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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

“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

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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