so that people living on low incomes can make informed decisions when it comes to their personal finances?

Credit unions think so. One way that several are doing this is through matched savings programs. Matched savings or individual development accounts are an effective approach to improving the financial capability of low income members, while at the same time matching members’ savings towards a goal such as home ownership or education. By participating in these programs, members gain valuable saving skills and improve their economic well-being.

To help credit unions develop these programs, the trade association for Canada’s credit unions recently introduced the Matched Savings Program Toolkit, which is its latest social responsibility resource.

The toolkit highlights the role of financial institutions in matched savings programs drawing on examples of programs like learn$ave. It walks credit unions through how to plan, implement, administer and measure a matched savings program. It also features a useful checklist of best practises and items to consider for each element along the way.

Affinity Credit Union, Assiniboine Credit Union, Vancity Credit Union and Social and Enterprise Development Innovations have generously shared resources including financial literacy curricula, program calendars, program guides and metrics for assessing the impact that these programs have. These resources are organized in the toolkit’s appendices.

How did this idea for the toolkit originate?

Credit unions are different from other financial institutions. For instance, credit unions are guided by international co-operative principles, one of which is to provide members with “education, training and information,” including the skills and confidence members need to make responsible decisions when it comes to managing their personal finances.

In 2012, credit unions across Canada, set out to gain a better understanding of financial literacy programs, approaches and offerings. In particular, the credit union system wanted to know whether financial literacy programs were effectively bridging the gap between what members knew they should be doing, and how they actually managed their finances. The results of this project are highlighted in the research brief, Financial Literacy – What’s Best and What’s Next.

Through this system-wide financial literacy project, matched savings accounts were identified as an effective way to help low-income individuals grow their assets and increase their financial knowledge. The program matches every dollar participants save on their own.

The Matched Savings Program Toolkit was prepared by , Policy Analyst, Credit Union Central of Canada. Click here to download the toolkit.

About Credit Union Central of Canada (Canadian Central)

Credit Union Central of Canada is the national trade association for the Canadian credit union system. Canada’s credit union system is a vital competitor in the financial services industry. Canadian Central represents five regional Centrals and one Federation representing 332 credit unions with more than $159.2 billion in assets and serving over 5.3 million members, outside of Quebec. For more information about Canada’s credit union system and Canadian Central visit www.cucentral.ca.


Kate Martin works as a policy analyst for the credit union system, where her work focuses on credit union social responsibility and government relations. Kate has participated in the Parliamentary Internship Program at the House of Commons, and completed an MA in History from the University of Victoria, where she had the opportunity to study the relationship between indigenous peoples and settler peoples in British Columbia.

Tags: assets, credit, Saving

Financial Empowerment image

In SEDI’s recent submission to the Ontario government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy consultation, we strongly encouraged the government to take advantage of a new community approach to reducing poverty called Financial Empowerment.
Designed to be integrated into and/or complement more traditional poverty reduction strategies, Financial Empowerment interventions specifically target the underlying financial issues that many people living on low-incomes face and that impede their efforts to move out of poverty.  These approaches fall into 5 main categories and are mainly delivered at the community level:

1. Financial information, education and counselling
2. Help accessing income boosting benefits and tax credits
3. Access to safe and affordable financial products and services
4. Access to savings and asset building opportunities
5. Consumer awareness and protection.

Financial Empowerment BriefThe Financial Empowerment approach is tested and proven
Evidence from a wide range of scaled programs put in place by U.S. cities, reinforced by grassroots experience here in Canada, shows conclusively that Financial Empowerment approaches can help to measurably advance the Government of Ontario’s poverty reduction objectives, as well as other important goals such as increasing employment, encouraging savings for retirement and post-secondary education, and reducing health care and social service costs.
While the Ontario government is still facing tight budget constraints, Financial Empowerment approaches offer an opportunity to invest modestly in a range of promising poverty reduction initiatives that can be:

•  Scaled immediately at low cost using technology-based approaches
•  Integrated inexpensively into existing programs to improve outcomes
•  Cost shared with other partners and leverage volunteer resources; or
•  Piloted and scaled up gradually as more resources become available.

Read our full submission here.

Be a part of the Financial Empowerment movement in Canada

Are you interested in learning more? Read our brief, Financial Empowerment: Improving financial outcomes for low-income households.

To build Financial Empowerment capacity or pilot test interventions in your community, contact:
Elodie Young, SEDI Program Development Officer or by phone at 416.665.2828 ext. 225.


Liz Mulholland is SEDI’s Chief Executive Officer.

Tags: financial empowerment, policy, poverty reduction

My daughters are only seven and ten, but we are teaching them how to save and keep track of their money already. Why? I don’t want them to make the same mistakes that I made up until my late twenties.

For older youth, the Healthy Aboriginal Network (HAN) created The Game Plan, our financial literacy comic book. It’s about Jake, an 18 year old that is forced to learn the hard way that we are what we do in life, not what we own. The production of the comic was funded by the TD Financial Literacy Grant Fund.

Finding the story

HAN improves literacy on health and social issues by creating engaging comic book stories. So you’d think this project would be a piece of cake for us. It wasn’t. We really struggled to find the balance between story and the financial concepts we wanted to touch on. So we did our homework by commissioning secondary research into the areas of Aboriginal financial literacy, financial literacy in general, youth financial education, learning theories, behavioural change, and social marketing campaigns.

As a result of the research, HAN determined that:

• The target audience for the comic should be urban Aboriginal Youth.
• The comic’s story should be aimed at youth in the pre-contemplation and
   contemplation stages of financial literacy behaviour change because there
   are a lack of resources available for this group.
• The comic’s story must connect emotionally with the reader to raise their
   awareness of the need to change their money management behaviours and
   convince them that it is a worthwhile endeavor to pursue.
• Topics covered by the comic should focus on the money management skills
   of basic saving, spending, and debt.

Testing the initial draft

Once we felt that we had an engaging story we set out to create the focus group short. We use storyboards for the videos, which are really just rough pencil sketches, and we import the images into a movie editing program to give the stills movement. We posted the video to YouTube to test with the financial community and adults that work with youth. And we tested the story in person with youth on Vancouver Island, Vancouver and Toronto. This gave HAN preliminary quality and impact measurement data, and the ability to make changes where necessary before committing to a final colour publication.

The goal and how it’s being measured

The final comic was published in August 2013. The goal of the book is to have readers realize that saving and debt have real consequences that impact both positively and negatively. We want readers to consider consequences they may have been unaware of before reading the comic and to start to see that proper money management is a better path to achieving one’s real life goals. As opposed to consumerism, which is more of a temporary "feel good" patch that actually avoids the work needed to achieve real success.

To measure the reach, impact, and achievement of the comic’s goal, HAN is undertaking an evaluation of readers’ attitudes towards savings, spending, and debt before and after reading the comic. We are also tracking the distribution of the comic and visits to the financial literacy resource page listed on the back of the comic for readers to find out more information on the topic.


Sean Muir is the founder and executive director of the Healthy Aboriginal Network (HAN). HAN creates comic books on health and social issues for youth - www.thehealthyaboriginal.net.

Tags: aboriginal, debt, financial planning, saving, youth

“I had not done my taxes in seven years, and was so intimidated and overwhelmed. My taxes were a gigantic mess of papers. I had no idea where to even begin.”

This statement is one the staff at St. Christopher House hears from many of its participants who come to the Financial Advocacy and Problem Solving (FAPS) Program. In fact, helping people with current year and back taxes is the most frequent initial request it gets from participants, 95% of which have incomes below Canada’s low-income cut-off.

St. Christopher House is a neighbourhood community centre in downtown Toronto. The Centre works with less advantaged individuals, families and groups in the community to enable them to gain greater control over their lives and within their community.

FAPS program addressing financial issues of low-income people

For 10 years, the FAPS Program has worked with low-income people to address their financial issues, including financial literacy and exclusion. In 2012, 2,050 people secured $3.9 million through the FAPS program by accessing entitlements (through the tax and government programs) and addressing debt issues.

Through individual coaching, workshops and tax clinics, FAPS program staff and volunteers work to untangle the complex financial problems of their program participants. The program provides support in:

         • Reducing and consolidating debt
         • Accessing credit, such as student loans, along with support to use appropriately
         • Filing income tax
         • Taking advantage of savings programs
         • Getting out of scams
         • Reading the small print on contracts for cell phones and other goods.

Building an appetite for financial literacy through tax filing

St. Christopher House finds that helping people with their taxes is often the stepping-stone upon which they begin to build participants’ confidence, capacity and greater curiosity about the difference financial literacy can make in their lives. The program provides information relevant to the day-to-day financial issues and decisions participants face when living on a limited budget. This information is extremely valuable as it outlines income programs, tax credits, banking services, budgeting, registered savings plans, etc. Participants also learn about the consequences (including the unintended ones) of social and economic policy on low-income people. The knowledge gained through the FAPS program enables participants to make informed decisions like for example, whether a Tax Free Savings Account is a better savings option for them than a Registered Retirement Savings Plan. Or they may learn how to start planning for retirement as a low-income person, or how disability or immigration status is interpreted by various government programs, and the implications for their own financial situation.

Tax filing is an important vehicle for building financial literacy and inclusion

Tax filing, as a vehicle for both financial literacy and inclusion has become more important to FAPS. Increasingly tax credits are seen and used by governments as a social policy mechanism as evidenced by the Child Tax Benefit, <


Lynne Woolcott is the Director of Community Response and Advocacy at St. Christopher House.

Tags: assets, benefits, budgeting, inclusion, poverty, retirement, tax

Tax time is generally associated with anxiety, frustration, and expenses for many people; but it also means improvements on roads, public utilities, education, health care, and law enforcement. Revenue from tax helps redistribute wealth to lower income families, students, or people with disabilities. It provides social services such as Old Age Security benefits, Employment Insurance benefits, the Canada Child Tax Benefit, the Working Income Tax Benefit, and the Universal Child Care Benefit.

Filing a tax return is critical for low-income Canadians given that income tax and government benefits are inherently intertwined. Failure to complete an annual income tax return results in loss of access to essential government programs for families and individuals who would otherwise qualify. Filing an income tax return incorrectly can be just as detrimental, however there are often barriers preventing low-income people from seeking professional help. The average cost for a chartered accountant to complete a simple tax return in Edmonton is $85.00 per person.

Edmonton based charity, E4C’s Make Tax Time Pay Program (MTTP) is one organization who offers free financial services to low income families and individuals to complete their income tax return, apply for government benefits and subsidies, and gain additional information and education on related financial resources.

Without access to professional support, a family of four with a family net income of $34,000 may not be able to access the Canada Child Tax Benefit, Alberta Child Care Subsidy, Alberta Child and Adult Health Benefit, City of Edmonton Leisure Access Pass, and RESP grants and bonds they would be eligible for. Overall this family of four would supplement their earnings by 22% of their net income, as a result of filing their income tax return and applying for eligible government benefits and programs. This family could generate almost a quarter of their income throughout the year in benefit payments alone, while also saving hundreds of dollars on health care, child care, and recreation costs.

Families and individuals use the funds from their refund, plus the now accessible government support to provide food, shelter, clothing, health care and recreational activities for their families. Some federal government benefits, like the Canada Child Tax Benefit, Universal Child Care Benefit, and Goods and Services Tax Credit provide consistent income to families throughout the year. Other provincial and municipal benefits like the Alberta Child and Adult Health Benefit, Child Care Subsidy, and the Edmonton Leisure Access Pass ensure families will only pay a fraction for health, child care, and recreation expenses, if anything at all.

Taxes not only change the financial health, but also the holistic health of those who are struggling to make ends meet and provide for their families. An income tax refund may provide short-term satisfaction for low income families; however, it is the lasting impact of receiving monthly financial benefits that move families effectively out of poverty.

MTTP’s financial services are offered during the tax season each March and April, MTTP mobilizes over 300 volunteers and numerous community agencies and tax site location across the City of Edmonton. MTTP also collaborates with multi-level program partners, including the Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments to train volunteers, disseminate information, and streamline services. In addition, MTTP partners with Edmonton’s 211 (The Support Network) to arrange service user referrals from community members.


Teena Gill is the Program Manager for E4C’s Make Tax Time Pay Program, based out of Edmonton, Alberta. Teena is also an active member of the Alberta Asset Building Collaborative and the Financial Literacy Resource sub-committee.

Tags: benefits, inclusion, tax

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The CCFL Blog provides a platform for timely discussions and commentary on policy, practice, research and news relevant to the field of financial literacy for low income and vulnerable groups. Contributors include guest experts, community leaders and CCFL staff. The views expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views of the CCFL.

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