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Financial Capability and Asset Building in Vulnerable Households

Theory and Practice

Margaret Sherraden, Julie Birkenmaier, and J. Michael Collins

Publication Date - 22 June 2018

ISBN: 9780190238568

472 pages
8-1/2 x 11 inches

In Stock

Financial Capability and Asset Building in Vulnerable Households prepares students and practitioners for financial practice. This comprehensive text offers knowledge and skills to enable families to improve their financial circumstances, and to promote policies and services for household economic security and development.


Financial struggles of American families are headline news. In communities across the nation, families feel the pinch of stagnant and sometimes declining incomes. Many have not recovered from the Great Recession, when millions lost their homes and retirement savings. They are bombarded daily with vexing financial decisions: Which bills to pay? Where to cash checks? How to cover an emergency? How to improve a credit report? How to bank online? How to save for the future? Low- and moderate-income families have few places to turn for guidance on financial matters. Not many can afford to pay a financial advisor to help navigate an increasingly complex financial world. They do their best with advice from family and trusted individuals.

Social workers, financial counselors, and human services professionals can help. As "first responders," they assist families and help in finding financial support from public and private sources. But these professionals are too often unprepared to address the full range of financial troubles of ordinary working families. Financial Capability and Asset Building in Vulnerable Households prepares social workers, financial counselors, and other human service professionals for financial practice with vulnerable families. Building on more than 20 years of research, the book sets the stage with key concepts, historical antecedents, and current financial challenges of families in America. It provides knowledge and tools to assist families in pressing financial circumstances, and offers a lifespan perspective of financial capability and environmental influences on financial behaviors and actions. Furthermore, the text details practice principles and skills for direct interventions, as well as for designing financial services and policy innovations. It is an essential resource for preparing the next generation of practitioners who can enable families to achieve economic security and development.


  • This is the first book to focus on financially vulnerable households. Other texts on household (personal) finance have a middle- to upper-income focus. Financial challenges and choices of financially secure families are very different from those of financially vulnerable families.
  • The book promotes two unique conceptualizations: (1) financial capability depends not only on individual knowledge and behavior, but also on what is possible in the environment; and (2) it offers tools for practitioners for building assets in low-income households, beyond simply stabilizing income.
  • The reader learns about financial capability and asset building (FCAB) through the eyes of four families whose cases unfold over 23 chapters, and bespoke illustrations of the families bring a visual element to the page.
  • The authors combine a wealth of knowledge and perspective from social work and financial services backgrounds perfectly suited to tackle this topic.

About the Author(s)

Margaret S. Sherraden, PhD, MA, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Research Professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Julie Birkenmaier, PhD, MSW, LCSW, is a Professor at Saint Louis University School of Social Work and a Project Co-Director of Financial Capability with the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St Louis.

J. Michael Collins, PhD, MA, MPP, is Associate Professor of Public Affairs and Consumer Finance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology and La Follette School of Public Affairs.


"The book takes a uniquely valuable approach by which financial issues are described from the perspective of those who experience financial struggles and those who are trying to assist them based on principles from the humanservice professions, such as a strengths perspective, a nonjudgmental attitude, cultural competence, humility, and respect for client self-determination." -- Journal of Teaching in Social Work

Rather than just help individuals balance their budget, Financial Capability and Asset Building in Vulnerable Households importantly encourages human service workers to engage in financial practice with low-income families based on the relationship between individuals and their environment. Packed with new and extremely valuable information about financial capability and asset building, the authors reject the standard victim-blaming narrative. Instead, they rightly argue that family financial well-being is not possible without public policies that support many financial opportunities. The solid 'practice wisdom' threaded throughout this readable new book, applied to diverse populations, effectively locates 'financial capability' and 'assets' in their theoretical social, environmental, and historical contexts. Social workers are urged to undo decades of asset-stripping policies that begot today's disturbing asset or wealth inequality." - Mimi Abramovitz, Hunter College, CUNY

Financial Capability and Asset Building is a unique, comprehensive resource for front-line professionals and policymakers. Sherraden, Birkenmaier, and Collins compellingly convey how the financial lives of many low-income families of color in the U.S. are undermined by financial volatility, fewer assets, predatory lenders, and less financial know-how. Chapters combine data analysis, historical background, and powerful conceptual frameworks, defining terms like financial capability, explaining budgets and debt, and prompting further practical reflection and application. Challenges and solutions are discussed in the context of the financial decisions facing real families. This timely book fills a big gap." - Robert Giloth, Vice President, Center for Economic Opportunity, The Annie E. Casey Foundation

This is a wonderful book for those who aspire to translate knowledge about financial capacity building into action for vulnerable populations. The themes are derived from a tested and validated curriculum and will be a great resource for educators, social workers, and other practitioners. The span of issues covered is impressive and the organization of the book allows for targeted information about specific topics. The overview of the broad policy debates combined with the qualitative narratives is a distinct strength." - Alan Mathios, Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean, College of Human Ecology, Cornell University

Skillfully integrating theory and practice, this seminal book offers clear concepts, real life examples, and key resources centered on struggling families and their financial needs and opportunities throughout the life course. The breadth of topics is impressive, including income, taxes, spending, saving, budgeting, credit and credit building, risk management and insurance, college, homeownership, and financial security and estate planning in old age. They also enable practitioners to engage with policymakers to help create more enabling policy environments for vulnerable families. I'm only sorry it took until the publication of this critical book to revive the sound Progressive Era idea that the helping professions, at their core, must also be about financial capability." - Ray Boshara, Senior Fellow, Financial Security Program, The Aspen Institute; Founding Director, Asset Building Program, New America; co-author, The Next Progressive Era

Empirical studies have established a strong, inverse relationship between a household's financial resources and its ability to use those resources in a self-beneficial manner. Vulnerable households are thus doubly disadvantaged and in need of strategic financial advice from appropriately trained practitioners, primarily social workers. This is the first textbook specifically designed to meet that need." - Lewis Mandell, Professor Emeritus of Finance and Managerial Economics, State University of New York at Buffalo

Table of Contents


    Part I: Setting the Stage: Financial Capability and Asset Building in Financially Vulnerable Households
    Chapter 1: Financial Well-Being: Basic Concepts
    Chapter 2: Financial Vulnerability in American Families: A Portrait
    Chapter 3: History of Financial Capability and Asset Building in America
    Chapter 4: Financial Institutions, Products, and Services
    Chapter 5: Understanding Household Finance: Income Statements and Balance Sheets

    Part II: Household Finance: Building a Foundation for Financial Capability and Asset Building
    Chapter 6: Household Income
    Chapter 7: Taxes and Financially Vulnerable Households
    Chapter 8: Values, Goals, and Spending Plans
    Chapter 9: Short-Term and Emergency Savings
    Chapter 10: Long-Term Savings and Asset Accumulation: Building a Future
    Chapter 11: Credit and Credit Building
    Chapter 12: Higher Education
    Chapter 13: Housing and Homeownership
    Chapter 14: Debt, Problem Debt, and Debt Negotiation
    Chapter 15: Risk Management and Insurance
    Chapter 16: Identity Theft and Protection
    Chapter 17: Collections, Garnishments, and Bankruptcy
    Chapter 18: Preparing for Financial Security in Old Age
    Chapter 19: Putting Financial Affairs in Order: Estate Planning

    Part III: Human Services: Financial Capability and Asset-Building Practice
    Chapter 20: Financial Capability in the Social Environment: Preparing for Financial Capability and Asset-Building Practice
    Chapter 21: Financial Practice with Individuals and Families
    Chapter 22: Financial Capability and Asset Building in Organizations, Communities, and Policy
    Chapter 23: Career Pathways in Financial Capability and Asset-Building Practice


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