J. Michael Collins is an associate professor of public affairs and human ecology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
He directs the Center for Financial Security and studies consumer financial decision-making in the financial marketplace,
including the role of public policy in influencing credit, savings and investment choices. He holds graduate degrees in
public policy from Harvard and Cornell.
PERSONAL STATEMENT (October 2014):
I am an Associate Professor at the University of WisconsinóMadison, with appointments in Consumer Science in
the School of Human Ecology and in the La Follette School of Public Affairs. I am the faculty director of the
Center for Financial Security, an interdisciplinary applied research center. I also serve UW Cooperative Extension
as a state specialist in family economics and household finance. My research draws on economics, consumer
behavior and policy analysis. The goal of my research is to inform consumer behavior related to household finance,
and in particular show how policies and programs influence consumer and firm choices. My studies are primarily
on the role of information for consumer decision making, especially for low-income and vulnerable households.
Financial education is one area of my research. I have challenged researchers, funders and public agencies to invest
in more rigorous studies of strategies that claim to improve individual financial capability. My research focuses on
better techniques for causal inference, including designing and implementing randomized controlled trials and
quasi-experiments. I have received four separate awards from the U.S. Department of Treasury supporting field
trialsóranging from elementary school students to college students to low-income women in employment
programs. I am finding that interventions, especially targeted programs with immediate applications, can increase
measured financial knowledge, and in some cases are related to changes in behaviors related to saving and timely
bill payments. I have recently been asked to present to the Presidentís Council on Financial Capability and
appointed to the national Jump$tart Board in Washington DC.
Another research area is related to financial advice, counseling and coaching. With more than 5 years of
consecutive financial support from the Annie E Casey Foundation, I have developed a national reputation in the
field of financial coaching. This is still an emerging area of practice and research, but my articles and presentations
are often cited to inform and shape new programs.
The mortgage market continues to be an area of interest, since the housing boom and bust created a large shock to
household balance sheets and presents many contexts to study how consumers and firms responded. This work has
resulted in frequent requests for me to review scholarly work in this area. I currently serve as an advisor to several
national evaluations related to financial counseling. With the growing concern over student loans, I have begun a
new field study on student loan borrowing, and am often part of national dialogues about strategies to respond to
student loan defaults.
Another emerging area of my work is the measurement of broader financial well-being, including non-financial
outcomes such as mental health. This work is supported by the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and has
resulted in a series of meetings with leading researchers at UW Madison across disciplines with an interest in new
evidence on the longitudinal measurement of household financial security. I am hopeful this collaborative effort
will result in the development of new survey tools that can be used to better understand the role of financial
management practices that are used by families to recover from shocks, manage stress and improve general wellbeing
of adults and children (beyond the well-documented gains that come simply increasing income). A closely
related emerging area of my work is related to how older people, especially as physical and cognitive abilities
decline, manage their finances in old age, and how these issues impact health and well-being.
I am currently working on two book projects. One is an edited volume to be released by Palgrave Macmillan in
2015 titled "A Fragile Balance: Emergency Savings and Liquid Resources for Low-Income Consumers." The book
includes 14 chapters, including a mix of leading scholars and practitioners, detailing the need for emergency
savings and examples of prototypical programs to foster emergency savings. The other project is new textbook to
be published by Oxford Press jointly written with Margaret Sherraden and Julie Birkenmaier titled Financial
Capability and Asset Building in Vulnerable Households. Planned for early 2016, the book will be a fundamental
text for educating and training the next generation of practitioners and leaders to help families achieve economic
stability, security, and mobility.
I teach an undergraduate course (Consumer Policy) as well as the Masters in Public Affairs capstone (Policy
Workshop) as well as courses in introductory economics and household finance. I also support service across UWMadison,
including the Chancellorís Budget Model Committee, Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities,
the Executive of the Institute for Research on Poverty and the Consumer Science Undergraduate Committee.