Family Economic Mobility Toolkit


FEM work can sometimes feel like it has its own language! Use the glossary below to understand unfamiliar terms and learn where to find them in the Toolkit. It is not an official Head Start glossary.


Alternative financial services: Financial services provided outside traditional banking institutions, on which many low-income individuals depend. These include high-cost services, often called predatory financial services, such as check-cashing services, pawn shops, car title loans, and payday loans. They also include community-based practices such as crowdfunding and lending circles.[29]

American Job Centers: Centers that provide free, in-person services to job seekers. Find your local American Job Center at CareerOneStop.

Apprenticeships: Programs that combine job-related technical instruction with structured, on-the-job learning experiences. An apprenticeship allows workers to get paid from the day they begin, with incremental pay increases as they develop more skills.[30] To learn more about registered apprenticeships or find one near you, visit

Asset building: Any action by an individual or family to increase their savings or other assets.

Asset ownership programs: Initiatives that provide services to support families as they build or maintain assets. These types of programs provide different services depending on a family’s goal. For example, families interested in homeownership can attend special classes to prepare for purchasing a home, join programs to assist with down payments, and get counseling to help them avoid foreclosure. Family members interested in running their own business can participate in programs that help with developing business plans and securing financing.[31]

Assets: Anything that can create cash. Assets can be physical things you can sell or skills that allow you to make money. A home, a savings account, and an education are all assets. You can’t resell your diploma, but it may help you get a job. Some assets may increase in value, while others (such as a car) may hold the same value or decrease over time.


Career assessments: An opportunity for job seekers to answer questions about what skills, strengths, and interests they have. A list of potential careers is provided based on the person’s answers. Try out a career assessment.

Career pathways: A sequence of jobs and skills development that serve as a route to a career. Each step along a pathway allows participants to gain skills while preparing for the next job in their chosen career path. Family members can move along a career pathway to achieve their employment goals.[32]

Chambers of Commerce: Local organizations that work to increase the number of employment opportunities and to build businesses in their area. Search for the local Chamber nearest you.

Child Tax Credit (CTC): A tax credit that can reduce the taxes paid and/or contribute to a tax refund for parents who earn low incomes. Taxes are reduced for each qualifying child. The credit is meant to help offset the burden of child-related expenses. Learn more about the Child Tax Credit.

Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs): A type of incentivized savings program that can be established as early as a child’s birth. These accounts are usually started with an initial deposit — made by a nonprofit, foundation, or government — that families can add to over the child’s life. Funds from CSAs are usually used to finance higher education.

Cliff effect: The phenomenon where an increase in wages or savings makes a family ineligible for public benefits programs with income and asset limits. This can result in lower net family resources despite a higher income.[33]

Credit Bureaus: Companies that compile and sell credit reports. There are three primary credit bureaus for personal credit in the U.S., Equifax, Transunion, and Experian.

Credit history: The record of how an individual has borrowed and repaid loans in the past.

Credit report: A detailed report of an individual’s credit history prepared by a credit bureau. Individuals can access their yearly free credit report at

Credit score: A continually changing three-digit number that helps lenders predict how likely it is that an individual will repay a loan. The number also helps lenders decide whether to extend credit (make a loan) to an individual.

Credit: A loan of money from a financial institution, such as a bank or credit union, which must be repaid with interest by a certain date.


Debt: The amount owed to a company, bank, credit union, or individual.

Direct deposit: A procedure for automatically putting a paycheck, benefit, or other money into an individual’s bank account. Direct deposit eliminates the need for the person receiving the paycheck or benefit to visit a bank or check casher.


Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): A reduction of the reported income an individual or family earns in a year, for purposes of calculating income tax . The credit represents a percentage of earnings from the first dollar of earnings until the credit reaches its maximum. The EITC supports working people with low to moderate incomes by reducing their tax burden. Learn more about the EITC.

Eligibility requirements: A set of criteria used to determine whether an individual qualifies to receive a public benefit. Most public benefit programs have eligibility requirements. Common eligibility requirements include income limits, citizenship or immigration status, and residency. For eligibility information, see 45 CFR § H1302.12(j)(1-4).

Employment capital: Resources other than pay that help people stay in jobs and build assets. Examples of employment capital are:

  • Consistent work: dependable hours that allow families to budget, arrange for child care, and plan activities other than work[34]
  • Job benefits: sick time, retirement savings, insurance
  • Job flexibility: flextime, options for flexible work schedules


Financial capability services: Services that support individuals as they build financial skills.[35]

Financial coaching: Multiple one-on-one interactions during which families work with a coach and set and make plans to achieve financial goals. Coaches help clients build their financial skills and access. Coaches provide guidance, support, and motivation to encourage families to achieve their self-identified goals.[36]

Financial counseling: One-on-one sessions led by a financial counselor to help families address specific financial matters, such as managing credit or purchasing a home. Financial counseling is usually short-term and focuses on an immediate need of the client. Additionally, financial counselors often make referrals and may take an advocacy or mediation role on behalf of the client.[37]

Financial education: One or more workshops or classes, often in a group setting, about a specific set of topics, such as how to budget, use mainstream financial products, save, manage credit, reduce debt, access available tax credits, and more.[38]

Financial products: A tool that allows someone to save or store money (checking account, savings account), borrow money (credit card, loan), or make an investment (stock, bond).


Identity theft: A crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person's personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain. Learn more about identity theft.

Incentivized savings programs: Programs that encourage participants to save money by providing tools for savings and rewards participants for savings behavior. Incentives can be dollar-for-dollar matches, initial deposit awards, or rewards for meeting a certain savings benchmark.[39]

Individual Development Accounts (IDAs): A common type of incentivized savings program, in which regularly recurring deposits to an IDA account are usually matched by public or private funds. IDAs are often used to save for a home, start a new business, or pay for higher education.

Interest: A fee charged for borrowing money. Typically, these fees are charged repeatedly at regularly occurring intervals — for example, monthly. These fees can rapidly build up over time if not immediately paid. Interest is also money added to a savings or credit union account based on a percentage of the money already in the account. This interest also can build over time, increasing the amount of money in savings.


Job clubs: Local groups that provide an opportunity for job seekers to meet with each other regularly to share resources and encouragement. Job club members may share resumes, conduct mock interviews, and share leads about job opportunities. Find a local job club.


Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC): A tax credit for qualified tuition and expenses for students improving job skills by taking undergraduate, graduate, and professional courses. Learn more about the LLC.

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP): A public benefits program that assists families with energy costs by providing assistance with energy bills and weatherization. Find your local LIHEAP program.


Medicaid: A federal and state program that provides health insurance for people with low income who would otherwise be uninsured. Learn how to sign up for Medicaid.


Predatory Financial Products: Financial products that disadvantage the consumer and typically are targeted at individuals in financial need who live in vulnerable communities. Examples include high-interest payday loans and check cashing services with high charges for accessing cash.

Public Benefits: Government programs that provide assistance to individuals and families who meet eligibility criteria.


Rental Assistance: Money or vouchers provided to an individual for renting a place to live. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development offers several rental assistance programs, including public housing and housing voucher programs. Cities, counties, states, and nonprofits may also offer rental assistance. Learn about rental assistance programs.


Saver’s Credit: A tax credit for families that make contributions to a qualified retirement plan and meet income limits. Learn more about the saver’s credit.

SNAP Employment and Training (SNAP E&T): Programs that help recipients gain skills and work experience and that continue to offer services through a recipient’s first 90 days of employment. Learn more about SNAP.

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): A public benefits program that provides nutrition assistance and education for low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5. Find your local WIC program.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): A public benefits program that provides nutrition assistance to individuals and families with low incomes. This assistance comes in the form of benefits loaded onto an electronic card accepted at grocery stores and farmers’ markets. Families receiving SNAP benefits are categorically eligible for Head Start services.[40]  Find your local SNAP program.


Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): A public benefit that provides short-term financial aid in the form of cash benefits to families. Find your local TANF program.


Unbanked: A term describing a person who does not have a bank account at a bank or credit union that insures deposits.

Underbanked: A term describing a person who has a savings or checking account, but also uses check cashing services, prepaid cards, or other uninsured financial products or services.


Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA): An IRS-run program that offers free basic tax return preparation to qualified individuals at local sites. Find a local VITA site.


Workforce Development Boards: Boards that direct federal, local, and state funding to workforce development programs. These boards are the connection between the U.S. Department of Labor and local American Job Centers. Over half of the board members must be from the local business community. Other board members must be representatives from local community colleges and other training providers, elected officials, and leaders of workforce programs. Find a local Workforce Development Board.