Debt assistance is paying increasing attention to the behavior of people in debt. The realization that only settling debts is not sufficient is getting bigger. Nevertheless, prevention and debt management still focus primarily on learning skills and knowledge.

Creating awareness about one’s own (‘bad’) behavior does get an increasingly prominent role, but the activation of new, healthy behavior and motivation is receiving too little attention. While, for example, a lot of information from the behavioral sciences can be obtained. Reason for Bank to do research with Delta Lloyd Foundation into the effectiveness of behavioral interventions in debt counseling.

Marie-Louise Voors of Delta Lloyd Foundation : ‘Many projects we support aim to change the financial behavior of participants. The results of this research are therefore interesting for our program From debts to opportunities. But also for the national creditors ‘coalition’.

Aim: to investigate which behavioral interventions are effective

Bank has started an investigation with the help of Delta Lloyd Foundation , which examines which behavioral interventions are most effective to help and keep people out of debt. In recent years, we have seen a shift within the field of debt counseling from purely rational thinking to more space for behavior and the processes that play a role in this. The realization that only the settlement of debts is not sufficient and that the communication must be tailored individually, is increasing. Nevertheless, in debt counseling, and especially on the prevention side, we see that the prevention and tackling of financial problems mainly focuses on learning skills and knowledge. This is, of course, necessary, but the activation of new healthy behavior and motivation now receive too little attention.

That is why this research focuses on motivating and activating financially sound behavior in people. Insights from the behavioral sciences provide many starting points for this. We investigate whether and how insights from the behavioral sciences can be used in (existing) interventions to increase effectiveness and increase the reach.

Approach: literature study and testing of interventions

The first step of the research was a literature study into which interventions are the most promising in theory. At the moment we are testing two interventions in practice, so that eventually it becomes clear on the basis of evidence-based research how we can motivate people more and what the effect is on financial behavior.

The interventions that are examined for effectiveness are:

  • Meeting appointments with memories
    Due to everyday issues, agreements can be forgotten and goals lost. Especially with people who experience a shortage of money. The memories ensure that appointments are brought back to the attention and are therefore less likely to be forgotten.
  • With small steps, more range
    By dividing larger tasks into smaller steps and recording the progress, people remain motivated and it becomes easier to maintain good behavior. The focus is not only on what has not yet been achieved, but especially on what has been achieved so far.

At Kredietbank West-Brabant and the Groningen Kredietbank, it is tested whether sending reminders has an effect on attendance at appointments and whether it increases the effectiveness of the budget course. The municipality of Tilburg and Doras (community service Amsterdam-Noord) are investigating whether people’s motivation is increased if progress is charted by means of a checklist. The municipality of Tilburg is examining whether working with a checklist increases the effectiveness of the budget course and increases the speed with which someone goes through a debt counseling process. In addition to the parties that have already started, the municipality of Almere has also joined the research. Here we are making an inventory of which intervention best suits their method.

Expected result: handles for policy

The project will be fully completed by the end of 2017. With the outcomes we expect to have knowledge in hand that policy makers can use to better guide and motivate people in debt to financially self-reliant behavior.