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Learn about the building blocks of financial capability

Findings from CFPB's 2016 research suggest that the knowledge, skills, and behaviors associated with adult financial capability stem from three interconnected building blocks developed in youth. These building blocks form a framework for youth financial literacy education.

Three building blocks of financial capability

Children and youth need all three of the interconnected building blocks to achieve financial capability.

Building block that represents executive function

Executive function

The thinking skills and abilities needed to plan ahead, focus attention, remember information, practice self-control, and juggle multiple tasks.

Building block that represents financial habits and norms

Financial habits and norms

The values, standards, routine practices, and rules to live by used to navigate day-to-day financial life.

Building block that represents financial knowledge and decision-making skills

Financial knowledge and decision-making skills

The knowledge and skills needed to understand the financial world and make informed financial decisions.


A developmental model

The report “Building blocks to help youth achieve financial capability: A new model and recommendations” presents an evidence-based developmental model for building financial capability. It also provides strategies for teaching financial capability from early childhood through adolescence. 

The model outlines a general framework for when children and youth typically acquire skills and traits related to the building blocks of financial capability. These developmental stages establish general benchmarks, since thinking skills may evolve at different rates from person to person, and access to financial decision-making experiences and opportunities may vary. 

Early childhood (ages 3–5)

  • Children begin to develop the foundational skills related to executive function. 
  • Basic values and attitudes related to financial concepts begin to form. 
  • Children begin to understand math and numbers needed for financial skills.

Middle childhood (ages 6–12)

  • Executive function skills and behaviors continue to grow. 
  • Financial habits and norms really start to take shape as children start to form independent identities, observe how family members and peers interact with money, and begin to learn financial lessons. 
  • Children learn basic concepts about money management.

Adolescence and young adulthood (13–21)

  • Executive function continues to mature. 
  • Habits and norms about money continue to develop. 
  • Youth solidify financial knowledge and decision-making skills, which become more relevant in their everyday lives.

Learn more

Learn more about the research-based model for developing youth financial capability.

Read the report  

Read the fact sheet