Common Cents Report: Behavioral Interventions Helping Americans Save More

New report one of the most significant applications of behavioral economics in field of LMI financial decision-making

San Francisco and Durham, NC – Feb. 8, 2017 – Common Cents, a financial research lab at Duke University and supported by MetLife Foundation, today unveiled its 2016 Annual Report.

Annual financial report

The report details findings from seven completed behavioral intervention programs and ongoing research begun in 2016.  The work is part of Common Cent Lab’s three-year effort to improve the financial well being for 1.8 million low-to-moderate income (LMI) households in America.

Common Cents is one of the first to use social science field experiments within financial organizations for the purpose of gaining scalable behavioral insights that can improve Americans’ financial decision-making. The 2016 Annual Report enables companies and financial service providers to better understand the actions of modern consumers in an era of changing workforce trends and new financial tools.

“Many times, companies build products without a full understanding of human behavior. At the same time, academics arrive at novel theories that may be too difficult to drag and drop into a business model,” said Common Cents founder, Behavioral Economics Professor and New York Times bestselling author Dan Ariely. “We are trying to bridge the gap between academia and industry to produce actionable and scalable behavioral insights that increase savings, eliminate debt and extend consumer benefits in a way that are economically viable for business.”

In a baseline study of LMI participants, Common Cents found that 36% self-reported having less than $500 in savings (including retirement savings). Yet 92% of respondents listed three or more specific actions they could take to improve their financial security. Common Cents helps to bridge the gap of this Intention/Action gap by focusing on interventions within five core areas:

  • Improving Cash Flow Management
  • Decreasing Expenses
  • Managing Debt
  • Increasing Short-Term Savings
  • Increasing Long-Term Savings

The Common Cents approach to designing financial interventions is informed by a three-step process for behavioral diagnosis that includes identifying the specific and desired key behaviors, removing the barriers impeding that behavior, and then amplifying its benefits of that behavior.

Common Cents created and executed its 2016 interventions in partnership with 17 fintech companies, credit unions and financial services organizations of different types and sizes, in addition to specific experiments conducted within the lab.

For example, EarnUp is a loan management company that partnered with Common Cents to identify the role of psychologically satisfying numbers in paying off loans faster. Rounding increased the number of people who chose to overpay by approximately 40%, saving an average of $8,000 each in interest and shortening their loan term by two years. Common Cents estimates that all participating users could total $1.25 million in interest savings through this one simple change.

“Common Cents is a vital partner in helping us understand how to help consumers take back control of their financial lives,” said Matthew Cooper, co-founder of EarnUp. “Their process is at once visionary and practical, showing us how to simply and efficiently motivate Americans to dramatically pay off loans faster and more affordably.”

Other example partners and interventions from the 2016 Annual Report include:

  • Digit: Nearly doubled tax time savings with SMS for this mobile savings app;
  • Propel: Modified the mobile app view to extend longevity of food stamp benefits for SNAP recipients;
  • Community Empowerment Fund: Increased savings deposits using punch-cards;
  • Payable: 14.5% increase in the number of independent contractors clicking to begin retirement saving by reframing their perception of wages.

Once complete, each of the 2016 interventions was rigorously tested and measured for impact before publicly sharing the results. Through these interventions, in combination with ongoing research, Common Cents expects its programs, when fully rolled out, to have a direct positive impact on 465,000 LMI households.

“MetLife Foundation is proud to fund Common Cents and its behavioral intervention work,” said Evelyn Stark, Assistant Vice President, MetLife Foundation. “It is exciting to witness this unique application of behavioral economics in financial technology to measure the outsize impact these small changes can have for consumers. We look forward to collaborating with Common Cents to continue to improve financial decision making.”

Common Cents will soon announce the newest participants in its 2017 partner programs. They will continue their focus on the five core areas, with a specific emphasis on short-term savings and cash flow management.

For detailed results of each 2016 intervention, to review a copy of the Annual Report, or to read more about participating partners please visit:


About Common Cents

The Common Cents, supported by MetLife Foundation, is a financial research lab at the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University that creates and tests interventions to help low-to-moderate income households increase their financial well being. Common
Cents leverages research gleaned from behavioral economics to create interventions that lead to positive financial behaviors. The lab is led by famed Behavioral Economics Professor Dan Ariely and is comprised of researchers and experts in product design, economics, psychology, public policy, advertising, business administration, and more.

To fulfill its mission, Common Cents partners with organizations, including fintech companies, credit unions, banks and nonprofits that believe their work could be improved through insights gained from behavioral economics. To learn more about Common Cents Lab visit .

About MetLife Foundation

MetLife Foundation was created in 1976 to continue MetLife’s long tradition of corporate contributions and community involvement. Since its founding through the end of 2016, MetLife Foundation has provided more than $744 million in grants and $70 million in program-related investments to organizations addressing issues that have a positive impact in their communities.

Today, the Foundation is dedicated to advancing financial inclusion, committing $200 million to help build a secure future for individuals and communities around the world.

To learn more about MetLife Foundation, visit