The High School Financial Planning Program® (HSFPP) will be retiring on July 31, 2021. Learn more about this decision.

Defining the Role of Financial Education

High-quality financial education is a powerful force for positive change. It builds knowledge, boosts confidence and is the cornerstone of better decision making. However, financial education alone does not create financial well-being. It is one factor in a complex landscape of internal and external elements – some controlled by individuals and some not.

Building a Personal Finance Ecosystem

In 2019, NEFE embarked on a strategic planning process to help us better focus on our resources. Throughout this course it became clear that the role of financial education, and what it can realistically achieve, is neither well-defined nor well-understood. To help us better understand the role of financial education as it relates to financial well-being, and to begin defining terms in the field that are being used interchangeably, NEFE developed the Personal Finance Ecosystem.

The goal of the ecosystem is to outline the interrelated landscape that impacts an individual’s financial circumstances. As the Personal Finance Ecosystem framework evolved, we realized its potential value to the field at large and began sharing it at various events. The current 2019 version of the ecosystem presented here is the product of thoughtful critique and insight from leaders and practitioners in our field.

It is our hope that the Personal Finance Ecosystem will help our field better define how we collectively can enhance Americans’ financial well-being. No one intervention can fix the problem, but each has an important role to play. NEFE’s primary focus in the ecosystem is one of the catalysts: knowledge influencers, comprised of financial education and financial information. High-quality financial education and timely financial information can assist people with navigating the financial system as it exists, but we need clarity on what realistically can be achieved within these frameworks, insight into the factors that education alone cannot overcome.

NEFE seeks to be a catalyst for growth, along with impact and change for our field. Outlining this ecosystem is one of the many ways we seek to best serve our community.

Your feedback on this framework is needed. Please send insights to [email protected]. This document will evolve as we incorporate additional responses. Check regularly for the latest version.

A more detailed explanation of the ecosystem, including expanded definitions of terminology, can be found at

The Personal Finance Ecosystem

Research is conducted throughout the ecosystem.

Assessment and evaluation are conducted on educational engagements.


*This is an evolving framework and is subject to change.

A Modern Glossary

Financial Education

A systematic approach to cultivating financial knowledge and financial decision-making skills. It implies the use of appropriate pedagogy, learning objectives and assessment techniques, as well as being of adequate duration to allow the learner to incorporate new knowledge into their existing schema.

Financial Information

A variety of tools, resources and activities that inform the individual about a topic or decision.

Examples include small-dose lessons not part of a broader program or curriculum, articles or reference resources, tips and tricks, calculators and decision aids.

They often are used in self-directed inquiry or in conjunction with behavioral interventions. They can and should be used as a part of a financial education program or initiative, but on their own do not constitute education as they lack pedagogy, learning outcomes and assessment techniques as well as sufficient duration for the learner to fully assimilate the information into lasting knowledge.

Financial Well-Being [aka Financial Wellness]

Self-defined by the individual.

Typically includes elements such as satisfaction with ability to manage current situation, ability to exercise choice, feel in control and future prospects.

Financial Actions and Outcomes

The decisions made and actions taken by the individual, as well as the resulting outcomes and impacts of any external shocks.

Outcomes can be objective (e.g., credit score) or subjective (e.g., confidence). Shocks can be positive (e.g., work raise) or negative (e.g., large health care bill, fraud).

There is a feedback loop between actions and outcomes.

Financial Capability

The individual’s ability to act in their own self-defined best interest.

It is comprised of two key elements:

  • The knowledge and expertise to decide or act (aka financial literacy)—can be built through external knowledge interventions or self-directed inquiry and experience.
  • The ability to exercise choice or take action (aka access to appropriate financial instruments).

Foundational Factors

The individual’s general skills and abilities (e.g., critical thinking) and external factors (e.g., economic inequality, health).

* Additional terms and concepts are defined in the ecosystem framework.