$aveNYC Accounts: Asset-building for Low-income Populations

Research funded by Ford Foundation

Researchers explore results and policy implications of a New York City asset-building program, $aveNYC, that uses tax refunds and a savings match to encourage low-income taxpayers to start saving and keep it up.

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Project Overview

Saving is a critical first step on the path to financial security. But many low-income families find it challenging to choose saving for the future over meeting pressing spending needs today.

UNC Center for Community Capital researchers conducted a three-year study of a New York City asset-building program, $aveNYC. The NYC Department of Consumer Affairs Office of Financial Empowerment launched the the program as a pilot in 2008 to help low-income households build emergency savings and increase their financial stability.

The program aimed to leverage the tax refund windfall as an opportunity for low-income households to
build savings without taking money from their day-to-day cash flow. Based on promising results from the 2008 pilot, the program continued in both 2009 and 2010 with an expanded pool of participants.

With funding from the Ford Foundation, the 2009 and 2010 programs included in-depth research by experts at  the UNC Center for Community Capital and the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Researchers explored six primary questions:

  1. Were low-income households able to save when presented with a convenient product and an incentive?
  2. What is the profile of those who participated in $aveNYC?
  3. What factors made it easier or more difficult for households to save?
  4. Did short-term, non-goal-directed savings improve the financial stability of participants?
  5. Can an incentivized savings program be implemented at scale, and is tax time an
    appropriate mechanism?
  6. What are the implications of these for both policy and future research?

Researchers found that:

  • Eighty percent of participants in 2009 saved for the full year and received the match.
  • In 2010, despite an increasingly challenging economic landscape, at least 70 percent saved for the full year and received the match.
  • More than 30 percent of participants continued saving in subsequent years.
  • Ninety-one percent of those who saved both years said the match heavily influenced their decision to re-enroll.

Based on these results, researchers recommend that policymakers find ways to encourage more programs like $aveNYC and its current replication, SaveUSA, now offered in New York, Newark, San Antonio and Tulsa; eliminate provisions in public benefit programs that prohibit recipients from saving more than $2,000 without losing benefits; and support development of other types of financial products that meet the needs of lower-income households.


The UNC Center for Community Capital conducts research and policy analysis on ways to make financial services work better for more people and communities.


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