What can $100 do for the life of a child?: Exploring Child Savings Accounts in Missouri

by Michelle Witthaus, Program Manager for Health Equity Works

What can $100 do for the life of a child?

Can it provide motivation and hope for families, launch the beginning of college savings, and change the trajectory of a child’s life? The answer is a resounding “yes” – through Child Development Accounts.

Child Development Accounts, also known as CDAs, are savings or investment accounts set up for children that can be used for post-secondary education. CDAs are a low-cost way to improve outcomes for children and change parental attitudes and behaviors.

Research shows that children who have a CDA or college savings in their name exhibit better social and emotional functioning as early as 4 years of age.1 Low- to moderate-income children with college savings between $1-$499 are three times more likely to attend college and four times more likely graduate from college than children without savings accounts.2 Compared with children without college savings children with savings have better academic achievement, such as higher math scores.3

Research also demonstrates that CDAs have a positive effect on parents’ expectations for their children’s education4 and that caregivers of children with a CDA were more likely to open a 529 account and save more money than caregivers of children without a CDA.5 Research also found a significant decrease in depressive symptoms for mothers of children with a CDA.6

Making it happen in Missouri

In December 2018, a team of experts and leaders formed the Missouri Child Development Account Coalition, which has since been working on proposing a CDA policy for Missouri. CDA policies have already passed in several states throughout the country with bipartisan support. Just last year alone three states, Nebraska, Illinois, and California, passed CDA policies. And we are close to Missouri joining this group.

In January 2020, House Bill 2261 and Senate Bill 941 were introduced; if passed Missouri would create and fund a statewide Child Development Account Program. The Coalition recommends providing an initial $100 deposit into a CDA for every baby born and residing in Missouri automatically at birth; investing the funds in Missouri’s 529 Education Plan; and earmarking the savings for use at post-secondary institutions such as trade and vocational schools, community colleges, and universities.

HB 2261 will be heard in the House General Laws committee today (February 17).

Setting expectations

While it seems hard to believe that such a small contribution towards post-secondary education can make such a big difference, my own experience confirms that it can. Although I grew up in a single-parent, low-income household, my mother made an effort to put away a small amount of money into a savings account for college whenever she could. Once a year my mom, my sister, and I would grab our savings account book and take it to the bank. The bank teller would check our savings balance and stamp our book with the interest we’d accrued to date. Although I was too young to know that the $1,863 my mom saved wasn’t enough to put me through one semester of community college, what I did know is that she expected my sister and I to attend college. And if she was saving her money for us, we would honor that by meeting her expectation. The knowledge that funds towards post-secondary education exist, along with the expectation of attendance, increased the likelihood that I would to attend college, changing the trajectory of my life.

We believe that Missouri and its children deserve the best. Our goals are to use CDAs as a vehicle to create a more skilled workforce, improve the state’s economy, and to improve child development and college access. A well-designed CDA program can deliver big results for our children and our state.

To help support this important initiative please email us at or check out our website,


  1. Huang J, Sherraden M, Kim Y, Clancy M. Effects of Child Development Accounts on early social-emotional development: An experimental test. Pediatrics 2014; 168(3), 265-271. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.4643.
  2. Elliott W, Song H, Nam I. Small-dollar children’s savings accounts, income, and college outcomes. St. Louis, MO: Center for Social Development. No. 13-06. 2013.
  3. Elliott W. Children’s college aspirations and expectations: The potential role of children’s development accounts (CDAs). Children and Youth Services Review. 2009; 31(2), 274-283.
  4. Kim Y, Sherraden M, Huang J, Clancy M. Child development accounts and parental educational expectations for young children: Early evidence from a statewide social experiment. Social Service Review. 2015; 89(1), 99-137.
  5. Nam Y, Kim Y, Clancy M, Zager R, Sherraden M. Do child development accounts promote account holding, saving, and asset accumulation for children’s future? Evidence from a statewide randomized experiment. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. 2013; 32(1), 6-33.
  6. Huang J, Sherraden M, Purnell JQ. Impacts of child development accounts on maternal depressive symptoms: Evidence from a randomized statewide policy experiment. Social Science & Medicine. 2014; 112, 30-38.

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