Building Healthy Financial Habits from Kindergarten to College

August 03, 2023
Brandee McHale, Head of Community Investing and Development at Citi and President of the Citi Foundation

For many in the United States, education continues to provide a path to economic mobility. But high costs and other socioeconomic barriers can put higher education out of reach for many.

Research has shown that students with even a small amount of college savings are more likely to attend and graduate from college. Why? Saving for college from an early age changes the conversation in families from if a child will go to college, to when they will go to college. A proactive savings strategy can help build a college-going identity for students, while also preparing families financially for this goal.

In San Francisco, the high school class of 2023 is full of these aspirations. For example, Thailyah has been accepted to 22 colleges and aspires to be a mental health advocate her community. Tierra, a talented dancer, will be headed to college in the fall to study nursing and continue dancing. Saw Yunn plans to study bioengineering with the aim of working in biotech or medicine in the future. Yadira will be a first-generation college student and dreams of becoming an archeologist or sociologist.

These young people are among fifty thousand students who have saved for college from a young age thanks to Kindergarten to College (K2C) – the first publicly-funded, universal children’s savings account program in the country sponsored and administered by the City and County of San Francisco. Since K2C’s launch twelve years ago, San Francisco Unified School District students have saved an astonishing $15 million for college. About two-thirds of that includes contributions from participating families, while one-third has been awarded by the City and County of San Francisco.

K2C uses the Citi Start Saving® platform, which provides municipalities and nonprofit organizations with the ability to administer the financial components of youth savings account programs. Additionally, Citi provides other support to the K2C program by taking a holistic approach to engaging and empowering participating students in partnership with Citi colleagues in our local branches to emphasize the importance of savings for the future and developing healthy money habits. In May, the Treasurer of the City and County of San Francisco joined as we welcomed local students and parents to Citibank’s Inner Richmond Branch. Each of the children made a deposit to their K2C account while Citibank branch colleagues and members of Citi’s U.S. Community Relations team discussed the importance of savings.

The success of both the K2C program and the Citi Start Saving® platform has demonstrated that these interventions can put children of all backgrounds on the path to stronger educational outcomes and help advance economic opportunity and mobility for their families. That’s why, as part of our Action for Racial Equity initiative, Citi is expanding the Citi Start Saving® platform to other geographies around the United States. By the end of last year, there were four Children Savings Account programs operating on the Citi Start Saving® platform around the U.S., serving school systems in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and Atlanta that collectively reach approximately 667,000 students. That means hundreds of thousands of students can follow in the footsteps of Thailyah, Tierra, Saw Yunn and Yadira and be set up for a healthy financial future.

As a mom, I know first-hand how important it is to continuously encourage kids to dream big and help them realize their full potential. I’m also very aware of the reality that too many families and children face financial barriers that may hinder their ability to continue their education. Through the Citi Start Saving® platform utilized by programs like K2C, we’re helping to eliminate those barriers and empower families to make healthy financial decisions. I’m proud to congratulate the first graduating class of K2C participants and look forward to celebrating many more graduations to come.

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